One piece of evidence among many that we live in a decadent time (decadence ain't all bad, but...) is that patriotism has become so controversial. I'm going to avoid the controversy by not getting all theoretical about the Declaration of Independence or "American exceptionalism."
Patriotism is, first of all, all about gratitude for having a political home, a place--a particular piece of territory in a particular part of the world--in which you are recognized, protected and can flourish in freedom with others.
We don't have to talk about the relationship between the rights of citizens--civil rights--and "the rights of man"--human rights--to remember that natural rights or human rights are only effectually protected politically.
So Independence Day is not about the sovereign independence of the autonomous individual. It's about the political independence of a particular people. It's about the sovereign country--government instituted among men--that's the condition for the free exercise of rights by particular persons.
The virtue most appropriately displayed on July 4, in addition to gratitude, is loyalty. We can't dispense with duties--which can't be reduced to calculation--if we're serious about rights. Our gratitude should extend especially to those who routinely and loyally risk their lives to protect us. It goes without saying that loyalty doesn't mean not being critical. It also goes without saying that the duties of those who fight to protect us are also our duties, which we should be glad to perform, if need be.
Even or especially the Darwinians say that we find our purpose and significance as parts of groups or tribes or wholes greater than ourselves. We become too personally obsessive to ever be happy if we don't believe that there are people and personal causes worth dying for. We can't live well with the homelessness we can't help but experience as self-conscious persons if we don't experience ourselves as in many senses at home. Today, we should thank God as Americans that we're not stuck with only being displaced persons.
We Americans, of course, know that we're not merely or even most deep down citizens. We're free from political domination, as Madison, for one, wrote, to discover our conscientious duties to our Creator--who's the God of all and so not the God of America in particular. We also know, of course, that our personal identities includes an awareness our irreducible individuality. We're not Spartans, thank God.
As social or relational beings, our religious and familial attachments are more personal and so inevitably trump our political attachments. Even that doesn't mean that America doesn't require and deserve our personal attention and cultivation.
We're also not Marxists or hyper-libertarians hoping and working for "the withering away of the state." We're not "statists" because we don't understand our country as an alien and oppressive state.
Even the right to the free exercise of religion is most precarious without the right kind of political protection. And we're being reminded very insistently right now that the family atrophies without some political encouragement and protection.
So HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!