Citizenship, America and Patriotism

Every Fourth of July, recent polls have reflected a decline in patriotism, pride, and love for America. American citizenship unifies communities, states, and even other nations in common cause. National exceptionalism of peoples and nations should be nurtured and encouraged everywhere. The root word of ethnicity in Greek is ethnos and means “nation.”

“American” is not meant to be a term of ethnicity, gender, specialness, or entitlement; these are all based on interest-group politics. I define “America” as a special geographical place, but perhaps more importantly, an idea that can be found and nurtured anywhere. It is a melting pot of individuals who love and seek liberty and freedom—a place that inspires greatness in self and others and moves the cause of liberty for all people everywhere. Americans also have a reverence, regard, and respect for the principles of liberty found in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution. They understand that rights require reciprocal duties by obeying the laws that support those unalienable rights. The Oxford Dictionary defines “American” as “the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing for the highest aspirations or goals to be achieved.” (Oxford English Dictionary)

One of my greatest concerns is how our culture is suggesting a bifurcation of terms with each person identifying with a name, culture, or tribe such as Democrat, Republican, rich or poor, blue collar or white collar, LGBTQ+, or African-American, Native-American, etc. Labels are divisive, stifling and limiting; they put an unnatural ceiling over us. Do we really want those monikers as our lead card for our only identity or opportunity? We all develop identity and become a natural aristocracy of Americans by birth or formal adoption through citizenship with work and effort. Citizenship requires us all to cross the culture gap of being a dependent to an independent. This means acquiring or attaining education, learning English, becoming economically self-reliant, and being an asset in our community. All this so we can be independent self-governing individuals who, given freedom, can discover their special genius and virtue in America. Our greatest identifiers and unifiers are liberty, opportunity, and equality under the law as “Americans.” American is then a collage of many to make one, E Pluribus Unum. “It is more effective politically to present oneself as an American who wants to be treated fairly by other Americans.” (Hirsch, E.D. Jr. How to Educate a Citizen. Harper Collins, 2020.)

In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick we find a great symbol of American unity. The whaling vessel, called the Pequod, is a native name. The characters on the ship brought together a multiplicity of ethnicities in the world to a unity, common cause, and opportunity to improve their situation.  A true story that illustrates this is that of Eldridge Clever who was part of a group of Marxist agitators in the 1960s. His objective, and that of many that followed him, was to destroy the economic and social structure in the United States in the name of equal rights. His journey took him and his followers down the path of burning and fire-bombing activities in various cities in 1968. He eventually fled to Cuba and other communist countries. After eight years of exile, he asked for return claiming he would “rather be in jail in America than free anywhere else…..I was wrong and the Black Panthers were wrong…..We are inside the system and I feel that the number one objective for Black America is to recognize that they have the same equal rights under the Constitution as Ford or Rockefeller, even if we have no blue-chip stocks. But our membership in the United States is the supreme blue-chip stock and the one we have to exercise.” (“The Education of Eldridge Cleaver” by Laile Bartlett,  Reader’s Digest, September 1976, pg. 65-72.) This is another example of why we owe our sacred honor, lives and loyalty to this place and idea we call America.

In the book Carnage and Culture historian Victor Davis Hanson writes. “The particular way the Greeks killed grew out of consensual government, equality among the middling classes, civilian audit of military affairs, and politics apart from religion, freedom and individualism, and rationalism. The ordeal of the ten thousand when stranded and near extinction, brought out the polis that was innate in all Greek soldiers, who then conducted themselves on campaign precisely as civilians in their respective city-states.” (Hanson,  Victor Davis. Carnage and Culture. Anchor, 2002.) The connection between values and battle is not original but has an ancient pedigree. The Greek historian Thucydides wrote how the Greek General Brasidas dismissed the tribes of Illyria and Macedonia because they “have no discipline and so cannot endure shock of battle. As mobs do, they changed their fearsome demeanor to cries of flight when they faced the cold iron of disciplined men in rank. Why? Because such tribes are the product of cultures in which the many do not rule the few, but rather the few the many. (Thucydides 4.126)” (Hanson)

Hanson refers to the western success in battle as cultural dynamism “which was manifest at Salamis which was the central battle in the clash of two entirely different cultures, one enormous, wealthy, and imperial, and the other small, poor, and decentralized. The former drew its enormous strength from the taxes, manpower, and obedience that a centralized palatial culture can so well command; the latter from the spontaneity, innovation and initiative that arise exclusively in small, autonomous, and free communities of lifelong peers. Contemporary Greeks themselves believed that the course of the war hinged mostly on a question of absolute values. Indeed, they felt that it centered on their own strange idea of freedom or eleutheria-theirs to keep or Xerxes’ to take away. The war, in their eyes, would hinge on how much freedom was worth and to what degree it might trump the king’s enormous advantages in numbers, material wealth, and military experience. The moral drawn by Herodotus, is that free citizens are better warriors, since they fight for themselves, their families and property, not for kings, aristocrats, or priests. When asked why they did not come to terms with the Persians a Spartan envoy stated the reason is freedom: You are knowledgeable about only one half of what is involved; the other half is a blank to you. The reason is that you understand well enough of what slavery is, but freedom you have never experienced, so you do not know if it tastes sweet or not. If you ever did come to experience it, you would advise us to fight for it not with spears only, but with axes too. (Herodotus 7.135) If we were to ask a Greek sailor at Salamis what he rowed for it would certainly include freedom of speech. The Greeks had two words for such: Isegoria, the equal right to speak publicly, and parrhesia, the right to say what you wish. This ability to do so in council with others provides great contrast to the Persians who were to only do as they were told or risk your life.” (Hanson)

So, what is your idea of citizenship, America, and freedom? What is it worth? What would you give or do for these ideas and place? Why? 

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education®. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

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