Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Loving one’s country

John McCain doesn’t have a problem with it. Peggy Noonan wants to know if the Obamas do.

Are the Obamas, at bottom, snobs? Do they understand America? Are they of it? Did anyone at their Ivy League universities school them in why one should love America? Do they confuse patriotism with nationalism, or nativism? Are they more inspired by abstractions like "international justice" than by old visions of America as the city on a hill, which is how John Winthrop saw it, and Ronald Reagan and JFK spoke of it?


Have they been, throughout their adulthood, so pampered and praised--so raised in the liberal cocoon--that they are essentially unaware of what and how normal Americans think? And are they, in this, like those cosseted yuppies, the Clintons?

***

And there is a context. So many Americans right now fear they are losing their country, that the old America is slipping away and being replaced by something worse, something formless and hollowed out. They can see we are giving up our sovereignty, that our leaders will not control our borders, that we don’t teach the young the old-fashioned love of America, that the government has taken to itself such power, and made things so complex, and at the end of the day when they count up sales tax, property tax, state tax, federal tax they are paying a lot of money to lose the place they loved.

And if you feel you’re losing America, you really don’t want a couple in the White House whose rope of affection to the country seems lightly held, casual, provisional. America is backing Barack at the moment, so America is good. When it becomes angry with President Barack, will that mean America is bad?

Noonan notes that America did well by Michelle Obama, even if her professors at Princeton and Harvard Law were more interested in telling her of how badly our country has treated its African-American citizens. She also notes that a lot of folks--regardless of race, creed, or color--love their country, even if they don’t have immediate access to the heights she has scaled.

I recognize that pride in one’s country and love of one’s country aren’t the same thing. But how likely is it that Barack and Michelle Obama could utter the words--"My country, right or wrong"? I hope I don’t have to explain to anyone why this statement is unproblematical.

Discussions - 38 Comments

I don't get it. Of course the Obama's do not "love" America as much as their liberal abstractions (like "international justice"). They are ideological liberals, and have never apologized for being such. In other words, they do not have the proper patriotic impulse. It's who they are, it's part of being a liberal. Why is this such a surprise?

The Democratic candidate, whoever it is, is doomed if Noonan joins the McCain campaign. Pin snobbery and lack of patriotism on the left yet again and the party's over. The recipe works because there's some truth to it. And it solves a problem. It's a way to campaign against either a woman or a black man.

Joe, I'm sure you know the Chesterton retort: "'My country, right or wrong' is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying 'My mother, drunk or sober.'"

I believe the surprise expressed in Noonan's piece is that Obama enjoys such widespread support despite he and his wife being "ideological liberals."

This country wants so desperately to lie down and take a nap from reality. Obama comes along and offers soothing lullaby talk.

No one can touch Peggy Noonan when she gets on this roll. This, for example, is absolutely perfect:

Why is all this actually not a distraction but a real issue? Because Americans have common sense and are bottom line. They think like this. If the president and his first lady are not loyal first to America and its interests, who will be? The president of France? But it's his job to love France, and protect its interests. If America's leaders don't love America tenderly, who will?

Yes. Just so. And I hope John McCain listens to my favorite Democrat, Steve Thomas, and hires Peggy Noonan to write his love letter. There is no amount of money that would be too much for such a speech.

"Do they confuse patriotism with nationalism, or nativism? Are they more inspired by abstractions like "international justice" than by old visions of America as the city on a hill, which is how John Winthrop saw it, and Ronald Reagan and JFK spoke of it?"


Is Noonan speaking of the Obamas or the neocons? They may, as yet, get along splendidly.

I don't believe that McCain loves America. Like most liberals, he wants to destroy it.

Pin snobbery and lack of patriotism on the left yet again and the party's over.

Sadly, the GOP seems very anxious to match the Democrats in this respect. Nationalism is a dirty word in todays Republican party.

John's right. Seems like nobody wants to stand up for the white man anymore.

What the heck is a proper patriotic impulse? The desire always be an American before being a human being, should those two interests ever come into conflict? To encourage ethnocentrism and nationalist arrogance? To pretend that a long time ago a handful of early Americans reached the complete pinnacle of human political thought, and cling to their societal constructs no matter how irrelevant they become or how wrong their founding principles might have been (OH NO! How can I even think that?!?!?)?



Or am I not allowed to say that and still have a deep respect for the place I was born and the founding era?



Maybe people are just sick and tired of moralizing, "objective" absolutists on the right of the aisle who think that they've got the answer to everything, regardless of the fact that they've only got just as much perspective as everyone else in the world.



Erg. Back to my thesis . . . Thanks for the break.

