Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Ivory Cubicle | Patriotism, Gardening and Assorted British Conservatives

This week’s column is from a personal friend of mine, Jonathan Jero. Jonathan is a senior political theory student at Patrick Henry College who plans on entering a career in international relations. He is an avid fan of Tolkien, Lewis and grouchy British conservatives, who have aided in the inspiration of this article.

-Nick Barden
Patriotism is one of the hardest terms to use meaningfully in modern political discourse.  It goes on an ever expanding list of words that have been claimed by all sides and are now nearly without meaning.  The patriot of today is not granted enough moral room to stand on both feet, much less swing a big sword.  Many enemies have assailed the good and true love of country over the past few decades.  Of them all, perhaps the most pernicious is the modern/post-modern emphasis on empirical patriotism, that is, the conception that the country must be loved for no reasons other than those which are empirically demonstrable.
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien
C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton grappled with this concept very explicitly. During their lifetimes the dangers of imperialism and colonialism were being pointed out and the glory of the British Empire was being challenged.In The Four Loves, Lewis argued that an empirically based patriotism is “fair game for the debunker.  As knowledge increases it may snap and be converted into disillusioned cynicism or may be maintained by a voluntary shutting of the eyes.”  Instead, Lewis and Chesterton suggest basing patriotism in something that is not demonstrable. 
G.K. Chesterton
In Orthodoxy, Chesterton advocates loving a nation for no reason at all.  For Chesterton, if you love a single, particular thing the temptation to tear apart the country trying to preserve it is enormous.  Someone who loves for no reason, he suggests, can strive to beautify his nation without killing it.  He can love his nation not as a summer house, but as the: “fortress of our family with the flag flying…the more miserable it is, the less we should leave it.”  One does not leave the nation which raised him simply because times are hard, one tries to raise the homeland up to be greater than it was before.
Lewis argued that we should teach love of our country through stories, not by trying to rationalize it.  Confusing history and story is a grand mistake: “The stories are best when they are handed on and accepted as stories.  I do not mean by this that they should be handed on as mere fictions (some of them are after all true).  But the emphasis should be on the tale as such, on the picture that fires the imagination, the example that strengthens the will.”
Both these great men suggest the same thing -- the patriot stands on the ground he was raised on.  He can only love it for its own sake, not for some contrived reason.  Reasons constrain, they do not give man room to love.  A country does not constrain, it only asks – whispers – to be served.
One of the best examples of this sort of love comes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  When Sam, the simple hobbit of the Shire, has taken the One Ring of power from Mr. Frodo’s seemingly cold, dead corpse he takes on himself something of dreadful power, enough to pull down towers and raise up armies.  When he first steps into Mordor he feels the call of that power.  This is something far beyond his ken, the call of power to do what he and he alone wills.  In his struggle with the Ring he sees himself as “Samwise the Strong,” striding across Mordor, turning it from a land of ashes to beauty.  That, to empirical reasoning, is good.  To take evil and turn it to good?  Nothing could be more demonstrably desirable.
Instead, Sam thinks of his home.  He does not think on the ‘benefits’ of using the power of the Ring, he thinks about the home he loves: “he knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden…one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.” What is this understanding? 'Tis naught but simple love of home.
Sam loves for no reason. He loves because it is his home. He has trimmed hedges there. He has cut grass and picked strawberries there. The Shire is not as great or as powerful as the kingdoms of Mordor, Gondor, or even Lothlorien, but it is his. What do strawberries and cream compare to towers and high citadels? He loves the strawberries, and he wants to go back home to plant more flowers. And that strikes straight through the idea of power.
Loving for no reason may seem like a dangerous idea.  But it is far more dangerous to claim a reason which may be disproved.  That creates a timorous patriotism, one which is afraid to plant its feet and swing a sword for fear that its footing will be contradicted by the latest historical analysis.  A patriotism based on a love of the place which is your home, and to which you owe all you are, is far stronger.  Give me the footing of simple love any day.  It won’t slip.  Why?  Because no matter how ugly my nation turns out to be, I am promised to make her beautiful.
By Jonathan Jero


  1. This is my favorite line,- "the patriot stands on the ground he was raised on. He can only love it for its own sake, not for some contrived reason. Reasons constrain, they do not give man room to love." Also," A patriotism based on a love of the place which is your home, and to which you owe all you are, is far stronger."

    The points above draw the article home. I raised three patriotic children, but what I love the most is how much they love their home and their country. This article is a reflection of our family.