Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Meaning of 'Dissent is Patriotic'

Earlier last month I wrote a post called Dissent is Patriotic. Well, it's been getting some traffic lately, but it was really nothing more than a rambling rant, that didn't really do either the title or the subject justice.

In fact, I see now that I didn't even explain in that post exactly what that slogan means, because I took it for granted that it was self-evident.

Well, I'm sure the phrase 'dissent is patriotic' has probably been used by many people, but it is officially attributed to the historian Howard Zinn. That is where I got it from. But what does it mean? I'll tell you what I think it means.

To say that dissent is patriotic does not mean that all dissent is patriotic, or that dissent in and of itself is patriotic. What it does mean is that dissent, which generally means the opposition to official policy, can be patriotic in certain circumstances. And not only that, but the right to disagree with official policy, or the freedom to have a dissenting opinion without fear of suffering unreasonable punishment for disagreeing, is built into the very fabric of a free and democratic society.

For instance, if your country is founded on a specific set of rules and principles, and the people in charge institute actions and policies that violate, undermine, or subvert those rules and principles, dissent (meaning rebellion, opposition, protest, the failure to comply or support the people in charge and their polices), would in such circumstances be considered patriotic.

Patriotism simply means love and support of country. By country we mean not only the land and its people, but our collective society, our culture, our government, and the founding principles and laws of our nation.

But laws can and do change. Just because something is lawful, doesn't necessarily mean that it is true, or just, or morally sound. For instance, slavery was once legal. At the time of legalized slavery, would you say it is patriotic to support the institution of slavery? If the founding principles of your country support slavery, than perhaps you could. However, if you believe that the institution of slavery violates what your country stands for, than supporting slavery would in fact be quite unpatriotic.

If you believe that all men and women are created equal, and that all human beings have a natural born right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and such a belief is written into the very laws and principles that your country was founded on, support for slavery, or anything else that opposes those principles, would be inimical to not only patriotism, but the ideals of truth, justice, and democracy.

So in such a circumstance those opposing the legalized institution of slavery, would be a good example of dissent being patriotic.

In a society based on democracy and the rule of law, patriotism does not mean uncritically supporting your country, right or wrong, no matter what. Country in this sense meaning government, your elected representatives, their official policies, and the military. Patriotism means supporting certain fundamental founding principles, values, and laws inherent to a democratic society, and holding your elected officials accountable to them.

If on the other hand a democratic nation is for instance taken over by a fascist tyrannical coup, that subverts democracy and the rule of law, it would not be patriotic to support such an administration's policies or military engagements.

So in conclusion, to reiterate my points: The phrase 'dissent is patriotic' basically means an opposition to tyranny and evil, corruption and injustice, and the abuse of power in high places, while actively seeking to change the people and policies responsible for subverting democracy and the rule of law.