What is a Patriot? Enriching Our Understanding of a Common Term

By Jacob Knutson

For many it is easy to condense the definition of a patriot as one who defends, supports and loves his/her country. While this phrase may include the baseline meaning of a patriot, it is discrediting to tether such a deep concept to such a broad statement. In order to find the true definition of an American patriot, without dishonoring the concept, we must expand upon these ideals.

To say a patriot is one who defends his or her country, whom do we include? Citizens who protect this land from foreign or domestic dangers, like soldiers, policemen and firefighters? But what of the other millions of Americans who do not work in such a manner? We must allow that any American possesses the ability to protect his or her country. This protection may not be of the land, but of the fundamental ideas which the land was founded upon in the Declaration of Independence: that all men are created equal and with the rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. A patriot must also realize that if the rights of one are violated, then the rights of all are at risk. Upholding these notions, no matter the background, profession, or political affiliation, must be at the heart of any American patriot.

"Old Glory" by Aaron Groote on Flickr.
“Old Glory” by Aaron Groote on Flickr.

Another important characteristic that an American patriot must attend to is supporting our country. But when we hear the phrase, “Support your country,” we usually associate it with flying our colors and joining in on the festivities of July 4th. While these customs are important, they do little to directly support our country. A superior notion for an American patriot, while still continuing these traditions, would be to support our country by proudly partaking in our civic duties of voting, serving on juries, paying taxes, and obeying laws. These not only affect our country in an immediate and positive manner, but they give the civilians a greater voice in our government; if we do not vote, for example, we silence our own voices. Any one can hang up a flag and present the facade of patriotism, but true support by a patriot means possessing not only an exterior but also an internal sense of patriotism.

The love of our country has, in all times, been a subject of warm commendations and it is certainly a noble passion, but, like all other passions, it requires action not words. By supporting and defending the ideas that make us America, we are showing our love, but this love must not be that of eros (romantic love) , but that of storge (parental love). A true patriot shows love by not blindly following any action that his or her country carries out, but by showing concern for these actions. If their country goes against their wishes, they must, just as any concerned parent would, correct the unruly behavior.

We must not confine the rich and profound idea of American patriotism to just three words. For if we let this idea dwindle into meaningless political jargon, so too will all the actions of a true American patriot. Instead, we must thoroughly contemplate the definition of an American patriot and live in a way that echoes the words written on our Declaration to the world.