Libertarian Patriotism vs. Statist Patriotism
by Jacob G. Hornberger
Today, Memorial Day, we are exhorted to display our patriotism by supporting the troops. That’s the statist version of patriotism. It involves a deference to authority and a conformity of mindset that induces citizens to automatically support the troops regardless of what the troops are doing.
The libertarian version of patriotism is completely different. It depends on an independent mindset, one that questions and analyzes what the troops are doing. The conscience of the individual plays an important role here. If a person concludes that the troops are engaging in wrongdoing, genuine patriotism, libertarians hold, necessarily entails an opposition to the troops, not a support of them.
The libertarian version of patriotism is especially important insofar as being a Christian is concerned. The Christian life is devoting to pursuing and following the laws of God. Thus, when government engages in conduct that violates the laws of God, the Christian’s moral duty is clear: He must pursue and follow the laws of God.
But for the Christian to arrive at that point, he must do a critical analysis of what the government is doing and determine the rightfulness or wrongfulness of the action, especially in the context of God’s laws. If he determines that the government, through the troops, is violating God’s laws, then he must refuse to support the troops and instead oppose them, with the aim of getting the government back on the right track.
That’s not what the statist says. The statist says that it is not the job of the individual citizen to question or challenge what the government is doing and how it is using the troops. The Christian is free to go to church and follow his religion, the statist says, but he has a equally paramount duty to support the troops, regardless of what the troops are doing.
For a good example of the statist mindset, we turn to Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan. For more than a decade, the troops have been over there—thousands of miles away from American shores—and killing and maiming people.
Throughout that time, the government has inculcated the following mindset into American adults and American schoolchildren: The troops are over there “defending our freedoms.” The indoctrination is so complete that no one, except libertarians, questions it. The mindset is instead one of automatic deference to authority and mental conformity to the government’s position.
Let’s examine two events in history to demonstrate the difference between the libertarian and statist versions of patriotism.
In a little over a month, Americans will be celebrating the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Contrary to popular opinion, the men who signed that document were not great Americans. That’s because they were English citizens, not American citizens. They were as English as you and I are Americans. They were simply English citizens living abroad, much as many Americans live abroad today.
After the Declaration was signed, the English colonists were exhorted to support the troops. Who were the troops? They were the established army of their own government, the British government. The British troops were no different, in principle, from U.S. troops today.
In fact, a large portion of the English colonists did support the troops. Under the statist version of patriotism, they were the patriots because they were the ones who were supporting the troops.
Not so under the libertarian version of patriotism. For the libertarian, it is the duty of each citizen to determine the rightfulness or wrongfulness of what the troops are doing in their service to the government. That’s what the English rebels did. They made a critical examination of what the troops were doing. When they determined that they were engaged in wrongdoing, they stood in opposition to them.
That’s why libertarians consider the patriots in 1776 to be the ones who refused to support the troops.
Another example of this phenomenon occurred in Germany in 1942-1943. A group of college students formed an organization called the White Rose, which secretly published and distributed a series of pamphlets calling on the German people to oppose what the troops were doing and, in fact, to rise up and oppose the government that the troops were serving.
The German authorities took the same position on patriotism that American statists take today. It is the duty of the citizen, Germans were told, to support the troops, especially in the midst of war, when the troops are dying by the thousands and the survival of the nation is at stake. Of course, most Germans, including Christians, dutifully accepted that notion of patriotism and supported the government and the troops.
For libertarians, however, the real patriots were the members of the White Rose, not the German citizens who were faithfully supporting the troops. The White Rose students had made a critical analysis of what the troops were doing in their service to the government. Responding to the dictates of their consciences, the students refused to support the troops. They were ultimately caught and, not surprisingly, executed as traitors.
For statists, who have been inculcated with a mindset of automatic conformity and deference to authority, the answer is clear: Support the troops and don’t question what they are doing.
For libertarians, who have developed independent mindsets that engage in critical thinking and respond to the dictates of conscience, the answer is clear: Don’t support the troops if they are engaged in wrongful conduct.