Thinking it doesn't make it correct.

"'My country, right or wrong'? I hope I don’t have to explain to anyone why this statement is unproblematical."

Hate to dash your hopes Mr. Knippenberg, but I would honestly appreciate an explanation of that one. For one thing, it seems to be just a fragment of a full thought or idea. What comes before or after the fragment to make it mean more meaningful?

I can love my country even if I don't agree with the actions it is taking. Love implies neither approval nor pride.

The psychological mechanism at work is "love of one's own," which is to be distinguished from "love of the good." Attachment to one's country, or patriotism, isn't (supposed to be) rational. Those who insist that approval is a precondition of love are altogether too rationalistic in their approach to political life.

I agree entirely with Dr. K. above. Very paleo. But I think neocons and mainstream conservatives confuse patriotism and nationalism all the time. That is why they get all nutty about secession. I also think neocons place "liberal abstractions" above the "patriotic impulse." I don't think Julie's "love letter" would be to America land of "purple mountains' majesty and amber waves of grain." It would be to America land of pluralism.



I also think McCain's amnesty is counter to the patriotic impulse. Placing foreigners and multinationals greedy for cheap labor ahead of his fellow countrymen. All in the name of dare we say a liberal abstraction.

Those who insist that approval is a precondition of love are altogether too rationalistic in their approach to political life.



I think that claim is spot-on. Even more so if you take out the word "political."

The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, “My country, right or wrong.” In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.

-Sen. Carl Schurz (Feb. 29, 1872)

I see John Moser is up to his favorite game again. When you can't think, let alone write, that is what you are left with.


It's enough to make you wonder how the myth of Jewish intelligence ever got started.

Ultimately, whether one is a believer (in God) or not, luck of the draw determines if we are born in the USA, China, Saudi Arabia, Madagascar or whatever. When one loves "their" country do they love the people, the land, its collection of domestic and foreign policies, some vague, entirely debatable "spirit" of the place and people, its history, its dominant ideology, or an amalgam of these things?

Yes, perhaps some people were "born an American, but in the wrong place" (TM, Ashbrook, Inc.??), but as we know, not everyone can or could move here and become, legally, an American. Or, necessarily even wanted to. So, people largely accept the citizenship cards they were dealt and translate it into some degree of patriotic pride.

Joe K., you said "I can love my country even if I don't agree with the actions it is taking. Love implies neither approval nor pride." That sentiment is easy enought to accept at face value, but what are the practical limits of it? Do you agree with the imperative that, regarding America, one must "love it or leave it"? I do note that I have heard this scold almost exclusively from those on the Right, especially during years with Dems in the White House (surprise, surprise - but will they remember this "choice" if Obama HUSSEIN (!!) or "Shrillary/Billary" end up in the Oval Office?). The collective political actions of a country, both domestic and external, must ultimately have some impact on what the country IS at some point, no? I suspect that if the vast majority of Americans settled with great approval on outright leftist or just very liberal policies (I guess, in your view, that would mean fascism?) you might begin to question your love of America, either because it had become something unrecognizably and irreparably wrong to you, or that it was, from its founding, capable of changing in such a fundamental way.

What do you mean when you say "love of one's own"? Are liberal Dems among your own people?

Many things that people like to identify as solely American in essence can be found and are manifested at various points and by various people around the world.

It is difficult enough to maintain a truly unconditional (Christ-like?) love for other people; how to pull that off for something as ethereal and as one's country? Lately, I feel like my country - as manifested in the government - owns me, and I must have GOP-approved opinions or I am not worthy of America's love - this instead of being a co-owner of America.

I think Matt hit upon something very pertinent when he asked if part of a proper patriotic impulse is to "pretend that a long time ago a handful of early Americans reached the complete pinnacle of human political thought, and cling to their societal constructs no matter how irrelevant they become or how wrong their founding principles might have been..."

The conservative views (be they paleocon, neocon or other) of the founding and the founders are not the only possible interpretations of what the founders intended, desired or planned for the USA (assuming that the founders didn't themselves have some fundamental disagreements). Further, what one supposes any founder or the founders would say or do in regard to some contemporary social or political issue is more than likely just hopeful speculation mixed with cynical spin. Further, the founders were not necessarily infallible. Take the argument that the founders were mostly very religious and wanted the USA to be a Christian nation. Well, maybe they did, maybe they didn't. But what if Americans today WOULDN'T want that to be so?

It certainly would feel better if I could always feel and say that I love my country. By chance it has been my home. In many ways that has made me fortunate, of course. But being an uncritical flag-waving fan, with my critical faculties turned off, creates a feeling of profound hollowness. There are moments when I love it and moments when I don't.

