Catholic and Patriotic

Patriotism is a great virtue. To be a patriot is to love one’s fatherland. This means that it is to love the land of the people that sired you. Patriotism is a natural overflow of the virtue of piety — that is, the virtue of the home. As piety would have us rendering what is due in justice to parents and other family members, patriotism would have us render the same to our nation, its government, and our fellow citizens. Both of these are a matter of justice, for the virtues of piety and patriotism are parts of that cardinal virtue. Over and above justice is the theological virtue of charity, which also enters into a consideration of Catholic piety and patriotism. After God, we love our neighbors, that is, those who are “nigh” to us, meaning near us. Those most near to us are our parents and our siblings.

Our charity, as well as the just demands of piety and patriotism, spread out in broadening concentric circles from the family home to the neighborhood, to the town or city, to the state, to the region, to the nation (or empire), of which we are a resident, citizen, or subject. If we see our country as “our people” — something much more possible in homogeneous, non-pluralistic societies — it is much easier to see how piety quite naturally becomes patriotism. In such societies, people are not only united by a common culture; they are also closer to each other in the gene pool.

Thus patriotism is a rootedness in the land and its people.

Many Americans, I believe, lack this Catholic and “organic” notion of patriotism. For them, patriotism is the love of loosely comprehended abstractions — “freedom,” “pluralism,” “democracy,” “our way of life,” “national greatness,” etc. Or it may be a love of a document — the Constitution. None of these are worthy of true patriotism. They are not persons, or groups of persons. And as ideas, many of them are unworthy. Pluralism in religious matters, for instance, is the equating of God’s truth with Satan’s lie and man’s distortion. It is not our national strength; it is our bane. As for freedom, the greatest freedom is “the liberty of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21) that we each receive by grace, and that broader “freedom and exultation of Holy Mother Church” that we daily pray for after every Low Mass in the traditional liturgy. As often as not, the “freedom” extolled in the civic religion of America may be reduced to freedom for sin, which is a nonsensical concept, an oxymoron in Catholic terms, since sin enslaves us. (The “ordered liberty” spoken of by many constitutionalist conservatives could be a good thing, depending on what it is ordered to. To the degree that it is ordered to God’s Eternal Law, it is good; to the degree that it is not, it is evil.)

Patriotism is not a lot of things that are passed off under its name:

  • It is not love of the government that rules you, though it does demand respect for that government and obedience to its just laws.
  • It is not an ideological commitment to the founding principles of the nation in which you were born, especially if your nation was born of a revolution. A Catholic can be — and must be — a patriot whether he were an American, a Russian enslaved by Soviet rule, a Chinese under Mao, a German under Nazi tyranny, a Frenchmen under the anti-Catholic Revolution, etc. Within the proper parameters of a just war, genuine patriots may fight the tyrannical governments that oppress their fatherlands. In such cases, they are counterrevolutionaries. With varying degrees of success, Germans rose against Hitler, Spaniards against the vicious Masonic-Communist “Republic” in Spain, Vendéens and Chouans against the French Revolution, Mexicans against the Masonic tyrant, Calles, etc.)
  • It is not a feeling or conviction of the absolute superiority of your nation. (As in “American Exceptionalism” or the type of British jingoism that Gilbert and Sullivan lampooned in “He is An Englishman.”)
  • It is not the nationalism that would pursue the good of one’s country at the expense of others. (It is Saint Joan of Arc, not Cardinal Richelieu.)
  • It is not a detestation or contempt for other nations.
  • It is not an agreement with your nation’s foreign policy, or even a particular domestic policy.

For patriotism to be genuine in a nation as large as the United States — which is a good size for an empire — we have to recover the value of the family, the local and regional, of the intermediate institutions that stand between the individual and the State, and that common thread running throughout all these, the principle of subsidiarity. These are the wholesome organic ingredients of a true patriotism.

What I said in Tradition is an Affirmation about the character of Catholic tradition may also be said of patriotism:

We receive the Faith locally. We live it in our families. We utter it in our own tongues. We practice it in this church building, with people from this community. (The Italian notion of campanilismo and the [Spanish] Carlist conception of fueros are cultural and political expressions of this.) The living out of the true Faith is what produces a Catholic culture, and that culture is what ought to impress itself on our young, forming their convictions, eliciting their actions, commanding their reactions. An identity — a genuine one, anyway — is forged in this organic fashion. We don’t put them on and take them off as an indecisive college student does his major. That is what the rootless, restless modern man does, and this is one cause of his insanity.

