On the meaning of patriotism

What does it mean to be a patriot? This is a central issue throughout the history of Political thought. A patriot simply put can be defined as a good citizen, and thus the question now becomes what does it mean to be a good citizen.

In 2007 a movie named Blue State was made in an attempt to consider this question. Starring Brekin Meyer and Anna Paquin as John and Chloe, Blue State explores what it means to be a good citizen of a republic while showing the audience the examples of bad citizens.

The movie begins in the midst of the 2004 Presidential Election among supports and staff of Democratic candidate John Kerry. John plays an outspoken supporter of the Kerry campaign and hater of the Bush administration. He believes it is not only his right, but his duty to speak out against the policies and administration of President Bush.  One night, during a drunken stupor, John makes a pledge that if President Bush wins a second term as President that he will move to Canada. Now, during every Presidential election season, we hear people proclaim, “if so and so wins the election, I’m moving to (name your country.)”  Well, as one suspects, in November of 2004 President Bush won reelection and John is forced to deal with his promise he made to move to Canada. After realizing he cannot get out of his promise, John is resolved to move to Canada; but first he places signs around town in hopes of finding someone who will go with him.

Enter Chloe, who we see for the first time putting blue streaks in her hair and piercing her right nostril.  She meets with John at a local coffee shop and tells him that she worked for the DNC on the election campaign for John Kerry and that she is a gym teacher. John accepts Chloe as his companion and so begins their journey to Canada. We later find out that Chloe in fact did not work for the DNC but rather she is an apathetic. This brings us to the first point of a good citizen.

John replies to Chloe’s apathy that politics does matter. Aristotle defines politics in the Nicomachaen Ethics as the supreme activity, all other activities are aimed at politics. Why is this? Because politics is aimed at the ultimate good, which is happiness.  The question of whether it is better to engage in politics or in a life of contemplation is also central in this quest. John declares that to engage in politics is the best possible life one could partake in. A good citizen certainly has an obligation to take part in his or her given regime; a citizen according to Aristotle is the person who is capable of governing within the polis. Thus in our republic we are all citizens, once we reach the age of 18, and are capable of ruling. To be apathetic in our regime is to neglect one’s citizenship duties- to be a bad citizen.

Next we have to understand why John and Chloe choose to flee to Canada as the ultimate act of patriotism. John leaves primarily because he swore to do it when drunk; this should teach anyone being drunk is a bad idea. But there is something deeper in why John has chosen to flee his place of birth. John doesn’t agree with the administration and believes the country is lost and wants to make a political statement by leaving our regime in favor of the Canadian regime. But is this true citizenship? The Declaration of Independence makes it clear, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” John is directly contradicting the Declaration’s mandate, if he truly and sincerely believes that our government is defective it is his duty as a citizen to work towards the institution of  a new regime for the future happiness and safety of the American people. This is a lesson that John only learns later on, at the same time when Chloe fully realizes what it means to be a true citizen.

Chloe’s reasons for fleeing America might be considered much more reasonable than John’s. Chloe admits before they cross the border that she is in the U.S. Army and facing a second tour in Iraq. Her fleeing the United States is not only a political statement, but a Federal crime. Chloe knows full well she can never return to the place of her birth. Instead they shes goes with John to Winnipeg,  where a group called “Marry a Canadian” is located to help disaffected Americans find a spouse so they can start their process of becoming a Canadian citizen. When they realize that it is a crack brain idea, they vow to head to Vancouver.

On their way to Vancouver we witness yet another mistake of John’s misguided principles when they run out of gas because John refuses to buy gas that uses oil from the Middle East.  They encounter a man who offers to give them a place to stay for the night and gas to continue their journey. We come to learn that this man fled the United States back in the 1970’s when he was to be drafted and sent to Vietnam. He admits that if he had the chance to do things all over again, he would. His fleeing to Canada was not a political statement, because people in America could careless that he left. He left America because he was fearful for his own well being. He looks down upon the soldiers who flee America because of the war in Iraq because it was their choice to join the military, they were not compelled as he would have been. Thus Chloe resolves to return to the U.S. and face a court martial for going AWOL.

Being a good citizen means that you stay and fight for what you believe in. This is exactly what John realizes as he returns to America and resolves that instead of running away from what he disagrees with he’ll stay and attempt to change things from within; he becomes a California Senator. To be a good citizen one must realize that they have a duty to ensure that the government has not become destructive of the ends it was established for, and further,that if it does, a good citizen will work to correct the ills of their government. John  and Chloe come to realize that fleeing to another country is a cowardly act; it is a selfish act.

To be a good citizen you must be active in politics, and you cannot simply turn your back on your country when it has turned its back on you. You must stay and fight, become directly involved in the government. Ultimately, to be apathetic is the sign of a bad citizen because it proves they do not care for their country. John and Chloe are prime examples of two forms of apathy at the beginning of Blue State. John is unwilling to help change the government, but instead flees at the first sign of trouble. Chloe doesn’t care about politics, she doesn’t realize that politics is the most essential part of human life.  Being a patriot, being a good citizen means being active in politics.

For those who are interested you can find more information about the movie Blue State at:


One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Sorry I haven’t checked your blog in awhile, Joe.

    I really liked your post on patriotism. It recalled to my mind the life and times of St. Thomas More, a man who went from being Chancellor of England (and favorite of Henry VIII) to a criminal convicted of high treason. Thomas More had (and was blatantly offered) plenty of opportunities to flee England and take up residency in a host of other Catholic countries (esp. Spain) who undoubtedly would have proclaimed him as a champion, a great intellectual ally in the battle against schism and Protestant heresy. Yet More’s last words were: “I am the king’s good servant.” He chose not to flee, and that choice proved that he was a loyal Englishman through and through.

    Well done.


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