Patriot Socialists (and Neocons)

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For an illustration of how the right-wing over time adopts the values of the left, consider these two articles. The first, by Jennifer Kabbany, the associate editor of David Horowtiz’ FrontPage webzine, suggests that “Americans who refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance do not deserve their U.S. citizenship.” Compare it with this article which details the history of the pledge, including the fact that it was written by a socialist.

What is notable about the history of the pledge is the conjunction of socialism and nationalism. There’s nothing overly socialistic about the wording of the pledge, after all it mentions God and notably does not include any reference to equality. On the other hand the pledge is explicitly nationalistic, going so far as to call what was once a confederation of sovereign states “one nation…indivisible.”

At face value it might seem that only an unreconstructed “neo-Confederate” could object to the word “indivisible.” Walter Williams, for example, refuses to say that word during the pledge. But it’s not just because he is a Southerner. Rather he knows that the Founding Fathers — or at least the anti-federalists like George Mason — would never recognize any republic as “indivisible.” The United States were born in an act of secession, after all. An act of treason, in fact, which makes the notion of a pledge of allegiance more than a little ironic. If our revolutionary forefathers had had the kind of loyalty ethic embodied by the pledge, there wouldn’t be an America for anyone to pledge allegiance to.

By Jennifer Kabbany’s standards Walter Williams may not deserve his citizenship. Ms. Kabbany takes personal offense at those who do not say the pledge, she informs us, because she is the daughter of a Syrian immigrant and is grateful to this country for the opportunities it has provided to her. It doesn’t occur to her that it’s a strange form of gratitude to brand her fellow citizens as un-American for adhering to the tradition of their revolutionary forebears and for exercising their first amendment rights.

Perhaps it is not surprising that Ms. Kabbany should have this attitude however. What are the chances that her father, when he went through the naturalization process, was told that being an American means stockpiling guns and criticizing the government? What pro-immigration libertarians forget is that the naturalization process is even more statist than defending the border, and it mints new citizens (with a vote on your property and your rights) whose understanding of America comes largely from what a federal agency has taught them.

There are at least two schools of thought about what it means to be “American.” The United States, plural, are united by two institutions: the federal government whose jurisdiction encompasses all of the states and their peoples, and — paradoxically — the common tradition of anti-statism which fomented the American revolution in the first place. From these two institutions derive two different kinds of American. The one kind pledges his allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible. The other exercises his first and second amendment rights, among others, in ways that make statists uncomfortable.

Both groups are genuinely American and have existed in various forms throughout the republic’s history, as federalists and anti-federalists, Yankees and Confederates, and today, neoconservatives and the Old Right. The anti-statists always have a lot of different factions at once — they’re Missourians or Texans or Virginians first, or they call themselves libertarians or paleoconservatives or other even more exotic labels. The anti-statists are pluralistic. The other side, the nationalists, have their internal differences too but usually present a united front.

Both groups claim to be patriotic, but they have different ideas of what constitutes patriotism. For the nationalists patriotism means supporting war efforts, whether that’s entering World Wars, fighting wars against Communists, wars on drugs and poverty, and of course the original nationalist war, the War of Federal Aggression against the South. For many pluralists (again, they don’t all agree), patriotism means some kind of loyalty to the patria, the land of one’s forefathers. That doesn’t mean never leaving the place where your grandfather is buried, but it does mean you stay loyal to your family and to a tradition that is more than just a government. It means loyalty to people both living and dead, blood family and extended family, and their beliefs and customs.

The nation-state, as embodiment of the abstract general will, competes with particular families and cultures and their traditions for the loyalty of the individual. This is why socialists need not be internationalists, because the nation in fact is a very effective way to erode and replace human loyalties, making everyone equal by dissolving their will to give preferences to their own families and traditions. The war on prejudice and discrimination ultimately becomes a war on family and friendship, anything that makes people treat one another with distinctions.

You’re certainly not furthering the socialist cause just by reciting the pledge of allegiance — at least as long as you, like Walter Williams, omit the word “indivisible.” Nor are you unpatriotic if you don’t say the pledge at all, if you happen to believe that patriotism is something more than loyalty to a flag and a republic. Neoconservatives or socialists might say you don’t deserve your citizenship, but George Mason and Robert E. Lee would say otherwise.

P.S. Read Thomas Fleming’s “Loyalty Oafs” for a great defense of human loyalty against pseudo-conservative patriotism.

Daniel McCarthy [send him mail] is a graduate student in classics at Washington University in St. Louis.

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