The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

The Failures of Patriotism

I may disappoint some people but I am not a nationalist, not in any sense. I’m quite happy with the fundamentals of the American ideals — those classical liberal sentiments that inspired much of the early Republic — the ideals, not the practice. There were some awful exceptions made which tarnish the nation— when they didn’t live up to the ideals but those principles still stand.

I’m no flag waver. I don’t salute the flag, I don’t stand at attention, and I don’t put my hand over my heart or sing anyone’s national anthem. Actually I think the American national anthem is musically horrendous. Music wise I much prefer South Africa’s combining Die Stem with Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. I enjoyed both on their own musically and thought they did a nice job blending them.

I know all the protocol about how to “respect” the flag. I was often on the team that brought the flag down every night at school as Taps played. Every evening at sunset it was lowered and all the students were required to stop and face the flagpole and salute. We even had to fold it reverently and according to protocol. Then every morning we had to face the flagpole and salute it as it was raised.

I feel national anthems are too associated with governments. I think the flag is a symbol of lots of things I can’t and wouldn’t support.

While I have a passion for the classical liberal ideals on which the country was founded I think the flag and anthem have too easily become symbols of unthinking nationalism, glorification of the state, an insidious but unspoken racism, and too much imperialism.

All are things I believe contradict the actual principles our nation was founded upon — again acknowledging the Founders oft ignored those principles themselves for political reasons.

In addition I have lived in four countries other than the United States. I know people in those places to be good and decent people, in spite of their different nationalistic loyalties. I spent a good portion of my life being the immigrant, the outsider; I was the one who couldn’t speak the language — that was particularly true in the U.K. where no one speaks proper English. ㋡

I loved the places where I lived. I love where I live now.

I am a citizen of the world but I am a partisan to classical liberal principles. I hold loyalty to principles, not to flags or songs. I look forward to a better future, I don’t cling to a stifling past. I actually believe we’d be better off as a global community if we had less nationalism, less flag waving, less saluting and less songs pretending our “nation” is somehow above all others.

The Great Robert Ingersoll warned of how politicians use nationalistic patriotism. His warning is more relevant today than when he said it thanks to the bigoted nationalism — Is there any other kind? — of the party of the coup.

The politician hastens to agree with the majority — insists that their prejudice is patriotism, that their ignorance is wisdom — not because he loves them, but because he loves himself. The statesman, the real reformer, points out the mistakes of the multitude, attacks the prejudices of his countrymen, laughs at their follies, denounces their cruelties, enlightens and enlarges their minds and educates the conscience — not because he loves himself, but because he loves and serves the right and wishes to make his country great and free. With him defeat is but a spur to further effort.

To be honest, that is one the best descriptions of the fallacies and failures of Donald Trump and his new fascist movement. But then it describes all those of his ilk. A character in the TV series Hotel Portofino warned a friend of the nature of fascism and said they “seek to exploit the worst in us” including “our capacity to hate. They care nothing for what makes us individuals, different, uniquely lovable, human. They only understand the mentality of the mob.”

That is the difference between humanistic individualism and nationalistic patriotism. One is committed to the well being of the individual and the other to the glorification of the state. When I look at the principles this country was founded upon I see the polar opposite of intolerant nationalism and blind patriotism.

I pledge allegiance to the individual, endowed with inalienable and equal rights, and to the principles that support those rights and the freedom necessary to see them flourish.



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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.