JMC : The State and the Church / by Ryan and Millar

16. Patriotism{1}

by Most Rev. John Lancaster Spalding, D.D.

There is a higher love than love of country, -- the love of truth, the love of justice, the love of righteousness; and he alone is a patriot who is willing to suffer obloquy and the loss of money and friends, rather than betray the cause of truth, justice, and righteousness, for only by being faithful to this can he rightly serve his country. Moral causes govern the standing and the falling of States as of individuals; and conquering armies move forward in vain, in vain the fleeting fabric of trade is spread, if a moral taint within slowly moulder all. The national life is at fault if it be not in harmony with the eternal principles on which all right human life rests. The greatest and the noblest men when they meet rise into regions where all merely national distinctions are forgotten and transcended. In studying the works of a philosopher, a poet, or a man of science, we give little heed to what country he was born and lived in, so eager are we to learn the truth and beauty he reveals, -- truth and beauty, which are of no country, which are wide and all-embracing as the universe, In the presence of heroic virtue also, the national limitations disappear, that the godlike man, who belongs to all countries and ages, may stand forth in his proper light. A man supremely endowed narrows his mind when he is less than universally human. What he says and does should make laws for all, -- those diviner laws which have their sanction in the common sense which makes the whole world akin.

Patriotism as understood by the ancients is but a partial virtue. When it is most intense, it is most narrow and intolerant. In Jerusalem, in Athens, in Rome, the city was the fatherland. It was the thought of Zion, and of "Siloa's brook that flowed fast by the oracle of God"; of the Acropolis, with its marvelous setting in the midst of the Attic plain; of the world-mother, looking from her seven hills on the Tiber's tawny wave, -- that made the exiles waste away with repinings for home; and their passionate devotion to their country was rarely separable from a hatred of the foreign nature. Whoever was not a citizen was an enemy or a slave; the captive foe was treated with pitiless cruelty, and the slave had no rights.

We are separated from those ancient patriots less by the long lapse of time which has intervened than by the difference of spirit in which we look upon and love our country. For us the man is more than the citizen, humanity more sacred than nationality. To lead a man's life, one must live for some one or some thing other than self. As we can see ourselves only in what is other, so we can find and love ourselves only in what is other than ourselves. To escape from the starved condition of the isolated, the individual is impelled to identify himself with larger unities, -- with the family, with the State, with mankind, with God.

Now, for the ancients the State was the ultimate unity in which a man could find and feel himself. Hence their aims and sympathies were partial and narrow. Their patriotism was more intense, but it was less rational, less moral, and therefore less enduring and less beneficent than ours. It was not possible for them to identify themselves with the race, to recognize that all men are made of one blood, and that whenever one suffers injustice, wrong is done to all. But for us nationality has ceased to be the limit of individual sympathy, and the oppression of peoples, however remote, often affects us as though we ourselves had been injured; while noble words and heroic deeds, wherever and by whomever spoken and done, fill us with enthusiasm and gratitude.

Many causes, of which the Christian religion is the deepest and most far-reaching, have led to the wider views and more generous appreciativeness of modern men. In looking to the one heavenly Father, they are drawn together and held by ties consecrated by faith and approved by reason. Science, which deals with laws that are universal, that act alike upon the farthest star and the grain of sand at our feet, on the race as on individuals, promotes this catholicity of feeling and interest. Our machinery, too, in bringing the ends of the world together, facilitates the intercourse of the peoples of the earth and thereby weakens their immemorial prejudices and hatreds. The commercial interdependence of the nations has a like tendency; while the constantly increasing influence of woman makes for larger sympathy and love. No great movement can now long remain within the boundaries of the nation in which it originates. The questions of education, of labor, of the rights of woman rouse attention and discussion in every civilized country. A new discovery or invention is at once heralded from land to land. The telegraph and the printing-press mediate a rapid and continuous interchange of thought throughout the world, and thus help to make us all, in a way never before possible, citizens of the world.

