Monday, July 4, 2011

It's "Patriot Dream," Not "Patriot Delusion"

It's called "O Beautiful For Spacious Skies," from the first words: and "American the Beautiful:" lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates, music by Samuel A. Ward. We sang it at Mass yesterday.

According to a Wikipedia article, the words showed up first in 1895, as a poem for some church publication's Fourth of July edition.

It's patriotic: which means different things, depending on who's using the word.

Sometimes "Patriotic" Doesn't Mean "Patriotic"

I've run into quite a few ideas about what "patriotic" means:
  1. For some, "patriotic" is what they are - not those foreign scum who ruined the fruited plains and sent property values down when they moved in
  2. For others, "patriotic" is a despicable characteristic of those hate-filled racist oppressor classes who rip crusts of bread from the bleeding lips of wage slaves
  3. A dictionary says that "patriotic" is being "inspired by love for your country" (Princeton's WordNet)
I'm inclined to accept the dictionary meaning, although I recognize the various definitions in use today. I'm also well aware that quite a few folks aren't as weirdly extreme as the examples I gave: but may be close enough so that it feels like I'm caricaturing their beliefs.1

Rational Love of Country

Given the first and second definitions for "patriotic" up there, asking whether a decent person could be "patriotic" may be a reasonable question.

"Patriotic" in the dictionary sense? I'm a practicing Catholic, so I have to be a good citizen. (September 24, 2008)

I could be a good citizen without loving the country I live in - but I think that having a rational sort of "patriotism" helps. That's "rational" as in "having its source in or being guided by the intellect (as distinguished from experience or emotion)." (Princeton's WordNet)

I don't think being guided mostly by feelings, patriotic or otherwise, makes sense.2

Me? a Patriot?!

With my experiences and background, I don't feel comfortable calling myself a "patriot," or claiming (admitting?) "patriotism" as a trait. I discussed this a few years ago, in another blog:

"An American Patriot Who's Okay With Turbans, NASCAR, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum

I looked up 'patriot.' It means 'one who loves and defends his or her country (Princeton Wordnet). Love of country isn't at the very top of my priority list, and I'm well aware of America's imperfections: but yes, I love America.

"As for defending the country, this blog may serve as a reality check now and again - which is a sort of defense.

"So, I suppose I could be called an American patriot...."
(Another War-on-Terror Blog (February 24, 2009))

America: It'll Do, For Now

I love this country, but I'm aware that America isn't perfect. Which gets me back to America the Beautiful, the last verse:
"O beautiful for patriot dream
"That sees beyond the years
"Thine alabaster cities gleam
"Undimmed by human tears.

"America! America!
"God shed His grace on thee,
"And crown thy good with brotherhood
"From sea to shining sea."
(America the Beautiful, Katharine Lee Bates)
I don't see a problem with having a "patriot dream" of an America that's closer to the goal mentioned in the previous verse:
"...America! America!
"May God thy gold refine
"Till all success be nobleness,
"And ev'ry gain divine."
(America the Beautiful, Katharine Lee Bates)
Remember: I don't think America is perfect.

I also think that we should be working in that direction.

The "patriot dream" becomes a sort of "patriot delusion" when someone starts acting as if America is perfect - right now.

That's as daft as the more 'sophisticated' notion that America is the source of just about all the world's problems - and that the rest happen because Christians and white people exist. Which is yet another topic. Topics.

I don't expect any country to be perfect.3 That doesn't mean we can stop trying, though.

"Alabaster Cities?!"

Unless things have changed quite a bit in the last few years, phrases like "alabaster cities" and "brotherhood" will give some folks fits.

Sorry about that - but America the Beautiful was written during the 19th century, when a different sort of prudery was in vogue.4 And that's yet again another topic.

Related posts:

1 Although I've been complimented - and criticized - for being 'conservative,' I'm not. I'm not liberal, either. And I'm certainly not 'moderate.' I'm Catholic:

  • " 'Self-Satisfied Ignorance?' Eucharist, Quran, and Atheist Book Trashed"
    Another War-on-Terror Blog (August 5, 2008)
  • 2 Emotions aren't "good" or "bad" by themselves. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1762-1770) See:
    3 "Original sin" doesn't mean believing that God made an inherently evil species. I posted about this before:
    "...Note, please: 'flawed' isn't (quite) 'inherently evil.' (October 12, 2010) Catholic teaching about original sin isn't that God created an evil species: but that humanity made a really bad choice early on. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 385-412, summarized in 413-421)

    "Which brings up the topic of free will. (Catechism, 1730-1742, for starters)..."
    (October 15, 2010)
    4 I think that "racist" and "sexist" have long since replaced "commie" and "un-American" as over-used epithets in this country. I sympathize - a little - with folks frustrated to distraction by some aspects of Happy Days America.

    I also think that phrases like "siblinghood of person" never quite caught on for good reasons - and that's another topic. Maybe for another blog.

    Then there's the 'sophisticated,' 'intelligent,' attitude toward religion. I've opined that some contemporary Americans seem to feel about religion, the way proper Victorians were supposed to feel about sex:


    Brigid said...

    I Cronk: "I not."

    The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

    Brian Gill said...


    Cronk FIX!

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