Kieran Conrad is a ConservativeHome College Columnist Winner. He studied English at Middlebury College and Liberal Arts at St. John's College.
Patriotism (n): love for or devotion to one’s country.
What is patriotism? Since presidential hopefuls often talk about being patriotic, it is important to understand the meaning of the word. Let us carefully consider its definition in this instance: devotion means love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a cause; a country is a political state; political means, or relates to, government; and government means the system by which a nation is conducted. Patriotism, therefore, is the love for, or devotion to, one’s system of government. Unfortunately, most people neither know our system of government nor understand the philosophy of liberty upon which it is founded: The United States is a democratic, constitutional republic, where the people elect representatives who will dutifully carry out their oaths to the laws that were created to protect the natural rights of the people.
However, today people believe that the proper role of government is paternalism, that it is government’s role to take care of the people. Citizens are reminded of this every four years when presidential elections occur. Candidates parrot the usual platitudes, the requisite partisan barbs, and the banal talking points. For “conservatives,” it is important to discuss lowering taxes, fixing healthcare and education, securing borders, strengthening national defense, and growing the economy. This is essentially what “liberals” say, too. Unfortunately, neither party wants to conserve the laws or philosophy upon which the federation was founded, nor do they truly believe in classical liberalism, which advocates the ideal of limited government and liberty of individuals, including freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and markets. Instead, candidates regurgitate the well-worn rhetoric of what they would do and what they would create, rather than saying what they would repeal and what they would abolish. While this would not be politically expedient, it would be patriotic.
What is patriotism, then? In our case, whether Republican or Democrat, a patriot is one who refrains from using the power entrusted to them by the people to impose their beliefs on others by use of force. The presidential race is looming, and two options remain for the candidates: whether to grow the government or the economy. One is grown at the expense of the other. It would serve every candidate and citizen well to remember history, and how the growth of government, whether through the loss of individual rights and freedoms, the broadening of economic and social control, or the expanse of militaristic imperialism and devaluation of currency, always ends the same, and it can happen here, too. If patriotism and conservatism are important, then it is important to contrast each candidate’s voting record with the system of government and philosophy of liberty we wish to preserve, and not choose candidates based on whom we believe will best use the power of government to force others to live the way we believe to be proper. Instead, the core issue should be the rate by which the government is growing and the economy is dissolving. Therefore, perhaps the only candidate qualified to fix the problems is the only one who predicted them.
Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.
- John Adams, to Abigail, 26 April 1777