The patriot loves his family, his neighbors, his backyard, those local institutions that nurtured and formed him, which he visits if he has moved abroad, and whose memory he cherishes. And he detests the petty politicians, oligarchs, commercialists, and aggressive ideologues who would destroy these precious things.1 Love of these things justifies his going to war when his country and its people are attacked. Big government, monied interests, vague notions of “progress,” “spreading our way of life,” or “making the world safe for democracy,” are causes utterly unworthy of the blood of an American warrior — of any warrior.

One last thing: the Catholic patriot desires his fatherland to come under the Rule of Christ the King. Here in the USA, it means he wants a Catholic America.

 

Those who would like a fuller treatment of patriotism might consult the old Catholic Encyclopedia article on Civil Allegiance.

  1. Many patriots detest the gluttonous leviathan in Washington D.C. that we call the federal government because it is the Nanny State and because it threatens those things worthy of our love and patriotism.
  • SonoftheChurch

    Great post.

  • Thank you, Son!

  • emanuel.

    Great post indeed. So simplified, the nation is a group of people with common ancestry. It consists of family-structures rather than contracts. Then it’s the same as ethnicity, right (even for white nations)?
    Those who want to restore the famliy cannot neglect restoring the nation in this sense. Today the ruined family means a lot of dysfunctional persons and so on. But if there’s a “we” in this particular sense, then we have to restore the family or we have lost our future. On the other hand, they’ll call us nazis.

  • CR89

    Thank you for this, Brother André. I have fallen into at least a mild state of despair for our country and the meaning of true patriotism, especially under the current evil administration. The aspects of true patriotism you write about in this article can never be taken away, no matter the political efforts to do so. May Almighty God grant that we be worthy of His blessings. Praise be to Our Lord Jesus Christ. God Bless you and keep you, Brother.

  • When I wrote that “Those most near to us are our parents and our siblings,” I should have mentioned “…and our children.”

    Keep in mind, dear reader, my state in life as a brother.

  • The restoration of the family is absolutely essential. The withering attacks against the family from all sides will have to be defeated if we are to have a nation that can be called “good.” Over an above that, its conversion to Catholicism is necessary if it is to be called “holy.”

    A nation can exist with a multiplicity of ethnic groups. The wonderful regional characteristics of the USA are an asset (not so, religious pluralism). In my opinion, a confederation of sovereign states or an Empire is best suited to the expansive geography of this nation. Keep in mind that the Hapsburg Empire had a multiplicity of nations within it. They got along better when they were part of the Empire than they do now. The horrible “peace” brokered at the end of WWI set the stage for WWII, and not everybody is happy about their borders still.

    In this part of New Hampshire, there is a substantial Finnish population. They are the salt of the earth: big families, hard work, friendly folks. One of the ladies that worships here was asked, as her large brood of children followed her in the grocery store, “Are you Finnish?” The only problem I have with these good Finns is heresy: they’re Lutheran.

    In New Orleans, where I grew up, the Negros and French gave us gumbo, the Italians gave us the muffuletta sandwich, the Germans and French joined forces to make outrageous sausage, etc. We also had a Hellenic Cultural Center, Irish Bayou, a VERY OLD settlement of Canary Islanders, and well established communities of Jews of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic ancestry. (I’m probably leaving out half a dozen groups.) Culturally, the contributions of all these were pretty impressive. Religiously, of course, some of them are wanting because of heresy, schism, or unbelief.

    All across this land are interesting and culturally enriching settlements: Cajuns in Bayou Country, Germans and Bohemians in the Midwest, Hispanics in the Southwest, Armenians in Detroit, Italians in the Northeast, etc. I have sampled some of this local flavor at Catholic festivals over the years. Where their cultures are preserved, it is in the family and via those “intermediate institutions” I spoke of.

    Save the family and spread the faith: that’s the fundamental recipe for national greatness.