July 2, 2004
On this July 4, I declare my independence.
It's not that I'm unpatriotic.
I don't believe in patriotism.
To be more precise, I know that this sentiment exists but I don't believe it's a worthy one.
Most of us were born into this country. Should patriotism swell our breast simply because of a happenstance of birth?
As the late Milton Mayer, the old roving editor of The Progressive, used to say, "It's a great country. They're all great countries."
Nor do I believe that the United States is the greatest country on the face of the Earth. We do have some great things in this country--chief among them, the Bill of Rights--but we also have more than our share of problems, including poverty, racism, and inequality, which are much worse here than in many European countries.
Nor do I believe, as President Bush does, that the United States is entrusted by God to deliver the gift of freedom to people all over the world.
I'm an atheist. I don't believe in God at all. And I suspect that invoking the supposed deity is often a way to stack the deck and put an end to rational discourse.
But the main reason I'm anti-patriotic is because this sentiment too easily morphs into its malignant twin, nationalism, and nationalism has stacked the corpses high all over the world in the past 500 years.
Robert Jensen, in his fine new book "Citizens of the Empire," makes many of these same arguments. "There is no way to rescue patriotism or distinguish it from nationalism," he writes. And he quotes Emma Goldman aptly: "Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others."
This superiority complex is particularly virulent in the United States. And it has led one President after another--from William McKinley in the Philippines to Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam to George W. Bush in Iraq--to wage brutal war.
Patriotism is an illegitimate concept, one that is too toxic to toy with.
And so I renounce it.