Wednesday, July 04, 2007


In the July 4 issue of The Nation, editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel has a piece in which she revisits the magazine’s 125th anniversary issue of July 1991 - one dedicated to the concept of patriotism.

Says Vanden Heuvel: “[This anniversary issue] came during the aftermath of the First Gulf War, when many of that war’s opponents were being slapped with the ‘unpatriotic’ label. The anniversary issue was a reflection of our love of country and it gave voice to the rich and diverse panoply of ideas about what patriotism means, has meant, and will mean.”

Following are some of the “creative and keen insights on patriotism” from The Nation’s 1991 special issue on patriotism:

John Schaar: “[P]atriotism is rooted in the love of one’s own land and people, love too of the best ideals of one’s own culture and tradition. . . . This patriotism . . . has deep roots and long continuity in our history. Its voice is often temporarily shouted down . . . but it has never been stilled. . . .We should not be surprised if this voice is often heard lamenting or rebuking the country’s failures to live up to its own best ideals, which have always been the ideals of the fullest possible freedom and the most nearly equal justice for all…There are about as many kinds of patriots and patriotism [in this issue of The Nation] as there are writers. And that is exactly as it should be. For the chief worry about the thing called patriotism is that one or another group is always trying to grab the term, put a parochial meaning on it and impose that meaning as the only legitimate one, silencing and excluding others, denying them a place at the table.”

William Sloane Coffin: “… But if uncritical lovers of their country are the most dangerous of patriots, loveless critics are hardly the best. If you love the good you have to hate evil, else you’re sentimental; but if you hate evil more than you love the good, you’re a good hater. Surely the best patriots are those who carry on not a grudge fight but a lover’s quarrel with their country…. Beyond saluting the flag, let us pledge allegiance ‘to the earth, and to the flora, fauna and human life that it supports; one planet indivisible, with clean air, soil and water, liberty, justice and peace for all.’”

Molly Ivins: “I believe patriotism is best expressed in our works, not our parades. We are the heirs of the most magnificent political legacy any people has ever been given. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident….’ It is the constant struggle to protect and enlarge that legacy, to make sure that it applies to all citizens, that patriotism lies…. Vote, write, speak, work, march, sue, organize, fight, struggle–whatever it takes to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. Ran across one of our good [legislators] at the end of the last session…. He said he felt like a country dog in the city. ‘If I run they bite my ass, if I hold still, they fuck me.’ Calling all country dogs: It’s a helluva fight.”

Jesse Jackson: “… Those who have fought for the highest and best principles of our country, the true patriots, have been vilified and crucified. The true patriots invariably disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed, and are persecuted in their lifetimes even as their accomplishments are applauded after their deaths….”

Mario Cuomo: “The term ‘patriotism’ seems to be raised most often in the context of military action and at times has been used as a test of support for our country’s military activities. But I understand it to include a respect for contrasting viewpoints, an acceptance of dissent, a tolerance–and even a welcoming–of the clashing diversity of voices that is uniquely American…. A proper patriotism would recognize that there are no absolutes when it comes to solving our social and international problems, except the standard by which we must judge all goals–our willingness to help one another, and to help others.”

Natalie Merchant: “Patriotism asks that we embrace a unified America, yet no simple vision of America can accommodate its diversity…. The heritage we retain and the characteristics of the one we adopt intermingle; we are defining and becoming American…. There is one tradition in America I am proud to inherit. It is our first freedom and the truest expression of our Americanism: the ability to dissent without fear. It is our right to utter the words, ‘I disagree.’ We must feel at liberty to speak those words to our neighbors, our clergy, our educators, our news media, our lawmakers and, above all, to the one among us we elect President.”

Images: Michael Bayly (from the online exhibit, Faces of Resistance).

1 comment:

Paula said...

Michael, thanks for reproducing these reflections on patriotism. A local author, Anthony Signorelli, has a book called Call to Liberty: Bridging the Divide Between Liberals and Conservatives, and an organization with website, that is highly patriotic in the spirit of your quotations. He talks about the current theocrats and plutocrats of the right wing as having usurped the term "conservative" and demonized the term "liberal" so that people who genuinely identify with the form of government our constitution establishes are reluctant to call themselves either. His take is that our constitution establishes a liberal democratic republic which needs genuine progressives, moderates and conservatives to make it work. If we do not unite in common purpose, we could lose it to the people who want religion to govern or the people who want the wealthy to govern. We have to start appreciating what we have here as a first step. I know as a progressive I have too often been guilty of excessive rhetoric about "conservatives" that can be destructive rather than constructive. The religious right and corporate plutocrats are not "conservative" of our liberal democratic republic and its principles of freedom and equality. So thanks again. Paula