At the present moment America, if simple truth may be uttered without incurring the suspicion of conceit, represents the general tendency and sentiment of the modern age more than any other country. Here the national feeling is larger and more hospitable than anywhere else; here men of all tongues and races more easily find themselves at home than anywhere else. No other country is so attractive, no other affords in such fulness opportunity for self-activity in every sphere of endeavor, no other insures such complete civil and religious liberty. Nowhere else is there so much freedom from abuses which, because they are inveterate, seem to be sacred; nowhere else is there so much good will, so much readiness to help, so much general intelligence, such sanguine faith in the ability of an enlightened and religious people, who govern themselves, to overcome all obstacles and to find a remedy for whatever mishaps or evils may befall them. Here too, more than elsewhere possibly, men feel that there is a higher love than the love of country, that the citizen can serve his country rightly only when he holds himself in vital communion with the eternal principles on which human life rests, and by which it is nourished.

The American's loyalty to his country is first of all loyalty to truth, to justice, to humanity. He feels that its institutions can be enduring only when they are founded on religion and morality. He is less inspired by the fortune of the Republic, its material advantages and possibilities, than by its spiritual significance and destiny. He is, indeed, filled with a sense of gladness when he beholds it stretch from ocean to ocean, from the Lakes to the Gulf; when he sees the northern pine salute the southern palm as a fellow-citizen; when he looks on its prairies teeming with harvests sufficient to feed the world, on its mountains and plains filled with silver and gold, with iron and copper, with coal and oil.

But he is less impressed by this geographical and material greatness and splendor than by the intellectual and moral conditions which America presents. Nature is fruitful in vain where man is contemptible. The palace makes ridiculous the occupant who is a beggar in mind and spirit. To no purpose is the country great, if the men are small. Life is more than life's circumstance, man more than his environment. The American patriot, then, more than others seeks grounds for his love of country chiefly in the world of man's higher being. For him freedom, knowledge, truth, justice, good will, humanity, are the essential needs; and it is a little thing that America offers facilities for satisfying the physical and material wants, if here the soul is starved.

Democracy itself is not an end, but a means. The end is a nobler, wiser, stronger, more beneficent kind of man and woman. How shall such men and women be formed except by opportunity, -- opportunity for all of worship, of education, of culture, of work that strengthens and purifies, while it creates material comfort and independence? If a nobler race is to spring forth in this new world, all the influences that are active and potent in the national life must conspire to form public opinion, by which in the end we are all ruled, -- a public opinion which shall be favorable to pure religion, to the best education, and to sound morality. The better kind, however otherwise they may disagree, must unite and support one another in ceaseless efforts to create such a public opinion. They must not merely lead loyal, brave, chaste, and helpful lives, but they must so live that the atmosphere in which they move shall receive from them a magnetic quality, -- the power to stimulate all who breathe it to nobler thoughts and loves, to a deeper and more tender solicitude for the rights and needs of all men, of women and children, of the sick and forsaken, of the criminal and captive.

Goethe, who never utters a foolish thing, says that in time of peace patriotism properly consists merely in this, -- that each one sweep before his own door, attend to his own business, learn his own lesson, that it may be well in his own household; and what he says, if but partial, is nevertheless essential truth. He himself, indeed, even in times of war and disaster for the fatherland, seemed to act on this principle, and he has consequently been accused by some of his own countrymen of a lack of patriotism, though in fact he did more to make possible the political union of Germany than any other man; for he more than any other awakened the self-consciousness of the German people and thus inspired them with a more intense longing for national unity.

A good patriot, is first of all a good man, -- true to himself and true to his relations to his fellowmen. If false to himself, he is false to all. If he love not rightly his father and mother, his wife and child, the neighbor who dwells beside him, how shall he rightly love his country? If he respect not the dignity of human nature in himself, but degrade it by drunkenness or lying or sensuality or dishonesty, how shall he feel a genuine and generous interest in the common weal, and earnestly strive to do his part in correcting the evils and abuses which impair or threaten the national life and prosperity? It will, indeed, be easy for him to make his patriotism a theme for declamation, and easy, too to throw suspicion on the loyalty of others; but if he is not a real man, it is not possible that he should he a real lover of his country.

