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Patriotic Ideals

Epigraphs to Part 7

Patriotism having become one of our topics, Johnson suddenly uttered in a strong, determined tone, an apothegm at which many will start: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." But let it be considered that he did not mean real and genuine love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest.
- Boswell's "Johnson"

Our country is the world - our countrymen are all mankind
- William Lloyd Garrison

Would we tread in the paths of tyranny,
Nor reckon the tyrant's cost?

Who taketh another's liberty,
His freedom is also lost.

Would we win as the strong have ever won?
Make ready to pay the debt.

For the God who reigned over Babylon
Is the God who is reigning yet.

The laws of right are eternal laws,
The judgments of truth are true

My greed-blind masters, I bid you pause
And look on the work you do.

You bind with shackles your fellow man;
Your hands with his blood are wet.

And the God who reigned over Babylon
Is the God who is reigning yet.
- J.A. Edgerton, in "Democratic Magazine."

Though your word shall run with power, and your arm reach overseas,

Yet the questing bolt shall find you if you keep not faith with these;

Lest you be at one with Egypt, lest you lie as Rome lies now

In the potter's field of empires, mint and cumin, keep the vow.

Keep the truth your fathers made,
Lest your children grow afraid,

Lest you hear the captives' mothers weeping sore -

There is little worth beside -
They are dead because they lied,

And the young men's feet are at the door.
- Mary Austin in "Land of Sunshine" for February, 1900

Toll for the death of the Empire! Through the gloom

Deep and vibrating, speaks the solemn bell

The last dread warning of the coming doom:

His body to the dust; his deeds to hell!

Toll for the death of Empire! Lift the head;

Take off the crown of tyranny and fear;
And let no man do honor at the bier.

Ring for the reign of Freedom.

Empire's dead!
- Bertrand Shadwell in The Public, for March 29, 1902

Louis F. Post
The Ethics of Democracy
Part 7, Patriotism

Chapter 2
Patriotic Ideals


The American flag symbolizes a great political principle, a great moral principle, a great religious principle. It is the symbol of noble ideals, toward the realization of which we have been growing for a century and more, and which are summed up comprehensively in the first clause of the Declaration of Independence in these memorable words:


"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."


As explained in a previous chapter, this does not mean that men are created equally tall, or muscular, or moral, or intellectual, or civilized. That interpretation of the words is either childish or malevolent. What is meant is that however men may differ in height, in muscular strength, in intellectual vigor, or in other physical or mental endowments, they are created with equal rights. To deny that they are so created, is to deny the Fatherhood of God; for if God be the Father of all men, then all men are brothers.


But rights have their correlative duties. Consequently, the assertion that men have equal rights, implies that they owe duties to correspond. It is in fact the equivalent of the assertion that each owes a duty to respect equality of rights in all. The same principle is expressed by the golden rule: "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." There could be no more unequivocal statement of the principle.


This principle is of universal application. It admits of no exceptions. White men and black, male and female, rich and poor, ignorant and educated, civilized and uncivilized, whatever be their religion or their race, all have equal rights which each is in duty bound to respect. No man in his relations with other men, can have greater natural rights or owe lesser duties, than the lowliest. Has not God, the giver of all rights and the arbiter of all duties, declared that He is no respecter of persons?


First among the great fundamental rights with which all are equally endowed and which each is bound to respect, is the right to life. Men may forfeit it by conduct prejudicial to the life of others; but except as so forfeited, the right to life is equal.


So of the right to liberty. This, too, may be forfeited; but except as forfeited by conduct prejudicial to life or liberty, the right to liberty is equal.


So also all are equally endowed with the right to pursue happiness, a right of which, like the others, no one can justly be divested except for conduct in violation of his duty to respect the equal right of all.


To these rights - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - there is no other limitation in natural justice than the corresponding duty so to respect them as to secure and maintain their equality.


Supplementary to the fundamental proposition of the Declaration of Independence, that immortal charter of liberty further asserts that the inalienable rights of mankind already named are secured by governments "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." This clause is supplementary because it only elaborates the first clause, which embodies the whole principle. And the proposition that "all men are created equal" - with equal rights - includes not only the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," not only the principle that governments derive their "just powers from the consent of the governed," but also that right by means of which alone the governed can peaceably give their consent to the government - the right to the ballot.


Upon the foregoing principles all democratic government is founded. The government that does not rest upon them is not only not democratic, but is not a just government at all. It is but a species of arbitrary force. Such government, by whatever fine names it may describe itself to indicate that it maintains stability and preserves order, is in truth but organized lawlessness.


And acceptance of these principles must be more than verbal. Fully accepted, they preclude the recognition by government of chattel slavery. No man can own another without violating his duty to respect the equal right of all to liberty; and no government can enforce such ownership without renouncing one of its primary functions, that of securing liberty to all. Nor is condemnation of chattel slavery enough. There are other modes, more subtle but not less oppressive, of denying equality of rights. Chief among these is land monopoly. Where that flourishes equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are inevitably overthrown.


Since in justice those rights are equal, there must in justice be equal rights to land. Without land man cannot sustain life. It is to him as water to the fish or air to the bird - his natural environment. And if to get land whereby to support life, any man is compelled to give his labor or the products of his labor to another, to that extent his liberty is denied him and his right to pursue happiness is obstructed. Enforced toil without pay is the essence of slavery, and permission to use land can be no pay for toil; he who gives it parts with nothing that any man ever earned, and he who gets it acquires nothing that nature would not freely offer him but for the interference of land monopolists. It is the duty of government, then, to secure to all equal rights to land.


That the laws and institutions of the United States have not always been and are not now completely consistent with these ideals, is true.


When the ideals were proclaimed, the African slave trade was a recognized occupation; and it continued for more than thirty years after the sanction of our fundamental law. Slavery itself was protected by our fundamental law for three-quarters of a century. Here were plain denials of liberty.


In many States the right of men to vote unless they had property was long legally denied; while in all the States the right of women to vote was denied until recently, and in most it is still denied. Here we find another bald inconsistency. Equality of rights under the law implies, and government only by consent of the governed virtually specifies, the ballot as a right. To deny the ballot to any person is to deny him the power of even protesting against the manner in which he is governed. The right of consultation is inseparable from the right of self-government; and no right of consultation can be enjoyed by a ballotless man. Even the lives of members of a ballotless class are dependent upon the good will of their political superiors.


These violations of the right to life, liberty and self-government were indeed inconsistent with American ideals. But they were not denials of those ideals. The inconsistencies were in vogue when the ideals were proclaimed. The ideals have survived; most of the inconsistencies have been repudiated.


The slave trade was taken out of the category of legitimate occupations and denounced as piracy. Slavery was abolished, its re-establishment forbidden, and the former slave armed with the ballot. The ballot has been extended in most of the States to all men and in some to all women. The history of slavery and of ballot restriction therefore go to prove, not deliberate disloyalty to our national ideals, but advances toward them.


Equal rights, then, before the law; equal rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness; equal citizenship, with no "subjects," wherever the flag floats and its authority is asserted; and no toleration of governmental powers not derived from the consent of the governed - these are the American ideals; these are the basis of American patriotism; these are the principles our flag symbolizes.

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