A More Sinister Equality

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

Patriotic effusions, whosever they may be, seldom please citizens of other nations, because they are generally so self-congratulatory; and self-congratulation, which is no doubt an inescapable part of the human condition, is best kept to oneself even when justified. Occasional outbursts may be acceptable, as after a triumph in a just war—but just wars are themselves infrequent events in human history. Ignorance of and disdain for others are often the corollaries of noisy patriotism; it was with good reason that Doctor Johnson said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Quite often it is the first refuge as well.

On the other hand, some kind of collective self-belief is necessary, for otherwise effort would be in vain and achievement impossible. A country completely without patriotism, even if this state remained implicit rather than explicit, would be an unhappy place. As in most things human, a balance must be struck.

I mention this because I recently came across a description of Americanism by Theodore Roosevelt. Among American virtues, he said, were respect for the rights of others; freedom of opinion; religious tolerance; equality under the law; and “at least a measurable quality of opportunity.” This last was important: Roosevelt wisely did not employ a shibboleth of our time, equality of opportunity.

Roosevelt was not a political philosopher, and no doubt his statement can be criticized for its inconsistencies (but so can the statements of most political philosophers). He says that “all privileges based on wealth are un-American,” by which he must have meant legally inscribed privileges, for in the imperfect, sublunary world wealth will always have, or buy, its privileges. For example, an accused wealthy man will generally have a better legal team to defend him than an impoverished accused man. And Roosevelt added that “all enmity to honest men merely because they are wealthy” is equally un-American; in which case one can only surmise that either America is fast becoming un-American, or no wealthy man in America is honest.

Read the rest of the article

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare