Patriotism is a concept that many people think is a good thing but it just doesn’t stand up under close scrutiny, usually ending up in ‘my country, right or wrong’ and defending the actions of a government even when it commits the most outrageous crimes against its own people or those of other countries. Most frequently it is used as a cudgel against those who point out a nation’s flaws, in order to shut them up and as a means of diverting their attention away from global isues of justice.. I agree with Leo Tolstoy who wrote:
“Patriotism in its simplest, clearest, and most indubitable signification is nothing else but a means of obtaining for the rulers their ambitions and covetous desires, and for the ruled the abdication of human dignity, reason, and conscience, and a slavish enthrallment to those in power. And as such it is recommended wherever it is preached. Patriotism is slavery.”
So I was encouraged to read that young people in the US are becoming less patriotic. The article points to studies that show that the number of people in the 18-33 year age group who say they are ‘proud to be American’ has decreased from about 55% in 2013 to about 33% today.
When it comes to the flag as a symbol, a public opinion poll conducted by the Foundation for Liberty and American Greatness suggests that young people see the flag less as a symbol to be proud of and more as a symbol of what is wrong with the country. If more students are associating the flag with flaws in the system, it would explain why some students opt out of standing for the pledge of allegiance or other celebratory acts.
The author of the article tries to salvage the idea that patriotism is declining by suggesting that it needs to be redefined and that young people view patriotism in different ways, as evidenced by more of them being engaged with politics and showing up for elections.
In the end, it’s too simplistic to say that young people who are dissatisfied with the U.S. at present aren’t patriotic. It’s likely that the very students who are refusing to stand for the pledge are exhibiting their patriotism by demanding a better tomorrow, as was seen in the student protest movements of the 1960s and other current student-led protests.
My feeling is that this decline in patriotism is to be welcomed rather than salvaged through redefinition. The less people identify with things like their flag, their country, their anthems, and their tribal loyalties and the more they identify with universal principles of justice and human rights, the better.