<$BlogRSDURL$>

9.08.2003

Jeff Jarvis of the blog BuzzMachine has as interesting post regarding what he’s calling “the new patriotism.” It’s an interesting read; however, I must say I take exception to some of his points while agreeing with some others. It appears to me that Jarvis has a greater trust of “government” as a whole than I do . . . or at least that’s how I am understanding what he’s saying here:

Patriotism is much bigger than politics. And the definition of patriotism is no longer in the hands of the politicians and pundits. After 9.11, it is in our hands, for we are all Americans and we are all targets on this new battlefield. We know what it means to be patriotic and it has very little to do with partisanship or politics. We know the price of patriotism.
Patriotism means defending the principles of America over politics. Patriotism means being willing to protect those principles where and when it's necessary. Patriotism means defending your children and your neighbors against those who would attack us because we are American. Patriotism means being willing to go it alone even when your former friends (read: Europeans) snipe at you. Try that on as a new definition.


Let’s unpack this.

Patriotism is much bigger than politics.

This seems to be an assertion about what the scope of patriotism and politics are. If what is meant by it is that Americans – regardless of political affiliation – should place the well-being of Americans as a group before partisan politics, then sure, I agree with that. Tough not to, really, but what are the implications of this assertion in terms of mutually-agreed-upon policy? Are there any? If so, what are they? Jarvis doesn’t continue with that idea, but rather moves on to state

And the definition of patriotism is no longer in the hands of the politicians and pundits.

I’m not sure what this is intended to mean. That the definition of patriotism was in the hands of politicians and pundits, and has now been wrenched away in a post September 11 wave of re-thinking? Yes, as Jarvis then writes:

After 9.11, it is in our hands, for we are all Americans and we are all targets on this new battlefield.

I agree with this; we ARE all targets. Jarvis – in my view – gets this exactly correct. You can damn well bet that it’s open season on Americans in certain parts of the world . . . those parts being where fanatics with guns (or planes, or other weapons) are willing to give their lives to kill as many of us as possible.

We know what it means to be patriotic and it has very little to do with partisanship or politics. We know the price of patriotism.

Jarvis loses me here though. Any time anyone says “We know . . . “ and takes it as a given that we do, in fact, all know what it means to be whatever’s being discussed, reach for your wallet. I think it’s demonstrably true that we DON’T all know what it means to be patriotic . . . why would there be such debate on issues such as the war on Iraq, or future involvement in other middle eastern countries? Are people who oppose such things unpatriotic by definition? I would find that assertion difficult to believe. Not that I oppose our involvement, there, mind you, as I was for going into Iraq at the time and still support being there. Additionally, I think that Syria as next on the list might not be a bad idea. But I digress . . .

Patriotism means defending the principles of America over politics. Patriotism means being willing to protect those principles where and when it's necessary.

Which principles? Isolationist principles (for example) are surely a part of the fabric of American politics – have been for some time. Are such principles suddenly unpatriotic? Why not say so? That appears to be the gist of what’s being said, but it’s not explicitly written that way. Jarvis here commits the error of over-generalizing. Which are the principles of America he has in mind? He doesn’t say, except to note that

Patriotism means defending your children and your neighbors against those who would attack us because we are American. Patriotism means being willing to go it alone even when your former friends (read: Europeans) snipe at you.

This sounds good to me as far as it goes, which is not terribly far . . . how can one be against “defending your children and your neighbors” – one cannot! Of course people are going to defend their children. No politician would EVER come out against that. As far as neighbors, sure, why not? I don’t know my neighbors, but I can get behind the idea of defending them. But against what? And how? By spying on my other neighbors to make sure they’re not building bombs or planning an attack of some kind? Or by voting for a certain party or pol? Such real-life eventualities are left to the reader’s imagination.

My basic attitude towards patriotism is that it’s the last refuge of a scoundrel, regardless of party affiliation. Blind loyalty of any type scares the hell out of me, especially when it’s used by pols to further political ends. I don’t see much evidence – either in the blogosphere or in the national media -- for Jarvis’ contention that we all know what’s right for us to do now. I am happy to admit that I believe – in accord, I think, with Jarvis – that taking the proverbial stick to fanatics who want to kill Americans is A Good Thing. The more efficiently America kills such people, the better. I especially agree with Jarvis on the idea of going it alone. After all, no other country will look out for us – even our closest allies. In the matter of terrorism, waiting for international agreement is just another way to increase the American body count. But it’s not clear to me that this fills out a definition of patriotism that I agree with.

When I was in law school I read far too many cases in which the government screwed Americans left and right, coming and going. The notion of an overriding, shared idea of patriotism smacks too much to me of blind loyalty to an ill-defined term, open to abuse by the government (regardless of who is in power). And suffice to say that my view of politicians is realistic enough to believe that if there’s an overriding public agreement about what is patriotic, such agreement is easily open to abuse. Agreement on what constitutes patriotism, after all, hardly guarantees virtue in the patriotic. As someone who studied Classics in college I am well aware of too many historical precedents for this assertion. An example from antiquity is the consequence of the Melian dialogue, in which the Athenians given the residents of Melos the choice between subjugation or annihilation, based on the Athenians’ assertion of raw power.

I would posit FREEDOM as a more important value than patriotism. Freedom from the threat of death-by-fanatic, which (as Jarvis writes) is essential . . . but also freedom from oppression by the government or from wrong-headed fellow citizens . . . especially since patriotism is so open to definitional and substantive (political) abuse.

Link via Instapundit.
Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?