Saturday, July 21, 2007

Right Wing Amerika Haters and Patriotism

When Dinesh D'Souza came out with his attack on contemporary "Liberal" US culture awhile back, the Conservative triage got to work to distance themselves from his backhanded apologia for "anti-americanism." Nevertheless, those familiar with the turbid undercurrents of American reaction were well aware that he was simply giving vent to a submerged hostility for modern American life unremarkable on the Right. Now, as if to re-emphasize the point comes Kathleen Parker to pick up the torch dropped from D'Souza's faltering hands.

Again,. this antipathy for the United States as it actually exists is neither a new or particularly remarkable phenomenon on the Right. Despite their penchant for pseudo-patriotic boiler plate, it's clear that many on the Right actively despise much of US culture, both political and social.

This poses an interesting question. Exactly what is this "America" of which the Right Wing speaks so loquaciously? Should the Left be engaged in a bidding war over who can wave the flag most often or shout "patriotic" cliches the loudest?

Before you praise or condemn something, you first need an accurate perception of what it is. Given this, the real criteria isn't the frequency of "praise" but its content.

It's easy to say "I love the flag!" repeatedly but occaisionally, it's necessary to note that the flag has been flying 24/7 for more than a year and looks like a tattered, washed out rag. Perhaps it ought to be replaced?

Likewise, its easy for some to aggressively assert their love for "America", without really articulating what this "America" that they love so much actually is. Not rarely, it turns out that the image of "America" they love is one that excludes large swathes of their fellow Americans whom they detest.

On the other hand, there are those whose love for America is bound up with the realization that America is nothing if it isn't the myriad and diverse peoples who occupy its territory. This conception of America doesn't lend itself to the hypnotic mantra of USA, USA, USA, or to a monochromatic narrative of American history as a preordained, linear, triumphal progress. This because a nation so diverse in substance must, of necessity, possess a history no less diverse. Such diversity entails conflict and contradiction.

Those in the former category do not love "America" as it actually exists. They love a mythic conception of America that suits their prejudices. Such a love requires no investigation into the actual realities of American life and history. Rather, it actively militates against such inquiry, since it would challenge the the cherished image worshipped by its adherents. A worship which is, in the final analysis, self worship.

Those inhabiting the latter category are certainly not saints. They don't possess any fewer vices, flaws or human failings. However, what they do possess is a fundamentally different outlook and frame of reference. Their America is, by definition, external to themselves and composed as much by those differing from them as those like them. Its dynamic drives them away from simpleminded sloganeering towards investigation of and consultation with, the actualities of American life and history.

As everyone ought to know, that life and history is as filled with failed promise and tragedy as it is with promises redeemed and triumph. For those whose affection for America is an affection for its people, this presents no more of an obstacle than loving one's family despite their flaws.

For those whose love for America amounts to nothing more than a love for their self image, such candor is unbearable and therefore treasonous.


At 9:10 PM, Anonymous RW said...

Is there a reason outside of political messaging to embrace love of country at all? Its history is littered with imperialism, genocide, and slavery, and a plausible series of connections can probably be drawn between the nation's values and culture and its foreign policy behavior. And embracing a form of patriotism that commits to its people irrespective of its politics creates a moral hierarchy based on one's presence on one or another side of an imaginary line.

Why not simply describe, in dispassionate terms, its successes and failures, movements within it worth joining, and those worth condemning, and call it a day? Why patriotism?

X-Posted at the link with h/t

At 1:53 PM, Blogger W.B. Reeves said...

That's a good question and one I have no final answer for. Because, when all is said and done, patriotism, much as religious belief or culture, exists independent of whether it's a good or bad idea.

I do think it valuable though, to distinguish between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism, literally love of country, is essentially an emotive value with no necessary implications beyond local sentiment. Nationalism is a political ideology which could be described as worship of country as represented by the state.

As Rudolph Rocker noted, despite its pretensions, Nationalism, with its drives toward centralization, regimentation and homogenization is the enemy of the localism, cultural pecularism and customs inherent in the provencial character of simple patriotism.

The Nazi's, Nationalists to the Nth degree, presented themselves as the defenders of German culture. In actuality, they were murderous opponents of all German cultural expression other than their own narrow and degenerate version. I'd say they were, in a very tangible sense, the enemies of patriotism.

Certainly of any notion of patriotism rooted in a diverse and contentious polity.


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