Update: go check out the comments on this at the NY Times ‘Opinionator’ blog…OTOH, they did call us ‘idiosyncratic’, so I’m happy…
Jonah Goldberg is contemplating patriotism in the LA Times.
I’ve come around to the view that the culture war can best be understood as a conflict between two different kinds of patriotism. On the one hand, there are people who believe being an American is all about dissent and change, that the American idea is inseparable from “progress.” America is certainly an idea, but it is not merely an idea. It is also a nation with a culture as real as France’s or Mexico’s. That’s where the other patriots come in; they think patriotism is about preserving Americanness.
I’m not sure I completely agree with him (more in a second) here, but I think he’s hitting on the divide that I think matters.
He goes on:
Many liberals hear talk of national culture and shout, “Nativist!” first and ask questions later, if at all. They believe it is a sign of their patriotism that they hold fast to the idea that we are a “nation of immigrants” — forgetting that we are also a nation of immigrants who became Americans.
As the host of the “Today” show in 2003, Couric said of the lost crew members of the space shuttle Columbia: “They were an airborne United Nations — men, women, an African American, an Indian woman, an Israeli. . . .” As my National Review colleague Mark Steyn noted, they weren’t an airborne U.N., they were an airborne America. The “Indian woman” came to America in the 1980s, and, in about a decade’s time, she was an astronaut. “There’s no other country on Earth where you can do that,” Steyn rightly noted.
For cosmopolitans like Couric, however, the very best thing you could say about those heroic astronauts was that they weren’t part of the national “we” but of the global “we,” for the only “we” that counts is that of “we are the world.”
Matt Yglesias disagrees, or would, if he found the question interesting enough:
So I read Jonah Goldberg’s column here and I’m left wondering, does he really think that American nationalism is insufficiently present in American television news? Like, sincerely believe that in a way that would make this a subject worth arguing about?
Yglesias reduces Goldberg’s serious question to a silly one: is there enough patriotism in the news? (Note: I don’t think there is, but that was another story.)
But it’s not just Couric – Yglesias himself is a great case study in what Goldberg is talking about.
Here’s Matt in 2004:
Well, that was yesterday. I remember back in 1997 talking to a Czech guy who was confused as to why Americans would have a holiday commemorating Independence Day. The real point, though, is this: Not be an left-wing America-hater about it all, or to deny that our Founders had some legitimate grievances* but in retrospect wouldn’t America and the world both be better off if the USA had remained more closely associated with the British Empire and her Commonwealth? After all, if the erstwhile “greatest generation” had gotten in on the Hitler-fighting action at the same time as Canada and Australia did, a whole lot of trouble could have been avoided. See also World War One.
In that light, it seems to me that while the Revolution should not be condemned, it is something to be regretted: a failure of Imperial policy and an inability of leaders on both sides of the Atlantic to work out some thorny governance and burden-sharing issues. Not much of an occasion for fireworks.
He revisited the issue:
That’s almost certainly right. I wouldn’t want to be understood as saying that the Founders should have known better than to rebel. There’s no way they could have seen the sort of geopolitical conflicts between the English-speaking world and various Teutonic and Slavic (and now, perhaps, Arab) tyrannies, nor is it by any means clear that Britain and her dominions would have developed such benign governance structures absent the Revolution to cause them to rethink a thing or two. I just want to consider what sort of emotional response we should have to the fact of the Revolution.
Hold the fireworks seems to be the right sentiment for him.
Now I’ve argued on and on that we need an anticosmopolitan liberalism, one rooted firmly in the American Founding if liberalism is going to get any traction here in US politics. I’ve slagged and been slagged by the usual cast of Netroots characters over this issue, and I’ll point out that the Netroots liberalism for all the sound and fury hasn’t signified much in the political scene except to – almost certainly – hand the nomination to the least liberal candidate running, Hillary Clinton.
The basis for much of my argument has been the work of John Schaar, a little-known political theorist who happened to be one of my professors. Who I admit I should have paid more attention to back then.
The work I keep pointing to is his work, ‘The Case for Patriotism’ (excerpted here).
Here are two quotes I think worth thinking about in the context of Steyn and Yglesias.
“Patriotism is unwelcome in many quarters of the land today, and unknown in many others. There is virtually no thoughtful discussion of the subject, for the word has settled, in most people’s minds, deep into a brackish pond of sentiment where thought cannot reach. Politicians and members of patriotic associations praise it, of course, but official and professional patriotism too often sounds like nationalism, patriotism’s bloody brother. On the other hand, patriotism has a bad name among many thoughtful people, who see it as a horror at worst, a vestigial passion largely confined to the thoughtless at best: as enlightenment advances, patriotism recedes. The intellectuals are virtually required to repudiate it as a condition of class membership. The radical and dropout young loathe it. Most troublesome of all, for one who would make the argument I intend to make, is the face that both the groups that hate and those that glorify patriotism largely agree that it and nationalism are the same thing. I hope to show that they are different things–related, but separable.
Opponents of patriotism might agree that if the two could be separated then patriotism would look fairly attractive. But the opinion is widespread, almost atmospheric, that the separation is impossible, that with the triumph of the nation-state nation. Nationalism has indelibly stained patriotism: the two are warp and woof. The argument against patriotism goes on to say that, psychologically considered, patriot and nationalist are the same: both are characterized by exaggerated love for one’s own collectivity combined with more or less contempt and hostility toward outsiders. In addition, advanced political opinion holds that positive, new ideas and forces–e.g., internationalism, universalism; humanism, economic interdependence, socialist solidarity–are healthier bonds of unity, and more to be encouraged than the ties of patriotism. These are genuine objections, and they are held by many thoughtful people.”
“But if instinctive patriotism and the patriotism of the city cannot be ours, what can be? Is there a type of patriotism peculiarly American: if so, is it anything more than patriotism’s violent relative nationalism?
Abraham Lincoln, the supreme authority on this subject, thought there was a patriotism unique to America. Americans, a motley gathering of various races and cultures, were bonded together not by blood or religion, not by tradition or territory, not by the calls and traditions of a city, but by a political idea. We are a nation formed by a covenant, by dedication to a set of principles, and by an exchange of promises to uphold and advance certain commitments among ourselves and throughout the world. Those principles and commitments are the core of American identity, the soul of the body politic. They make the American nation unique, and uniquely valuable among and to the other nations. But the other side of this conception contains a warning very like the warnings spoken by the prophets to Israel: if we fail in our promises to each other, and lose the principles of the covenant, then we lose everything, for they are we.” [emphasis added]
The problem with Yglesias shrugging at the 4th of July is that what is really being shrugged at is the complex civic religion that makes my immigrant neighbors as American as I am – more American, I’ll argue, than Yglesias. That civic religion has kept this Republic alive for 200 years, and serves as the compass point for countless people throughout the world, as well as the uniting force – the weakening uniting force – in American politics.
When this religion gets shrugged off, we will lose far more than Couric or Yglesias think. And because it is a civic religion that can be freely assumed, the nature of the ‘Americanness’ Goldberg worries about is less cultural and less a national identity as the French see it and more explicitly political – in a uniquely American way, thankfully…
Welcome Instapundit and Opinionator readers…it appears to be ‘patriotism’ week here, so please check out the four posts I’ve done this week on the subject: ‘Patriotism – Goldberg to Couric to Yglesias‘, ‘You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me‘, ‘Patriotism Rears Its Head Yet Again‘, and ‘Rorty on Patriotism‘