Celebrating America, in light of everything

People on the left often have problems being patriotic on the 4th of July, since they consider the nation whose birthday is celebrated to have been built on slavery, imperialism, and a predatory capitalism.  But now conservatives, usually the big flag wavers on Independence Day, might also feel disillusioned with the USA.

We live in a country that seems to stand for license without freedom.  We are ruled by trends instead of by law.  We are radical individualists and, at the same time, conformists.   We have a good constitution, but no one follows it much anymore, and our Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches all seem out of whack.  To be sure, America should not be confused with its government, but even worse than our government and the source of its errors is our culture.  Oblivious to our history and traditions, today’s culture seems shallow, materialistic, irrational, and immoral.  America may have been a good idea back in 1776, but the reality is not measuring up.  Or so we might think in 2015.

I think even those who think that way–or the way the Left thinks–should celebrate on July 4.  I’ll explain why after the jump. [Read more...]

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?


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