Craig - Joe had Aristotle in mind, but the point can be illustrated by a scene in Casablanca. The young newlywed whose husband is trying to win at roulette to finance exit visas goes to Rick. She tells him the corrupt Vichy captain Reynaud has told her he will supply exit visas, in return for her favors. Can she trust him? she asks Rick. He finally answers her this way: "If you want my advice, go back to Bulgaria!" (Then he arranges it so her husband wins at roulette.) She protects her from thinking too much. Of course, the rest of us don't have a master-of-the-circumstances-we-face to bail us out.

Craig,

Love of country is a precondition for wishing actually to change it for what one regards as the better, not just for oneself but for one's fellow citizens generally. If I don't love a country, I can exploit it or use its services or try to extract a better deal from it. In those cases, the country is quite literally a flag of convenience.

There are at least two non-patriotic alternatives to this sort of cynicism. One is some sort of secular "cosmopolitanism." Another is the notion of the sojourner. The advantage of the latter over the former is citizenship in the city of God is inevitably also accompanied by citizenship in the city of man. It recognizes that our earthly fate is to be located in a particular place. It is non-utopian. Cosmopolitanism is almost always at least sort of utopian, which means that it is less friendly to genuine political prudence.

Joe K. - I hate to say so, but your response is fairly confounding in that it created more questions than it clearly answered.

Such as this. You said "Love of country is a precondition for wishing actually to change it for what one regards as the better, not just for oneself but for one's fellow citizens generally." So, I presume by that you are saying that love of country is a precondition for a worthwhile and noble goal (changing it for the benefit of all citizens). Yet, it was just recently that you were after Obama for his talk of a (presumably utopian-ish) "kingdom on Earth" as he's talking of utilizing government levers to try to improve people's lives. With such grand plans and a grand vision, one would think that this must emanate from a colossal love of the USA on Obama's part, no? Yes, of course, you disagree with his programs and policy prescriptions, but if he wants such positive things for America, it would seem that must flow from his love of his country, right?

I have to say that I have been impressed thus far with the way that Obama has intelligently and effectively deflected and countered the mostly silly "Where's his flag pin?" questions about his patriotism that are coming from the Right in rather childish fashion.

Also, when you said that "If I don't love a country, I can exploit it or use its services or try to extract a better deal from it." would you say that this scenario might apply to and describe America's attitude (led by Bush and his administration) toward Iraq? When Bush spoke of bestowing the gift of democracy upon Iraq (and, eventually, the entire Middle East), where did that come from - his patriotic adoration for the U.S. or some sort of patriot-in-exile love for Iraq and its people? Was Bush displaying some form of messianic cosmopolitanism?

I wonder if there is any country into which Red Phillips might have been born that he would not love as much as he claims to love this one even as he misunderstands it. For your wife's sake, I hope your view of romantic love is not as blind as your love of country. There's an awful lot of purple mountain majesties out there . . . though that doesn't, I admit, make them any less majestic. Still, I think my understanding of America makes the majesty we have a damn sight more majestic.

Julie, I'm not sure I get your point. That neocons are guilty of placing "liberal abstractions" ahead of the patriotic impulse, what Obama is being acused of, is obvious. There is clearly a pot kettle black issue here. That is my point.



So I am being accused of "misunderstanding" America because I don't?

Craig,

I have a hard time discerning whether Obama's attitude toward America follows from a universal principle (which seems to be suggested by the talk about building the kingdom on earth) or from some notion that it can be rebuilt to suit his personal standards, or rather the standards of those in the circles in which he moves. From where I sit, he looks more like a cosmopolitan than a sojourner. His language tends to be abstract and "placeless."

I cannot speak to anything "neo-cons" do or say--since I'm not one and won't embrace the title no matter how many times you try to use it as if it were an insult when addressing me. But as for myself, if you want to say that I am guilty of embracing what you call "liberal abstractions" (like the crazy idea that the ultimate source of political sovereignty is the people and we know this because of the simple observation that they are human beings and not dogs or gods and thus--hold your breath . . . equal before God) I guess you may call them that as long as you do not capitalize the "L." But I do not embrace such "liberal abstractions" simply because they are "abstract truths applicable to all men at all times" I embrace them also because they are my own. They are my own because they are part and of who and what we are as a people. You cannot and do not understand our history apart from understanding them. Abstract as they may be when you read them on paper, we are a people who have shed much blood and spent much treasure to make them as real as it is possible for them to be on earth and with all our human imperfections. And I may say with no small amount of pride that we have done it better than any other people has ever done it and better than any other people is ever likely to do it. I love my country partly because it is my own, but mostly because it is a free country. If you love it only because it is yours, then you might just as easily have loved the Soviet Union or China had you been born there. They probably have lovely mountains.

