Patriotism

I realize I didn’t put anything up for the 4th; I was too busy watching the fireworks on the mall, a hundred feet or so from the Washington Monument. It was surreal and awesome, and, being an idiot, I forgot a camera. But I’ve spent today looking back at the literature on patriotism I’ve found most persuasive, and settled on two passage. First, the words of Frank Church, a serious contender for best Senator of the latter half of the 20th century, and the leader in both the fight to stop Nixon and in picking up the mess of his presidency afterwards. From David Schmitz’s The United States and Right-wing Dictatorships, 1965-1989, via Church’s Wikipedia entry:

That fall [1970], Church announced on television and in speeches across the country that “The Doves Have Won” He based his assertion on the fact that the two key propositions of the dove position, “a negotiated peace and the withdrawal of American troops,” were now official policy. The remaining debate would be over when to withdraw, not whether to do so, and over the meaning of the war. “So the last service the doves can perform for their country,” Church concluded, “is to insist that President Nixon’s withdrawal program truly leads to a ‘Vietnamization’ of the war. It must not become a device for lowering – and then perpetuating – an American military presence in South Vietnam for the indefinite future. Our long ordeal in this mistaken war must end.” Church continued, “The gathering crisis in our own land, the deepening divisions among our people, the festering, unattended problems here at home, bear far more importantly on the future of our Republic than anything we ever had at stake in Indochina.” The opponents of the war needed to prevent the corruption of the nation and its institutions. Their opposition was, for Church, the “highest concept of patriotism – which is not the patriotism of conformity – but the patriotism of Senator Carl Shurz, a dissenter from an earlier period, who proclaimed: ‘Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.”

I would compare the success Church and other Congressional liberals had achieved by 1970 to that of the Democratic congress today, but it’s all too depressing. Next up, Richard Rorty, whose the opening paragraphs of Achieving Our Country made more of an impact on me than the beginning of just about any other book:

National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals: a necessary condition for self-improvement. Too much national pride can produce bellicosity and imperialism, just as excessive self-respect can produce arrogance. But just as too little self-respect makes it difficult for a person to display moral courage, so insufficient national pride makes energetic and effective debate about national policy unlikely. Emotional involvement with one’s country – feelings of intense shame or of glowing pride aroused by various parts of its history, and by various present-day national policies – is necessary if political deliberation is to be imaginative and productive. Such deliberation will probably not occur unless pride outweighs shame.

The need for this sort of improvement remains even for those who, like myself, hope that the United States of America will someday yield up sovereignty to what Tennyson called “the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World.” For such a federation will never come into existence unless the governments of the individual nation-states cooperate in setting in up, and unless the citizens of those nation-states take a certain amount of pride (even rueful and hesistant pride) in their governments’ efforts to do so.

As I was finishing that first paragraph when I started reading Achieving Our Country about a year ago, my immediate thought was “but what of we world federalists?” That Rorty anticipated that objection, and elegantly wove it into his narrative, says something about what a powerful force for liberalism, and for good, he was. And, for the record, I was totally thinking of Rorty before Matt posted this. Honest.

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