[This release date for my new book, Of Thee I Sing: The Contested History of American Patriotism, has been pushed back a bit, but I don't know there's ever been a more important moment to talk about patriotism. So this week I’ll use portions of the book’s Introduction to briefly highlight each of my four categories of American patriotism, leading up to a special post on my goals for the project over the next couple months—and how you all can help!]
Here are two spots in the intro where I define my third category, active patriotism (the first of two that I offer as an alternative to celebratory and mythic patriotisms):
1) “Another element that both celebratory and mythic patriotisms share is that they often present patriotism as fundamentally passive, a participation in national community largely defined by acceptance and repetition of existing rituals and myths. On the other hand, one of American culture’s most hotly debated recent events, NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s controversial national anthem protests, have modeled a more active form of patriotism. Kaepernick’s detractors have presented his actions as unpatriotic, as nothing short of attacks on American soldiers, the flag, and the nation itself; as fellow quarterback Drew Brees put it in a May 2020 interview, “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States.” Yet as illustrated by his decision to kneel rather than sit during the anthem after consulting former NFL player and Green Beret Nate Boyer over what action would be more respectful, Kaepernick clearly perceives his protest as a patriotic tribute to American ideals. But that tribute also embodies a form of activism, as this more active form of patriotism uses and challenges a communal moment of celebration like the anthem to advance an argument about how the nation both has fallen short of and needs to move closer to its ideals. As Kaepernick puts it, “To me this is something that has to change and when there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent in this country, is representing the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.””
2) “Both celebratory and mythic patriotisms often foreground passive participation in shared communal rituals. In contrast, American history features many examples of a more active patriotic expression of commitment to and love of country, and Bates’ third verse highlights a prominent such example: the service and sacrifice of Union soldiers during the Civil War. “O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,” she writes, “who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life!” Military service comprises one clear and consistent form of active patriotism, but American history provides examples of many others, from social activism and protest to political engagement, journalism and cultural commentary to the creation of literary and artistic works. Like the best versions of celebratory patriotism, active patriotism represents an inclusive form in which all Americans can potentially take part, a communal vision of service through which all Americans can embody and extend our shared national identity and ideals.”
Last patriotic category tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Examples of active patriotism you’d share?