Whoever deliberately wrongs an American, wrongs America. The worst enemy of the country is not the drunkard, but the buyer of votes, whether at the polls or in council chambers or in legislative halls; not the petty thief, but the capitalist whose insatiate greed urges him on to crush all competitors; not the selfish man who cares not at all for the general good, but the politician who makes his patriotism a cloak to cover him while he sneaks into public office which he prostitutes to private gain; not he who refuses his assent to measures, however popular, unless he can give it honestly, but the demagogue who is ever ready to run and cry with the crowd; not the ranting anarchist, but the editor who for money impugns the known truth. But the beef embalmer has attained the highest point of treacherous infamy, beyond which it is not possible to go, -- he poisons the wells, not to destroy the enemy, but the soldiers who fight their country's battles. The saloon is bad; the worst evil, however, resulting from it is not drunkenness, but political corruption; for if just laws were rightly administered, the saloon would cease to be a source of degradation and ruin.

Our civilization is still incomplete; it is, as Emerson says, "a wild democracy; the riot of mediocrities and dishonesties and fudges." If numbers were enough, if wealth were enough, if machinery were enough, to constitute a great people, for us the question would be settled, but the kind of man, not numbers or wealth or machinery, is what we have to consider, and it is a favorable omen that we are not self-complacent, that our defects and faults are not hidden from us. We suffer from the absence of the discipline of respect, from a certain hardness and materialism, from a fondness for exaggeration, and from boastfulness. The fear of demos and the demagogue prevents us from speaking the simple and salutary language of truth when far-reaching and vital issues are in question.

We are so accustomed to bow to the will of majorities that we easily forget that votes count for nothing when we have to consider what is true and wise and just. Here there is every likelihood that the minority is right and the majority wrong. The multitude everywhere and in all ages are dominated by the present. They are unwilling to wait, unwilling to deny themselves now that they may become capable of higher things hereafter. The success of a day robs them of the glory of a lifetime. They are fickle because, since they see only what is immediately before them, their opinions change as the road turns. They are selfish because they are shortsighted and but feebly influenced by large ideas and generous aims. Being a crowd, they are easily hypnotized, and are quickly hurried from one extreme to another. They follow the cry of chance leaders, and, being little able to think for themselves, they resent independence of thought in those things precisely in which such thought is most needed; for in the deepest and most critical questions concerning the national life and policy what is popular is rarely what is most wise. The voice of the most serious minds is not only not heeded, it is drowned in the clamor and vituperation of those who are themselves led by men who know little, and who have at heart chiefly their own popularity and profit. A false opinion is created, and we are commanded to accept it without question as the will of the people; and our highest officials, when they yield to the outcry of the mob, are commended for their wisdom and patriotism. Our best minds do not guide us; our best men do not govern us.

By faithful adherence to the principles with which our national life began, we have grown to be a prosperous and mighty people. We have been taught to cherish these principles as being scarcely less sacred than our religion. Our climate is healthful, our soil fertile, our territory large as all Europe. Our industry, intelligence, and mechanical skill have in the brief space of a century made us the richest of the nations, while the growth of our population has been phenomenal. If success is an argument for continuing in a given line of policy and conduct, no people ever had so good a reason for following in the old way. Our success has been marvelous, but, after all, it is still only the success of an experiment. It has not yet been proved that a stable and enduring civilization can be built on a democracy such as ours. We occupy a continent stretching east and west, and south, for thousands of miles. It is not easy to reconcile the interests of regions lying so remote from one another. Our population is composed not only of intergeneous elements from Europe, but also of a large and increasing and but partially assimilated body of Africans.

While our material progress has been great, our love of principle and our strength of moral conviction seem to have grown feebler. More and more we are dominated by greed; more and more we become reckless of the means by which money is obtained. Vast fortunes are quickly heaped up, but those who toil are little benefited. Our political and commercial life is undermined by dishonesty, and we are becoming so callous or so reckless that abuses which endanger our very existence as a nation give us little concern.

