A quarter of Americans want to secede

Forty-five percent of Scots wanted to secede from Great Britain, and other secessionist movements are building up steam around the world (the Catalonians in Spain, the Flemish in Belgium, the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey, the Russians in the Ukraine, etc.).  And according to a recent poll, almost a fourth of Americans would like their states to secede from the Union.

The would-be secessionists come from both conservatives and liberals.  I haven’t noticed much nationalistic sentiment directed to one’s state or region, unlike in the Civil War days.  (For one thing, the states and regions have become much more homogenized than they used to be.)  Then again, I don’t notice nearly as much nationalistic sentiment directed to the United States of America anymore, unlike the broadly-felt patriotism of my youth.

Do any of you want to secede from the union?  Could you explain why? [Read more...]

America at 238–what’s to love?

The United States of America is 238 years old today.  And, arguably, feeling its age.  The country is polarized, but nearly every faction (though for different reasons) distrusts the government.  Nearly every faction also (for different reasons) criticizes the culture.  The patriotic legends of our history have been replaced with shame about slavery and how white people treated the Indians.  The rest of the world seems to have little respect for us anymore.  Our intellectual and artistic contributions are dragging.  The one bright spot is technology, but we use it mostly for trivial reasons, and it comes at the cost of hacking, identity theft, and privacy violations.  Most people would agree that America is very messed up right now.  America is in the doldrums.   And yet. . . .

Chesterton said something to the effect that we love our country in the same way that we love the members of our family.  In spite of their faults, which we know all too well.  In fact, a family member’s faults and problems properly bring out more love, since we want so badly to help.

So as a Fourth of July exercise, bring up things that you still love about this country.   I’m not looking here for “how great we are” statements.  Greatness is not necessarily a reason to love something.  What are some characteristic things about America that, despite everything, make you love your country?   I’ll go first, after the jump. [Read more...]

Anti-American conservatism?

Conservative think-tanker Peter Wehner cites recent speeches by Wayne La Pierre, Ben Carson, and Michelle Bachmann that describe America as a fundamentally corrupt neo-Nazi police state.  That is exactly what the New Left of the 1970′s said.

Read Mr. Wehner’s warnings against this mindset and this rhetoric after the jump.  And then consider. . . .Certainly, conservatism used to be associated with patriotism.  But is there something healthy about conservatives losing that America-right-or-wrong nationalism?  How can we strike a healthy balance between love of country and being able to criticize it? [Read more...]

Patriotism

Happy Fourth of July!

I remember growing up in a culture of patriotism.  Community events would feature patriotic speeches.  Politicians of all parties would wax eloquent about the greatness of America.  In school we actually had classes on “Americanism” in which we learned about American heroes, studied the principles of democracy, analyzed the virtues of free market capitalism, and lauded the distinct American ideology of liberty, equality, and individualism.  We also learned all about flag etiquette.

I now see that much of that was a reaction to the Cold War and to the ideological conflict with Communism.  (This was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.)  I also see quite a bit of idolatrous civil religion.  Still, there is a virtue in loving one’s country, and I remember the thrill I experienced upon first seeing the monuments and historic buildings of Washington, D.C.

Does any of that kind of patriotism still exist any more?

Of course then came the Viet Nam war.  The nation was split generationally and culturally more than politically, at least at first.  (The president who presided over that war was arguably the most liberal of them all, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and most Democrats, such as those in my hometown–we had never met a Republican–were all for him.)  But, by the time I was in college, my peers mostly opposed the war and grew cynical about America, to the point of out-and-out anti-Americanism.

The other side with its patriotism turned kind of nasty too, with its “America, Love It or Leave It” bumper stickers and its “My Country, Right or Wrong” loyalties.

Then came further disillusionment with Nixon, then Carter’s “malaise.”  But Ronald Reagan made  it possible to “feel good about America again.”  The end of the Cold War with the decisive victory of American ideals over those of Communism made us giddy with patriotism.

Today, though, I don’t see much of that.  The left is still cynical about America, but now that can increasingly be said also of the right.  The anti-government fervor is so strong that it sometimes bleeds over to complaints about our institutions, our history, and our culture.

When some of these folks do praise America, they do so because they say it gives them freedom.  But that’s a love of freedom, rather than a love of country per se, with America treated as an instrumental good, rather than as something good in itself.

