Within the ether that is our political debate of the modernity of American life, patriotism is given as the justification for both liberty and tyranny. It is essential, therefore, that those who defend the honor of liberty, be as honorable as the noble ideal that they seek to propagate. Emotionally unbridled patriotism can, and has, been used to inflict great harm on free nations throughout history, replacing the tyranny of oppression with the tyranny of anarchy. The chains of oppression can be broken, or made stronger, with the use or misuse of patriotism, respectively.
In the context of traditional American patriotism, the patriot loves his country and the ethos of liberty, equally. The true patriot exhibits as much desire to control his passion as he has to control the tide of tyranny. The most powerful weapons available to the patriot are not those weapons made by the hands of men, but the gifts of reason and temperance given by God. The patriot chooses his words carefully to maximize the force of his argument in support of liberty.
The patriot argues for the cause of liberty with respect and honor, not with invective and acrimony. There is no greater recruitment tool for the followers of tyranny than the maelstrom of unhinged patriotism that finds itself in the downward spiral of raw emotion. Ronald Reagan was successful in inculcating the feelings of patriotism in his fellow Americans, not through the rants of a madman, but through the reasoned articulation worthy of the sanctity of liberty.
A patriot abhors violence and armed conflict as much as he does tyranny and oppression. He does not take lightly the use of physical force, or enter into it gleefully guided by misdirected passion. The always present option of that force comes to fruition only after the culmination of all efforts of civilized debate and constitutional instruments have been exhausted. The patriot does not go joyfully into the arena of armed battle, and goes regrettably only when the tenets of authoritarianism have suffocated all other options of a self-governed people.
A patriot loves the Rule of Law as much as he detests the tyranny of an oppressive government. He submits himself to that law, no matter how unjust he thinks it is, until such a time that he can dispense with it through the means of representative government. And he only turns to the battle of arms over intellect when the last vestiges of his representation have been buried under the mountain of totalitarianism.
A patriot engages in the constant and necessary examination of his motivations and actions in the cause of liberty, as much as he questions the probity of the authoritarian actions of his government. He does not allow his actions to define the cause of liberty, but seeks to have the cause of liberty define his actions. A patriot studies the Constitution and finds the instruments to aid him in his struggle against oppression within that sacred document. He does not predetermine his actions based on emotion, then find justification for them within the founding documents of this great and free nation.
In the final analysis, the American patriot does not bow to crassness by constantly calling himself a patriot to others, but elevates the spirit of patriotism in others through his behavior. His patriotism is judged as much by his inaction as by his action, his silence as by his words, and his reason as by his passion. There is no greater threat to the patriot heart than letting it be filled with rage and hate, blinding it to the true light of liberty that comes as a gift from God to his humble servants.