by Dean Wallraff

Independence Day 2003


Patriotism is like religious faith — both are presumed to be virtues, and neither is supposed to be based on an objective evaluation of the evidence. A survey in today's New York Times reveals that over 90% of Americans rate themselves "very patriotic." This could mean a variety of things, such as:

  • Through the lens oftheir moral and social values they have compared the principles on which our country is built and the way we have implemented these principles with those of other countries, and have found us to be, on balance, superior.
  • They believe that this is the best country (in the old liberal sense of maximizing good for the greatest number) for the overwhelming majority of Americans to be living in.
  • They're glad they're living here, because it seems better than a lot of other places they've heard about.
  • They have good team spirit — they're on the American team, so they root for it; they give it their loyalty.

I believe that the vast majority of survey respondents are in the team-spirit category, with a bit of the "glad they're living here" thrown in. I would have liked to follow up with some more questions, such as:

  • Do you have any direct knowledge of what life is like in other countries?
  • Do you consider the U.S. to be morally superior to other countries?
  • Is the U.S. a Christian country (or should it be)?
  • How much economic well being would you sacrifice in order to preserve the principles that this country stands for? (Or do you think that those principles lead directly to economic well being?)
  • Is there a (positive or negative) connection between moral superiority and economic propserity?

Most Americans complacently accept that ours is the best country and they are the best people, and we deserve our relative well being because God is smiling down on us because we are so good and so right; that, by espousing the principles of liberty, freedom and democracy, we've earned the right, in the moral calculus of the universe, to make money.

"Team spirit" is the essence of patriotism for most citizens. Is it a virtue to be loyal to a group that you just happened to be born into? It's normal to care more about the people you're closest to, to care more for your family than for strangers, more for people like you than those who are different, and this is a lot of the basis for patriotism. Is this a virtue? I think not — it's simply human nature.

Copyright © 2000 - 2008 by Dean Wallraff. All rights reserved.