Patriotism and Compatriotism Coupled Yield Civic Strength

Thoughts from a Principled Conservative Outpost—Seventh in a series on the aspects of Panhandle conservativism.

Patriotism is a feeling of love, devotion and a sense of attachment to a nation or homeland. The foundation of patriotism is citizenship. It may be impossible to imagine healthy patriotism not undergirded by a clear concept of citizenship. Similarly, compatriotism is an affinity for membership in a group smaller than a nation or homeland. In essence, the opportunities for belonging to small groups, clubs or organizations, communities, regions and states create opportunities for compatriotism, and all peoples’ memberships in the largest order define patriotism. At West Texas A&M University, we have hundreds of clubs and organizations to which people belong.

Alliance with other citizens who share similar sentiments creates strength and unity even when smaller groups may differ markedly in how their affinities are defined. The thread binding these groups together is a notion of patriotism. Often, group membership requires individual contributions to sustain the group. In the national sense, it might mean service to the nation and a common goal of protecting sovereignty through the Armed Forces. In a smaller group, it might mean participating in a community of faith, an association of people who practice the same trade or craft, participating in and supporting an independent school district or working in a town or community towards achieving the greater good. The group could be as small and seemingly insignificant as a few people who gather to read and discuss a book.

Ethnic, cultural, political and/or vocational groupings are all provided for in a healthy constitutional republic. “Patriotic Assimilation is an Indispensable Condition in a Land of Immigrants,” declares Mike Gonzalez. True patriots and compatriots recognize the value of smaller groups to a healthy composition of larger groups, up to and including the largest group, one’s homeland. A cascade of compatriotism creates order in society through a hierarchy. These voluntary assemblies, despite a wide range of diversity of thought, opinion and action, are part of a healthy constitutional republic, and they become parts of the jigsaw puzzle that constitutes a nation, our nation.

It is easy to confuse patriotism and nationalism according to Kim R. Holmes. Healthy patriotism is “informed patriotism” as described by Ronald Reagan in his Farewell Address to the Nation, and leads to a desire for the concept of the “shining city on a hill” to positively flourish. Healthy patriotism similarly creates a passion for a commonly held interest, which is a constituent part of a national aspiration. The greatest challenge in balancing a smaller group identity with a larger community identity as a positive national identity requires an appreciation for “others.” Appreciation of another can manifest itself in many ways but should not result in the denigration of “others.” Rather than unity, denigration of any leads to disunity for all.

Constructive patriotism and compatriotism encourage civic engagement and social responsibility. For reasons I do not fully comprehend, the perception of patriotism in some corners of our society has become a “dirty word.” Universities should support the concepts of healthy group membership and the sense of belonging to something larger than self. Yet, a tyranny of the majority, opines Edwin J. Feulner, could undermine the very nucleus of our republic. James Madison, in Federalist 10, describes the opportunities and dangers to the greater social order of factions. Patriotism is essential for progress, according to Clay Routledge writing in Forbes.

Frederick Douglass, the African-American social reform abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman, exhibited a complex appreciation for group membership and patriotism and the interplay in the world ripped apart by groups and subgroups during the bloodiest Civil War the world has ever known. Douglass believed in the potential of the United States to live up to its founding principles of liberty and equality for all, as stated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. However, he was also a fierce critic of the country’s failures to do so. Douglass viewed true patriotism not as a blind loyalty to one’s country regardless of its actions but as the commitment to ensure the country lives up to its ideals. This perspective is encapsulated in his Fourth of July Speech in 1852.

Douglass believed true patriots focused on the idea that genuine love of country required the relentless pursuit of equality for all citizens. His legacy teaches that patriotism involves not only celebrating one’s country but also actively working to ensure it lives up to its highest ideals. In his Fourth of July speech, he said, “No people ever entered upon the pathway of nations, with higher and greater ideas of justice, liberty and humanity than ourselves.”

I believe it is important at West Texas A&M University to hold compatriotism and patriotism high in the bright light of circumspect wisdom and examine them relentlessly in the pursuit of sustaining and improving our great nation. If such patriotism is offensive to some, so be it.

Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at

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