a new patriotism needed

A trail of sparks arched over the fence just before the explosion. Our whole family had been out in our backyard enjoying a warm 4th of July evening.

A trail of sparks arched over the fence just before the explosion.

Our whole family had been out in our backyard enjoying a warm 4th of July evening.

With others of the local five or six year old set I was likely running around with a sparkler lit by my father.

The neighbour’s cherry bomb went off a few centimetres from my brother. The flash of the blast singed his ear.

My father reacted immediately. I seem to recall him vaulting over the fence into the next-door neighbour’s yard.

Given my dad’s muscular physique and demeanour I am sure the lecture he gave the culpable teenager was memorable. Suitably chastened the young fellow likely had good cause to reflect before ever touching a cherry bomb again.

Back in the 1950s those 2.54-centimetre-thick, sawdust encased salutes packed the equivalent of up to 10 larger firecrackers worth of flash powder into them.

Every year those powerful little red explosives damaged hundreds of kids’ hands and eyes until the originals were banned in 1966. Safety concerns now mandate that any salutes like cherry bombs have just a small fraction of their original charge.

We still celebrate national holidays like July the 1st and 4th with fireworks. Though here in the Yukon summer light limits their effect to just smoke and noise. On Parliament Hill in Ottawa they get the dazzle and design as well.

The nation-states being feted over the next week espouse sets of values that underpin their legitimacy and right to govern.

In 1867 “peace, order and good government” succinctly capture the principles upon which our country’s Confederation was founded.

“Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” could do the same for our neighbouring nation state.

Co-incidentally Ho Chi-minh used the same phrase in the Republic of Vietnam’s 1945 Declaration of Independence.

To what do we owe our loyalty? Is it to a geographic entity or the principles upon which the state whose citizenship we hold is based?

In the 360 years since the Peace of Westphalia ended nearly a half century of warfare in much of Europe, nation states evolved to cover almost all of the globe.

The legitimacy of the modern nation state in part comes from the social contract that it has evolved with its citizens. The nation state ultimately seeks to be seen as the concrete expression of the common good.

Nationalism and the excess of patriotic zeal it can inspire, though, often has distorted the picture. The variously attributed quote “My country right or wrong” expresses an extreme form of this. The attitude of one country “über alles” has lead to nearly immeasurable bloodshed and grief over the past few centuries.

Environmental concerns, resource depletion, the threat of pandemics, an increasingly integrated global economic fabric are all among the factors driving us to take a more cosmopolitan view.

No one nation state can or should attempt to resolve the world’s pressing issues alone. We are facing unparalleled challenges that demand a new form of patriotism, a new loyalty to the global commonwealth.

In that sphere, the legitimate, universal values we ascribe to as a people will be shared while the limits of borders and boundaries become increasingly irrelevant. Be careful when you light your fireworks this coming week!

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse.

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