Craig and others: I think Russel Kirk does a decent job of explaining the proper patriotic impulse.

As to "What do you mean when you say "love of one's own"? Are liberal Dems among your own people?" Yes, but the problem is that liberal Dem's don't return said love, as they place their abstractions higher (as best evidenced by the holocaust of the unborn, where "reproductive freedom" and relentlessly vague utilitarian definitions of life override the child before them).

I also think McCain's amnesty is counter to the patriotic impulse. Placing foreigners and multinationals greedy for cheap labor ahead of his fellow countrymen. All in the name of dare we say a liberal abstraction.

I think this is right. On a slightly different tack; notice the land swap deals coming out now, and the pork (bridges to nowhere) and earmarks. Just who was the GOP governing for since 94? Oh yea, the country clubers. Yet another reason I will take Obama over McCain. An honest liberal is better than a wolf in sheep's clothing every time...

But being an uncritical flag-waving fan, with my critical faculties turned off, creates a feeling of profound hollowness. There are moments when I love it and moments when I don't.

You see, right there. You don't love your country, not nearly as much as you love your inflated sense of "critical faculties". When the going gets tough, you are going to place that ahead of everything - because you see no limit to it, or rather anything that rises above it and endures (and thus judges it). Your in love with your self, your own mind, not your country...

Your in love with your self, your own mind, not your country...

I think Christopher is spot-on here. Craig, do you really think love is something that comes and goes from moment to moment? If so, that's a pretty strange understanding of love; one that makes me wonder whether you've ever experienced it. I may from time to time be disappointed in something my wife or my parents do, I may on occasion get angry with them, but I never stop loving them.

I co-sign Moser's comment 30. That other comment (17) was a weirdness I haven't seen since The Artist Formerly Known As Dain.

Julie, in what significant way are you not a neocon? And I don't mean because you are not a 70 something former Democrat who migrated to the GOP during the Cold War over the issue of foreign policy. The meaning of the word has clearly expanded beyond that point now. Philosophically, in what way are you not?

There's nothing new or "neo" about my conservatism. You are the one who has injected something new (and foreign) into your understanding of the Republic.

Julie, do you actually believe that? As a paleo, I am the one who can say with a straight face that my conservatism is not new. Your understanding of the Republic is the understanding of a 2008 "conservative." Your rhetoric, language, idiom, argumentation, etc. is a form of liberalism, historically understood. Your conservatism would have been raging leftism in 1950. It would have been unheard of in 1776 or 1787.

Red, do you believe in republican government, and written constitutions? That would have made you a dangerous radical in the 17th century.

In the early modern period people were able to travel freely, without passports. Monarchs and noble landlords frequently sought to attract immigrants to their domains. Does that mean that open borders advocates are more conservative than you are?

Oh well, I see that since I was last here not only were my questions more or less ignored (evaded) or dealt with in a rather sideways fashion, but my character and personality were analyzed and condemned.

"You don't love your country, not nearly as much as you love your inflated sense of 'critical faculties'. When the going gets tough, you are going to place that ahead of everything - because you see no limit to it, or rather anything that rises above it and endures (and thus judges it). Your [sic] in love with your self, your own mind, not your country..."

So you think I'm a conceited narcissist. Thanks for the ad hominem! I surely do value my critical faculties and my mind very, very much. I presume that everyone here does as well. If Barack HUSSEIN (!!) Obama is elected President of the United Sharia States of America and he issues an executive order to ban pork production in the US, then I'm sure your critical faculties will be on, 100%, right? As would mine. If he declared his particular ideology (what is it again? Some blend of Stalinism, liberal fascism (same thing, though, eh? ;) and Wahhabi Islam) the essence of America (stay with me here) and he and his millions of followers assembled for public events and waved their American flags, you might not be too keen on waving yours and you certainly wouldn't be showing up to scream and shout your love for the USA like some light-headed teen girl fan of The Beatles, would you? Neither would I. This is because your passionate love for America is really a love for the ideology that you think America does and should represent and your own particular views and versions of history that you feel support your ideological brand of USA. And leaving aside liberals and lefties, conservatives have a hard time agreeing on plenty of the details about what the "True America" is and (allegedly) always has been and always will be, etc. So, while you might be proud that you're not "in love" with your mind or place much value in your critical faculties, you do, you do very much. You just don't like it when others apply their critical faculties to your interpretations or revisions of history or your preferred political leaders.

