Chesterton’s Patriotism: A Call for Americans

Chesterton’s Patriotism: A Call for Americans

G.K. Chesterton

If you are anything like me, the national news has been hard to follow recently. Neutrality and the press conflict each other like fire and ice and each day it seems news of another potential scandal dominates the front pages. I feel many Americans, like myself, have reached a low point in their trust in media and political institutions. At times it has been easy to feel a sense of apathy, a sense that objectivity, cordiality, and commitment to rational debate are ideals belonging only to the past. Despite this tendency, I argue it is imperative to remain committed and optimistic about improving our country.

It should bring us peace, and if nonetheless squash an overly romantic view of the past, to know that our government is working exactly the way our founding fathers intended. When our constitution was being written in 1787, the framers knew the nature of man and politics. Even the best men, as Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, Franklin, and others knew, had a historical tendency to strive for more power. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 51, an essay belonging to the larger collection of Federalist Papers designed to explain the constitution and argue for its passing, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” But men are not angels, and thus a government was designed in which “ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” The founding fathers felt that liberty could only be secured if power was so divided to protect against the rise of a dominant majority. Competition and struggle seem to be the vehicles our founding fathers intended to use to protect our liberty. This is in fact exactly how politics worked in the earliest years of our Republic. In 1791, acting Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, started his own newspaper and and regularly wrote partisan pieces in efforts to oppose his own boss, President George Washington. As gridlock as politics may be in DC today, we do not have cabinet members creating their own newspapers to impede the progress of their boss! Likewise, one could also argue that disrespect between personal political rivalries was worse in the past than today. After all, Alexander Hamilton died at the hands of sitting Vice President Aaron Burr in an actual shooting duel which was the climax of a long political feud.

The challenge becomes how do we accept the natural bickering that comes with American politics, yet remain committed to unrelenting reform? How do we love America in her greatness, yet love her through her weaknesses? I argue we must adopt an attitude of patriotism as proposed by GK Chesterton, in which optimism and pessimism are combined. We must be pessimistic in the sense to know the status quo is not ideal. Yet we must also be optimistic and we are always capable of striving towards better days. This attitude allows us to process our faults, take pride in our triumphs, and move enthusiastically towards creating an ever more just society. As Chesterton noted, “Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.” Let us therefore view America’s greatness as a reason for loving her, and her weaknesses as reasons to love her even more!

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Written by
Matthew Weisenborn