Two Kinds of Patriotism Thoughts by John Tennison, M.D., on Veterans’ Day, November 11, 2006

When considering what is meant by “patriotism,” I find it useful to recognize two kinds of patriotism:

1.  Elitist Patriotism

2.  Non-Elitist Patriotism


Elitist patriotism is the worst kind of patriotism.  Elitist Patriotism is a harmful, nationalistic form of patriotism holding that people of a particular country are somehow better or more worthy of having their rights upheld or lives saved than people of other countries.  Elitist patriotism fails to recognize “unalienable rights,” the universal human rights described by the founding fathers of the United States (in the Declaration of Independence) as being intrinsic to all human beings, regardless of their nationality.  Instead, elitist patriotism is “elitist” because it only recognizes rights of people who are citizens or even a subset of citizens of a given country, such as those of a particular religion or race.  Instead of judging someone based on their character, elitist patriotism considers someone favorably merely by their legal status of being a member of a particular nationality.  Elitist patriotism tends to be indifferent to or even in favor of exploiting, harming, or killing people of other nationalities because other nationalities are regarded as having intrinsically less worth.  Elitist patriotism promotes conformity and is threatened by dissent and individuality.  Thus, elitist patriotism is incompatible with the views of founding father, Thomas Jefferson, who said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”

Non-elitist patriotism is the best kind of patriotism. Non-elitist patriotism is a patriotism of good ideas, such as honoring life, individual liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and freedom in general.  Because non-elitist patriotism is a patriotism of ideas, it transcends national boundaries.  Because Non-elitist patriotism is a patriotism of ideas, it is physically unassailable by its enemies.  Yet, because non-elitist patriotism encompasses a set of ideas, it is assailable in situations where there is a lack of awareness, including situations in which there has been a lack of education or a systematic production of ignorance through propaganda.  Non-elitist patriotism practices inclusion, even for those who have dissenting viewpoints.  Non-elitist patriotism recognizes unalienable rights as belonging to everyone regardless of their nationality.  Non-elitist patriotism is focused on spreading its good ideas, rather than practicing imperialistic land grabs, or exercising other materialistic dominion.  Rather than create nationalist borders that define the in-groups of privilege and out-groups of deprivation, non-elitist patriotism seeks to universally extend its rights and benefits to everyone, regardless of their national identity or geographical location.  Of all the founding fathers of the United States, Thomas Paine probably exemplified the principles of non-elitist patriotism to the greatest degree. 

As I reflect on the countless lives lost throughout human history defending elitist patriotism instead of non-elitist patriotism, I am reminded of the lyrics of John Lennon’s Imagine:


Imagine there’s no Heaven 
It’s easy if you try 
No hell below us 
Above us only sky 
Imagine all the people 
Living for today 

Imagine there’s no countries 
It isn’t hard to do 
Nothing to kill or die for 
And no religion too 
Imagine all the people 
Living life in peace 

You may say that I’m a dreamer 
But I’m not the only one 
I hope someday you’ll join us 
And the world will be as one 

Imagine no possessions 
I wonder if you can 
No need for greed or hunger 
A brotherhood of man 
Imagine all the people 
Sharing all the world 

You may say that I’m a dreamer 
But I’m not the only one 
I hope someday you’ll join us 
And the world will live as one


I am proud to be a non-elitist patriot who happens to live in Texas.

I imagine a day when everyone will have “nothing to kill or die for.”


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