The Forgotten Virtue of Patriotism

We are not called to flee the battle for our native land, our heritage, and our culture. We must not forget the virtue of patriotism. 

We live in interesting times. It seems that every week there is another reason for us to despise our rotting culture. From the nonsensical babble of our government leaders, to the woke overhaul of our public institutions, to the drunken spiral of popular opinion, it is hard to find anything to love in our country. And this applies to the United States, to Canada, and I am sure to nearly every Western state. 

The Benedict option and Catholic homesteading are certainly attractive options to escape into the wilderness and wait out the storm. But to flee the cities simply to flee the battle for our native land, our heritage, and our culture can be straight-up cowardice. Too many of us take a hands-off approach, simply sitting back to watch the fires burn, share memes, and laugh at the mindless rabble as they throw themselves in. This is not what we are called to as Catholics. This is not what we are called to as men. We have forgotten the virtue of patriotism. 

While Catholics, especially those favoring more traditional practices, are well familiar with piety, we too often fail to recognize the extent of this important virtue. Itself an element of justice, piety in its most specific sense is the virtue by which a child renders to his father the honor he is due; rendering honor to our parents is properly called filial piety. We owe our parents honor on account of our very existence, but we owe the same honor—and more—to God for the very same reason; rendering honor to God is properly called religion. Finally, we owe honor to our country on account of the benefits it bestows upon us in fostering our existence, growth, and development; rendering this honor is patriotism. 

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Thus, patriotism is a matter of justice no less important than the honor a child owes his parents. In fact, Aquinas hardly distinguishes piety toward one’s parents from that toward one’s country, since both one’s parents and one’s country are principles of his being and government, second only to God. Thus, patriotism concerns a real thing that we owe to our country. Further, it is a virtue, which for Aquinas is a good operative habit productive of good works (ST I-II, q. 55, a. 3). 

Patriotism is no mere affection for one’s country, a sense of pride or feeling of warm fuzzies when the anthem is sung before a hockey game. It is a good operative habit, that is, an act of the will, a decision one makes to actually render the honor due to his country; and it is productive of good works, that is, real concrete actions. Just as filial piety takes the form of a child obediently carrying out his father’s directives, or religion takes the form of purposeful weekly attendance at Mass and daily “acts of piety,” so does patriotism take the form of real actions that give honor to our country. 

What might some such actions of patriotism be? There are the simple examples of standing during the anthem, saluting the flag, or celebrating our national holidays. But it must be more than that. These are nice gestures, much like celebrating a father’s birthday, or kissing our mother, but this cannot be the limit of the honor given. 

Just as our parents gave us life, it is our filial duty to care for them in illness or old age. Just as our parents cared for us in childhood and provided all that we needed, so is it our filial duty to support them in times of hardship or poverty. We ought to defend our father’s good name, stand up for him in conflict, and help him fix his car. It is easy to see how these apply also to our relationship with God, and quite often we are willing to fight on His behalf or help repair His Church. But how often do we apply this to our fatherland? 

Just as our country—not the government, mind you, which is simply one of the country’s institutions at the service of the whole—provides daily all we need to live, whether food, housing, employment, or modes of transportation, we have a patriotic duty to support our country by paying our taxes, growing crops, hiring employees, or building houses. Our country, like our parents, has given us a heritage in the form of our history, our culture, our principles; and it is our duty to preserve and pass on this heritage. It is our duty to defend our country’s good name against those who seek to redefine it as racist, sexist, and whatever-the-latest-thing-is-phobic; it is our duty to defend our country against her enemies, both foreign and domestic; it is our duty to restore our country’s institutions to proper working order. 

Are you free to sit and watch as an army of yahoos take over the government? Sure you are; but you have a moral duty—not just toward your country but toward your children as well—to do what you can to prevent such a disaster and restore the institution should such an event occur (which, in case you missed it, it has).

What can we do then? I wish I had a solution to every problem our countries face today, but I do not. But we can start by actively participating in some of our public institutions. Get good, sensible people in government positions, whether that be school boards and town councils or the federal government. This requires community organization and setting aside petty differences to canvas for a worthy candidate. You can run yourself or find someone else who would be a good fit and nominate him. If necessary, get party memberships—even in multiple parties—in order to vote on party policies or candidates for party leadership. It also means actually voting for the best candidates. 

I’d like to briefly address here the phenomenon of abstaining from the vote. Presently, approximately one-third of eligible voters in both Canada and the U.S. do not vote in federal elections, yet 100 percent of eligible voters have complaints about the government. The principal reason I have heard for not voting is that it does not matter who we vote for, since there is no good candidate; the only difference between yahoo A and yahoo B is the hair. Then, there is no sense in voting for a smaller third-party candidate, since he won’t get in anyway. 

The solution to this problem is two-fold. First, get involved early to shift the party policies and get good candidates in, as stated above; if you don’t get involved in selecting good candidates, you can’t complain about not having them. Second, go out and vote for the best candidate, even if he is a small third-party guy; if the apathetic and disillusioned third of the electorate went out and voted for the third party, there would be a significant number of third-party members in government. Our elections are not just for the next president or prime minister, but for our local representatives as well, where our votes count for a lot more. 

Ultimately, this comes down to the question of charity when it is directed toward our country; and by this I do not mean simply our government but toward the populace as well. Charity desires the best for another; and, in this case, it desires the best for our country, for the institution of the government, and for the populace. But charity, like patriotism, is a virtue, which requires real concrete actions. Charity does not only desire the good of the other, but it pursues the good of the other. What more can you do to pursue the good of your country, her institutions, and her people but to strive to get good people in influential positions? 

It is important to preserve our families, to raise our children well, and to worship God as He deserves, but we need to recognize that no matter how we raise our children, they will go out into the world and face the social milieu that we have left there for them. It is up to us to decide what that milieu looks like: yahoo mania, or a rightly ordered society. The virtue of patriotism requires you to honor your country. And, when it is enlivened by charity, it requires of you to fight for its ultimate good and the good of the children who will inherit it from you. When they see the world you have left for them to inherit, do you really want to tell them you sat by idly to watch it burn?

[Photo Credit: Shutterstock]

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