Patriotism, in addition to being the last refuge of a scoundrel, connotes a certain sense of belonging. It is a love for one’s own country, and for her people: those who came before, are now, and will be. From its Jacobean beginnings, the word insinuated the possibility of excess, however.
I have been feeding a kind of “philosophical dictionary” into this column lately, pausing to consider the meanings of words, to mention their etymologies and so forth. We live in an age when meanings are turned upside down; when words such as “tolerance” and “diversity” are humpty-dumpstered into cant phrases with a rusty ideological edge. By simple repetition, in sentences that are meaningless except as slogans, the ideologues are able to throw a spanner into the most elementary thinking processes and spread neurosis everywhere. Therefore we must stand on guard, for the English language.
The word “patriotism” has been twisting for a long time.
The word became politicized in the 18th century, in slightly different ways on either side of the Atlantic. In Europe, including England, it acquired heavy irony. Far from an embodiment of “true patriot love,” the “patriot” was the sort of person described in Johnson’s Dictionary as: “a factious disturber of the government.”
In America, the “patriots” were the rebels against King George. But they were so successful that the word there acquired less irony and more chauvinism, except in the “true north,” where the refugees from that rebellion settled in British territories that later confederated into the Dominion of Canada. It was “patriots” versus “loyalists,” and up here “patriot” took on the European flavour.
In the course of two centuries, the word has recovered some part of its original ambiguous lustre, as a good thing, within reason. Yet under stress, it remains a term of engagement, not of love. And there is still a difference in tone between American and other usage.
“How dare you question my patriotism!” is a phrase we associate with liberal Democrats in the U.S.A., who imagine that conservative Republicans doubt their love of country. It is the sort of phrase that might never occur to a Canadian or Englishman or Italian or Swede. There remains something exceptional about American patriotism, tied since the Revolution to a specific Constitution.
Whereas, in most other countries, constitutions come and go. Patriotism retains the shade of faction, and, for the historical reasons cited above, the whole idea of “a Canadian patriot” is oxymoronic and close to a direct contradiction of terms.
We can, however, distinguish between loyal Canadians, and disloyal ones. We do have a constitution, much of it written, which is now among the oldest in the world: far older than most on the “old continent” of Europe. We have been a formal, autonomous, representative democracy since the Confederation of July 1, 1867; but the roots of our responsible government descend much deeper. We might therefore claim a political maturity both deeper and broader than that of the young, inexperienced Europeans.
This showed, paradoxically, even in Toronto last weekend, when we were able to wind ourselves into national indignation, and make 900 arrests, at a riot that claimed only four police cruisers, and a few dozen shop windows. By European standards, it might hardly have been worth reporting.
As a connoisseur of riots, I shall be writing of milling about in it, for my Sunday column. But for the moment, I only wish to convey the wonderful sense of relief, amounting to joy, when I turned my attention from the demonic malice of the anarchist Black Bloc, to the arrival of our Queen in Halifax.
She will of course be here in Ottawa today and on Parliament Hill for our national celebration of what will always remain “Dominion Day” in the heart of this unreconstructed Canadian.
That she is, in her person, the linchpin of our Constitution, of “Crown in Parliament,” will go without saying to those who understand it, although over the heads of those who don’t. I could add that those who show a proper and spontaneous respect to our monarch (as Americans to their flag) are the loyal Canadians, and those who don’t are the disloyal ones, in a purely rational sense.
But on this, her 22nd tour of Canada—which as she said on her arrival, has always had a special place in her heart, has always felt like coming home—I want to remember what a fine and stalwart monarch she has been. And to express, as a loyal Canadian myself, the gratitude I feel for her long and faithful service and the love that is owing to this very particular woman—this frail octogenarian, carrying her own umbrella and walking so confidently down the guard-line in the Haligonian rain.
She has been, and she remains, not only a constitutional, but also a living symbol, of “patriotism” in the better original sense: of a selfless devotion to the good of her peoples. She has been, and remains, in her person, an example of what is noble.
God save our gracious Queen! And God bless our fair Dominion!