Here, at our hands, lies the task God sets us. It is the development of our inner life, the enriching of our minds, the purification of our hearts, the education of ourselves through liberty and labor, the reform of our politics, the rooting out of cant, lying, vulgarity, greed, and dishonesty, of drunkenness and lust; the correcting of our extravagant estimate of the value of what is merely matter of life's accompaniments as distinguished from life itself, which is thought and love, strength and courage, patience and forbearance. We have to learn that what makes a millionaire spoils a man; that a people who think trade and commerce the one thing needful have no permanent place in history, because they have no influence on the spiritual, which is the real life of man. The people who are the bearers of the largest thought, the deepest love, the holiest faith, live and work forever in the race, while merchants and traders perish and are forgotten, like the wares they deal in. See how quickly elated and how quickly cast down are they whose hope is in riches, -- for riches are akin to fear, to change and death; while they who live for truth and righteousness move forward, serene and unafraid, upborne by the unseen powers; for truth and righteousness are life. Beggars and outcasts, if but some divine thought or immortal hope upwelled within, have survived the fall of empires, the ruin of civilizations, and the utter vanishment of the people from whom they sprang. We have to learn to know how to be happy and noble, for, as Ruskin says, till we have learned how to be happy and noble, we have not much to tell, even to Red Indians; and he goes on: "To watch the corn grow, and the blossoms set; to draw hard breath over ploughshare or spade; to read, to think, to love, to hope, to pray, -- these are the things that make men happy. . . . The world's prosperity or adversity depends upon our knowing and teaching these few things; but upon iron or glass or electricity or steam, in no wise.

The Absolute, the Highest, is a Person, and the civilization which issues in the noblest personalities is the best. By them we estimate the worth of our nature, by them the value of our political and religious institutions. But noble men and women do not spring forth in isolation. As an individual, man is insignificant; in fact, he cannot become human at all, except in a social environment, -- in a medium in which he is made partaker of the life of the race, receiving the thoughts, hopes, and beliefs, the aims, aspirations, and ideals, which are the food of the spirit of man, of that which places him in opposition to nature and lifts him above its fatal laws. It is the patriot's business to strengthen and purify the institutions by which the citizen is educated, -- the family, the Church, the State. To whom the life of the home is not sacred, nothing is sacred. The child that does not drink pure love and religion from this fountain-head can never be rightly educated. It is in vain that we build churches and schools, if the home does not fill them with teachable hearts and minds. It is here that each one receives his better self, -- the self which makes him conscious that he is a center toward which infinities converge, where truth and justice and love are felt to be the real and permanent good. What burns in the hearts of the fathers will glow in the breasts of the children. Patriotism, like charity, begins at home. It is not a philosophy; it is a sentiment, inspired, above all, by the mothers of a people, from whom also we receive religion and morality. Washington calls these the indispensable supports of political prosperity, and therefore he refuses to give the title of patriot to those who "labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest. props of the duties of men and citizens."

The end of all worthy struggles is to establish morality as the basis of individual and national life, and morality can be firmly founded only on pure religion. To make righteousness prevail, to make justice reign; to spread beauty, gentleness, wisdom, and peace; to widen opportunity, to increase good will, to move in the light of higher thoughts and larger hopes, to encourage science and art, to foster industry and thrift, education and culture, reverence and obedience, purity and love, honesty, sobriety, and the disinterested devotion to the common good, -- this is the patriot's aim, this his ideal. And if even a minority, a remnant, work in this spirit and strive with this purpose, the star of the Republic, which rose to herald the dawn of a new and better era, shall not throw its parting rays on the ruins of an empire stained with blood.

{1} Excerpts from an address delivered at the Crève-Coeur Club banquet, Peoria, February 22, 1899. Reprinted through the kindness of A. C. McClurg & Co., from the volume entitled "Opportunity and Other Essays."

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