Friend or Foe? ...on what 'American' really means

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Sarah Palin’s statement about enjoying her tour of the patriotic parts of America, Representative Bachmann’s demand for an investigation of un-American activities, and the Bush Administration’s stand that you are either with us or you are with the terrorists naturally remind us all of the McCarthy investigations and the Salem witch hunts. They are all a cause for concern.

Properly defined, however, there is some scope for defending Palin’s political gaffe. Naturally everyone from evangelicals to environmentalists sees themselves as being "pro-American" in some sense. In that we are all trying to do, or hoping for what is best for America whether that is cleaning up the moral sewers or the actual sewers.

So how should "American" be defined?

Well there are a bunch of people who support Barack Obama. These people he affectionately calls "folks." The people that support John McCain are referred to as "friends" by the Republican candidate. The truth is that if the term has any real meaning then neither of these groups has a monopoly on the term American. In fact, if we could generalize, then neither would be called real Americans. Real Americans are neither "friends," nor just plain "folks."

Folks are usually neo-liberals and democratic socialists. They either have no clue about the role of the Constitution, private property, sound money, and free markets, or they just see them as impediments to their fairy book vision of the future. Friends are neo-conservatives and fascists who might talk a good game about the concepts above, but when push comes to shove, the foundation concepts of America are shoved aside in pursuit of empire, greatness, and imposition of "morality."

Foes understand private property, sound money and free markets and their roles as the foundation for society. They believe that government should be strictly limited, that it is inherently evil, and that the rights of the individual should always be superior to the rights of government.

Foes are intellectually and ideologically opposed to both friend and folk. They know that the policies of both groups are impractical and the cause of all chronic social ills. Beyond the practical, they see both groups and their ideologies as unethical and immoral.

You see, there is a distinction to be made here. The meaning of America must be something other that what we want to make of it. No one believes, for example, that America would be America if we turned it into an Islamic state or Israel, or modeled it in the image of a communist dictatorship like Cuba or North Korea.

Therefore, we know that America is about freedom, sure, but there must be something more to it that does not involve "freedom to take over the world" and "freedom to control other peoples’ lives." The meaning of America is, simply put, freedom of individuals to their lives and what they wish to make of themselves. Every other consideration in society should be structured around that point.

The original foes, our founding fathers, understood this and sought to piece together an intellectual and ideological superstructure that would uphold this meaning of America. Then, after exhausting every peaceful and non-violent means of achieving a resolution, they went out and beat the world’s leading military and economic power. Patriotism is when you fight for their meaning of America, that is, fight for other peoples’ rights to self determination. It is not just putting on a uniform, wearing a lapel pin, or paying your taxes.

In terms of blue states and red states, we need not worry about picking a color for foe states at this time because I’m not sure if any would qualify. In fact, with the correct definition of American, Sarah Palin’s tour of patriotic American states would not have taken her to the lower 48, but out into the wilderness of her home state.

The good news is that everyone is invited to joins the foes. You don’t have to change a thing except your politics. You can still live green, sustainable, and leave no carbon footprint or you can save as many sinners as you want, the old-fashioned way (i.e. without the help of government), and you can pray the Bible every day. It is never too late to become an American patriot either. Like our founding fathers we are faced with the menacing specter of the world’s leading military and economic power on American soil and it must be defeated.

Mark Thornton [send him mail] is an economist who lives in Auburn, Alabama. He is author of The Economics of Prohibition, is a senior fellow with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and is the Book Review Editor for the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. He is co-author of Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War and is the editor of The Quotable Mises.

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