Curb Your Patriotism

Curb Your Patriotism July 13, 2016

Over at Those Catholic Men, I write:

Budweiser beer cans are called ‘America’ now.

Budweiser, of course, is owned by Anheiser-Busch, which is owned by AB InBev, an international Belgian-Brazilian company that produces Miller, Coors, Corona, Shocktop, Stella-Artois, Fosters — and most of the other beers you’d recognize.

The result being that a corporation with neither place nor responsibility to any community is using our place, and the sentiments of community it invokes, to sell their beer.

But before we blame the Belgian-Brazilians for their opportunism, let’s ask the tougher question: What about our sense of nation and community has made it possible for an international organization to milk our feelings of patriotism into buying bad beer and contributing to a placeless global economy? If the Belgians had sold our forefathers a beer called ‘America’, they would have bristled — and not just because of the taste.

Only a reduced sense of community that views ‘America’ as being so generalized, sum-uppable and monochromed could possibly make a connection between a population of 300+ million people and the drinking of one, boring beer.

Wendell Berry, in his essay “Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community”, makes this point:

“By community, I mean the commonwealth and common interests, commonly understood, of people living together in a place and wishing to continue to do so. To put it another way, community is a locally understood interdependence of local people, local culture, local economy, and local nature. (Community, of course, is an idea that can extend itself beyond the local, but it does so only metaphorically. The idea of a national or global community is meaningless apart from the realization of local communities.)”

Berry joins an ancient vision of the city as a community with limits. In his Laws, Plato argued that there should be no more people in the ideal city than “may fraternize with one another at the sacrifices and gain knowledge and intimacy, since nothing is of more benefit to the State than this mutual acquaintance,” and his pupil, Aristotle, argued that “the best limit of the population of a state is the largest number which suffices for the purposes of life, and can be taken in at a single view.” (Aristotle, Politics, Book 7, Part 4)

We cannot take in America at a single view. We cannot fraternize with the people of America. America is not a “interdependence of local people, local culture, local economy and local nature.” America, in a strict sense, is not a community.

America need not be a community. The problem is that our current views of patriotism pretends that America is a community, and this twists us into all sort of absurd positions.

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