To Be An Expat?
by Ira Katz
by Ira Katz
Expatriate: to withdraw (oneself) from residence in or allegiance to one's native country
I have been Living in Paris for the last six months working for a French company. I am scheduled to go back to teaching in the United States in January. However, I am now thinking about staying in France indefinitely; that is, I am thinking of becoming an expat.
My decision rests on many factors regarding career, finances, and especially family responsibilities. But there is something more that is bothering me. I write on the eve of the 4th and with Louis Armstrong playing on the stereo. Having lived overseas before for several months and traveled often I am surprised to have a queasy feeling that I am becoming an ex-patriot, someone who has given up on he USA. Having just returned from a quick trip back to the USA I must admit to a foreboding of the future of the country.
If a pollster asked me now I would say the country is going in the wrong direction, fast. With the economic narcotics supplied by the pusher Greenspan, the country is in a Keynesian haze. I was advised to spend all the money in the small trust that my mother created to assist another member of the family. The logic being that the worst possible result is to have any funds left after death. The reality that the only way to gain wealth is through hard work and saving, as opposed to borrowing and spending, is difficult to find in the country.
The superficiality of our culture was brought home to me by the following anecdote. On a domestic flight I was given a pack of crackers flavored with "lightly smoked swiss," and the manufacturer felt the need to add "real cheese" on the package.
I have a growing affection for France and the French. Of course, in many ways they are farther along in the welfare state rot than the US. But France still has roots in a culture of the west that the intellectuals have not been able to exterminate. The French still care about the quality of their food. They still have Gothic cathedrals and hilltop villages that look like they did 1000 years ago. As far as France has gone adrift these anchors still exist to keep it moored from the shipwreck that seems to me is coming to the US.
I have consistently thought that Bush and his government's response to 9/11 was wrong: the Patriot Act, the Department of Homeland Security, the transformation of airports into post offices, and foreign wars have all been wrong. The thought of H. L. Mencken is especially true now, "Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under."
The foreign policy of Woodrow Wilson that consisted of progressive era arrogance and utopianism, in my opinion the most disastrous in US history, is the unashamed policy of Bush. "Everything has changed since 9/11" is a propaganda slogan that Orwell would appreciate. Thus nation building, which was wrong during the 2000 campaign, is now good policy. Add the domestic policy of Lyndon Johnson and no opposition party and you have a country, an empire, headed toward debt and ruin.
What did an insightful Roman of the 5th century think about his country, or even an intelligent Russian in 1985? What does a simple citizen do in times like these?
If a person entered the room proclaiming how great he was, the correct response would be to shun such a pompous jerk. But that is just the way the USA behaves. What should we do? A change in attitude would be a good start. Joe Sobran has written,
G.K. Chesterton, with his usual gentle audacity, once criticized Rudyard Kipling for his "lack of patriotism." Since Kipling was renowned for glorifying the British Empire, this might have seemed one of Chesterton's "paradoxes"; but it was no such thing, except in the sense that it denied what most readers thought was obvious and incontrovertible.
Chesterton, himself a "Little Englander" and opponent of empire, explained what was wrong with Kipling's view: "He admires England, but he does not love her; for we admire things with reasons, but love them without reason. He admires England because she is strong, not because she is English." Which implies there would be nothing to love her for if she were weak.
Of course Chesterton was right. You love your country as you love your mother — simply because it is yours, not because of its superiority to others, particularly superiority of power.
This seems axiomatic to me now, but it startled me when I first read it. After all, I was an American, and American patriotism typically expresses itself in superlatives. America is the freest, the mightiest, the richest, in short the greatest country in the world, with the greatest form of government — the most democratic. Maybe the poor Finns or Peruvians love their countries too, but heaven knows why — they have so little to be proud of, so few "reasons." America is also the most envied country in the world. Don't all people secretly wish they were Americans?
The founders had the right idea, no alliances, no war, but trade with all. A smaller, humbler government overseas would lead to a precipitous drop in the number of terrorists. A smaller, humbler government at home would make us a better country overall. We need to stop trying to be great and concentrate on being good.
As for me I know I will always be an American and love my country; but I will unfortunately always loathe my government. This is true even if I may be living somewhere else among people who have every reason to be proud of their own lands and probably every reason to loathe their own governments.
July 5, 2006
Ira Katz [send him mail] teaches mechanical engineering at Lafayette College. He is the co-author of Handling Mr. Hyde: Questions and Answers about Manic Depression and Introduction to Fluid Mechanics.
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