The Particulars Of Patriotism

Jeremy Adam Smith ponders them:

If we feel pride, it should be in the accomplishments of our fellow citizens and in any contributions we ourselves have made toward making our country and community a better place, however small and local. Pride of simply being born American leads to hubris, which leads to bigotry and belligerence. For pride to be authentic, it must be something we feel we have earned.

The best American leaders have always made that distinction. We all know this line from John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” But few seem to remember the next line: “My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

The brutal Cold War context of these words is almost lost to us now, but the higher ideals behind them are not ambiguous. Kennedy presented himself as a patriot of the United States and as a citizen of the world, seeing no contradiction. These words are, at root, an appeal for authentic pride—citizenship as something that must be earned, in a nation that is part of a community of nations. Those are ideals worth celebrating on the Fourth of July.