John Moser cheered on Christopher's insults to my character and personality and said "Craig, do you really think love is something that comes and goes from moment to moment? If so, that's a pretty strange understanding of love; one that makes me wonder whether you've ever experienced it. I may from time to time be disappointed in something my wife or my parents do, I may on occasion get angry with them, but I never stop loving them."

First John, nice try with attacking me on the basic humanity front - yes, I've never experienced "true love" (things sure are gettin' mushy around here at NLT - should you add some hearts and roses to the homepage?) and am a stone-cold radical or whatever. Please. I don't think it's particularly apt, useful or helpful to compare love of one's country with love of one's wife or one's parents. To do so is to apply abstractions inappropriately. If you're tying these things together, and you wonder if I've ever experienced genuine love, I wonder if you also question the ability of any political candidates who have been divorced to be adequately patriotic. If we're going by that standard (and I don't think we should, obviously), then Hillary stood by her man and will stand by her country, whereas Reagan should've been viewed with deep suspicion and Giuliani with horror - based on their divorces alone.

That said, PERHAPS I typed too fast when I said that "there are moments when I love it, and moments when I don't." I might have been more precise to say that I always love what I believe America stands for and represents, and thus always love America in that sense, but I don't always love what I see America becoming, and how some people are interpreting the purpose of America and the American experiment.

My attitude is not "I love America. The rest of the world can go up in flames as far as I'm concerned." Yes, the USA reserves a special place in my heart, but I'm not married to the USA. That would be absurd. For one thing it's NOT erotic love; I can't make love with America. I have to live within it, as an actual component of it. Your wife and your parents are people. Margaret Thatcher's (laughable) insistence that "there is no such thing as society" aside, America is much more than merely an assemblage of people. So, in sum, I care about America as much as anyone on this blog ever has or will, but yet - and you'll just have to accept this - I disagree with you on most issues at most times. As with Obama, your attacks on one's patriotism are just meant as a strategic diversion, a distraction in your political battles to collect more power. They're not half as substantive as they pretend to be.

I always love what I believe America stands for and represents, and thus always love America in that sense, but I don't always love what I see America becoming, and how some people are interpreting the purpose of America and the American experiment.

I will hold my breath waiting for someone to disagree with that statement. The sentiments in it are held by nearly every conservative I know, regardless of type. That is why the political definition of someone as "conservative - defender of the status quo" strikes me as laughable. I do not know of a "conservative" who is comfortable with America as it is. Isn't that the point of nearly every post and every commenting conversation on here?

The devil is in the details, maybe?

John, there is certainly an argument to be made for an unwritten constitution. I haven't really thought about it that much. What I do know is that our written Constitution hasn't really helped us that much. It is written plain as day, but it is violated with impunity all the time. (Every time the Congress passes an appropriations bill, for example.) The better solution is to just not create the apparatus to begin with. That is why I am an anti-Federalist.



Of course, as you note, who is the new and who is the old conservative is all relative. I have conceded before that most American traditionalists/paleo conservatives are Roundheads. (Even those who think the Revolution was too abrupt and a mistake.) So we are liberal conservatives by historical standards. (A designation that has been discussed here before.) But for Julie to proclaim that there is nothing new about her conservatism and that mine is new and foreign is simply ludicrous.

Red: Anti-Federalists--who persist in anti-federalism post 1787--are not real representatives of Americanism. Sorry. You talk all the time about conserving Anglo-Saxon traditions and so forth. Go ahead, but then realize what kind of a conservative you are. You're not an American conservative. If you were, you'd talk of preserving American traditions and those traditions are tolerably well defined in the D of I and the Constitution. In order to try and conserve the things you proclaim to love within an American tradition (that is decidedly NOT anti-federalist) your side has had to contort itself and our history to tell a new narrative. You're trying to put square pegs in round holes. In so doing, your side has picked up some additional intellectual baggage along the way. The odd use of Darwin is just one example of the extreme lengths to which paleos have, at times, gone to try and build an intellectual case against the notion that sovereignty rests with the people because of their natural equality before God. And it's never consistent--so don't even tell me how you don't really like Darwin now. It doesn't matter. There is no intellectual case for tradition as such. It's just a preference. Fine. Prefer it. But others will prefer other things and then you won't be able to persuade them to prefer what you prefer. The problem is that the intellectual case for your side of the argument is relativism. In the end, your conservatism has more in common with those extreme liberals you despise than mine does. I can tell them why they're wrong and, if they are not as close-minded as some of my paleo friends, they might be open to persuasion about it. You can only tell them you don't like them. Funny . . . I've never seen a man win an argument that way.

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