Does any of the old-style patriotism still exist?  Should it exist, or is its passing a good thing?  Is nationalism too atavistic, too potentially war-like, to be encouraged too much?  Or is there a love of country that needs to be preserved and possibly even taught in schools?

“I love my country, it’s the government I’m afraid of”

Tourist shops here in the D.C. area sell a t-shirt that says, “I love my country, it’s the government I’m afraid of!”  (sic, the comma splice)   I believe it was first worn by liberals opposed to George W. Bush.  Now it’s being worn by conservatives opposed to Barack Obama.  (I present this as evidence for my assertion that both liberals and conservatives have become cynical when it comes to patriotic ideals.)

Now I understand the point.  It’s possible to love America with its purple mountain majesties, its history, its people, and its ideals while being utterly opposed to the government.  That’s a commendable distinction.  At the same time, in a democratic republic, the people choose their leaders and elect their government, so there is going to be a connection between the country and the government.  There is a fine line between hating a nation’s government and hating the nation.

In the older patriotism of my childhood, which I talk about in that other post, there was a palpable distinction–parallel to the rejection by orthodox Christianity of the Donatist heresy–between the office and the person who holds the office.  Critics respected the office of the presidency or of a Senator or Congressman, even if they attacked a particular office holder.  A person might complain about politicians in Washington, but not “Congress” as a whole.

Today. . . .I don’t know.  I worry about the preservation of our institutions if hardly anyone has any respect for them.

I suppose some people are afraid of their country–thinking the American people are essentially racist, plutocratic, and oppressive– but love their government, which they want to protect them from society.  Is there a similar danger in the sentiment on the t-shirt?

Liberty vs. equality

Robert Samuelson loves this country and everything it stands for, to the point of saying “America is my religion.”  Most Americans also love America.  But he notes how love of country is dividing us instead of bringing us together, mainly because of a conflict between the ideals of liberty and equality:

This intense love of country defines Americans and, compared to many, sets us apart. A 2004 study of 33 countries by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago ranked the United States first in national pride. You might think that this powerful allegiance — what I and no doubt millions of others call a religion — would bring us together. Often it does. But on this July Fourth, we face a disturbing paradox: Our love of country increasingly divides us.

Our national debates now transcend disputes over this or that spending program or tax and have become — in the minds of the combatants — a climactic struggle for the nature and soul of America. One side is allegedly bent on inserting government into every aspect of our lives and suffocating individual responsibility and effort. The other is supposedly beholden to the rich, committed to “survival of the fittest” and indifferent to everyone else.

If you believe these are the stakes — and that defeat would extinguish America’s most valuable and virtuous aspects — then the other side is to be despised and demolished. Your very love of country impels you to extremes of rhetoric and belief. It nudges you, increasingly, to hate the other side.

The backdrop to this struggle is long-standing. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted, Americans venerate both liberty and equality. Our entire history involves this tension between preserving freedom and promoting equality. If you are defending either, you naturally think that you are the legitimate heir of the country’s core beliefs.

In a democracy, de Tocqueville argued, Americans would ultimately favor equality over freedom, because its material benefits are more immediate and tangible. Not so, countered the late political scientist James Q. Wilson. Americans strongly value freedom, far more than do citizens of any other democratic country, he argued.

There’s plenty of evidence he is right. A recent Pew poll asked people to pick between “freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference” and the “state guarantees nobody is in need.” Americans selected freedom 58 percent to 35 percent. European responses were reversed: Germany’s 36 percent to 62 percent was typical. By wide margins compared with Europeans, Americans believe that “success in life” is determined by individual effort and not by outside forces. Yet, in their voting habits, Americans often prefer security.

The inconsistencies and contradictions won’t soon vanish. But in today’s politically poisoned climate, righteousness is at a premium and historical reality at a discount. Each side, whether “liberal” or “conservative,” Republican or Democrat, behaves as if it has a monopoly on historical truth. The fear that the existence of their version of America is threatened sows discord and explains why love of country has become a double-edged sword, dividing us when it might unite.

via Is the U.S. a land of liberty or equality? – The Washington Post.

The American ideal has always been BOTH liberty and equality.  I don’t think that equality ever was construed to mean equality of income.  Rather, it had to do with social equality.  Social classes existed, but they were not supposed to bring special privileges or a sense of superiority.  Both sides of these debates today are arguably falling short here, with the cult of wealth on the one hand and the cult of the cultural elites on the other (which are not the same thing).  But what do you think of Samuelson’s analysis?


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