With Independence Day approaching it is easy to get caught up in celebration and neglect the true meanings of American ideas. Significant concepts have the tendency to be reduced to political rhetoric. Regrettably, the word patriot is among these great ideas whose meaning has been obscured and stripped of its American distinction.
The general term patriot signifies a person having an attachment to their respective country or regime. It is based on a feeling, sentiment, or passion toward national loyalty. It is not surprising that the classic writer Ambrose Bierce considered that “Patriotism is as fierce as a fever, pitiless as the grave, blind as a stone, and irrational as a headless hen.”
According to the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, America is rated the most patriotic nation in the world. However, it is imperative to distinguish what it means to be an American patriot. It is not a blind allegiance to land, government, or nation. American patriotism is loyalty in the heart of the founding—grounded in the message of the Declaration:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
It is in the reverence for freedom and principle established in our Declaration that guides the zeal of an American patriot. “To be an American Patriot is to be attached to a certain set of ideas—you can be an American without even being here,” says Joseph Postell of the Center of American Studies. We are the heirs of this idea—that man is given unalienable rights. Recognizing this makes us not merely countrymen, but Americans. This ought not be cheapened, but remembered this holiday.
Do not let the idea of American patriotism fade into meaningless rhetoric. An American patriot is not one who shoots fireworks on the fourth of July, waves an American flag, or wears a lapel pin. The truest patriotic expression is a love, passion, and recognition of freedom. Let us understand, celebrate, revere, and protect it. This is what makes a patriot American.
Gabe Rodriguez currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm