Happy Independence Day!

Well folks, it’s Independence Day, and I am lured into navel gazing about patriotism. There was a time when I would have described myself as extremely patriotic. America was the greatest country on Earth! And anyone who disagreed could take their pansy-assed, citizen-of-the-world bullshit to some lesser portion of the globe.

There wasn’t much that was rational about my feelings of love for my country. America is a great place. True, our standard of living is high. Our shores are safe. Our freedom of speech is well-protected. Our markets are free. But our standard of living isn’t the highest. Our shores aren’t the safest. Our speech isn’t free-est. And our markets are about the 18th least regulated.

But something else changed between then and now. It’s hard to put my finger on what, or how. Somewhere I became utterly disenchanted with democracy. At some point I stopped considering state borders anything other than imaginary lines used to arbitrarily deprive people of their right to move freely. Eventually, I became so hurt by what the US government was doing that I stopped identifying (in my heart, if not my speech) the US government and its citizens as “us,” and everyone else as “them.”

I began to see how quickly patriotism becomes nationalism. How the state-based “us” and “them” mentality leads us to excuse all kinds of human rights abuses. Though I am incredibly grateful to have been born and raised and now live in the United States of America, I never consented to be stolen from in order to invade other countries, violate their sovereignty and depose their leaders because someone somewhere in power in “my” country thought it the expedient thing to do.

I think patriotism arises from two at least three sources. First, from what I’ve read, there have been throughout human history survival advantages to identifying with and staying loyal to groups or clans. Second, people in power benefit enormously from feelings of national pride and patriotism, and therefore seek to foster it within their subjects through songs, slogans and industrial-style mass education. Third, Jonathan Haidt talks about five American morals, two of which only conservatives hold. One of these is deference to and respect for authority. Not incidentally, conservatives tend to be more patriotic than liberals, who do not hold this value.

What concerns me about the liberty movement is that most of us do not have strong feelings of patriotism, and either never did or have forgotten what it feels like. We offend people who are patriotic when we disparage the US as a whole, or reject feelings of love for or fidelity to our country out of hand. We are not wrong to do so. But we are totally ineffective in reaching out to the patriotic.

This is where conservatarians who have maintained those feelings of patriotism can come in and be very helpful in bringing more of their kind into the fold. I think it will be more effective to say, “I love my country, but what the government is doing with X, Y or Z is wrong, and I want better for us.”

What do you think? Do you empathize with me at all about patriotism? Are you at all patriotic? If you’ve got some time over this long weekend, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

In addition, because it’s a holiday weekend, posting will resume on Monday, unless I get itchy keyboard fingers. But I’m only bringing the iPad to North Carolina with me where I’ll be visiting friends with Ev and Igor, so it’s unlikely 🙂

If you find yourself with a spare hour and things to say over the weekend, think about writing me a guest post. To submit an idea, just fill out my contact form.

Otherwise, enjoy the heck out of your Fourth of July!

Photo by jnn1776


  1. Michael Breuker

    I am a libertarian (for the most part) and I think that libertarians are the truest patriots of all. We live in the “land of the free” and libertarians strive to preserve those principles that our country was founded upon. IMO, a true libertarian believes in a government of the of the people, by the people and for the people, and that government should exist to preserve liberty for all. Being outspoken about how our government(s) (at all levels) have expanded, taken power and infringed on liberties, while trying actively to change it through constructive political action, is the greatest form of patriotism.

    Many people who claim to be libertarians are actually anarchists, and despise any form of government for any reason, and thus cannot be patriotic about their country because they don’t want to have a country (or any form of state) at all.

    • Autarch

      Suppose we define coercion as: The use of fraud, physical force, or threat of physical force to manipulate someone into doing something he would not otherwise do.

      Coercion can be used to defend individual rights or to violate them. To libertarians, coercion is legitimate only when used to defend rights.

      Under libertarian theory, everyone has equal rights. If the only thing a government did was protect rights, anarchists, such as myself (an anarcho-capitalist), would have no problem with it. To us, the degree to which a government violates rights is the degree to which it is not legitimate, but the degree to which it protects rights is the degree to which we support it.

      Libertarianism rests on a twin foundation. The nonaggression axiom (that no one can legitimately initiate coercion against another) on the one hand, and property rights, rooted in the “first use” principle on the other. (This is what differentiates us from “left anarchists,” many of whom, for example, believe all property is owned collectively, not individually. Left anarchists are not libertarian.)

      Libertarians have no problem with government per se, but rather with rights-violating coercion, so characterizing all anarchists (not just left anarchists) as merely “claiming” to be libertarian, rather than actually being libertarian is a mistake.

      I don’t mean to lecture, but I’ve been in this movement for 35 years and run for office five times as a Libertarian Party candidate. I have an emotional attachment to libertarian philosophy, so when I hear “anarchists” characterized as not real libertarians, it makes my nose run if I let it pass unchallenged.

      Other than what most would consider splitting hairs, however, we seem to be on the same page.

      Mark Read Pickens

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