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My country, right or wrong, but not yours

By auguste
Tuesday, July 8, 2008 19:29 EDT
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Having exhausted every other form of criticism, conservatives (and “armed liberals”) have decided to resort to an entirely new and unprecedented tactic: that of attacking the patriotism of people who disagree with them.

To be fair, Yglesias brought it up first:

Specifically, I would say that liberals do a better job of recognizing that much as we may love America there’s something arbitrary about it — we’re just so happen to be Americans whereas other people are Canadians or Mexicans or French or Russian or what have you. The conservative view is more like those Bill Simmons columns where not only is he extolling the virtues of this or that Boston sports team or moment, but he seems to genuinely not understand why other people don’t see it that way. But of course Simmons is from Boston and others of us aren’t.

…[T]he liberal doesn’t, as a political matter, confuse the emotions of patriotism with a description of objective reality or anticipate that the citizens of Iraq or Russia or China or wherever will drop their own patriotisms and come to see things our way. Patriotism is a sentiment about your particular country but it’s also a sentiment that’s much more widespread than any particular country, and if you can’t understand the full implications of that then you’re going to go badly wrong.

Saying “you’re going to go badly wrong” is similar to saying “Beetlejuice”, except you only have to do it once.

No Matthew, you marvelous Harvard-trained Atlantic columnist you, you’re describing something far closer to nationalism, not any kind of patriotism I would recognize – or that Schaar, Wolin, or a host of others I could name would recognize. They actually are different things, you know…

There actually is something unique and well worth celebrating in American patriotism. First because we were among the first to throw off the yoke of hereditary privilege and substitute the rule of the governed. Second – and most important – because we are not a patrimony defined by land or by blood – not an accident of geography or a nation bound by a common heritage but instead a people animated by a set of ideas. That Yglesias thinks those ideas are worth as much as the ideas motivating – say, China’s polity, or Iraq’s – speaks volumes about what he sees when he looks around him.

To start at the end: wasn’t the idea behind liberating Iraq to give Iraq’s polity a chance to be animated by the same set of ideas? Born free, everywhere in chains kind of thing?

But moreover, Armed Liberal hasn’t actually refuted anything Yglesias said. Yes, the things he lists are worth celebrating about America. They may even be “unique”, although I know the international audience doesn’t have much time for the “Frist!” mentality we get about the Declaration of Independence. But that doesn’t change the fact that, if AL and Yglesias had been born in England, AL may have written something like this:

There actually is something unique and well worth celebrating in English patriotism. First because we were among the first to loosen the yoke of hereditary privilege and increase the rule of the governed. Second – and most important – because we overcame a limitation of geography and defended our home from invasion for 1000 years, against the longest of odds. That Yglesias thinks that heritage is worth as much as the motivations of – say, China’s polity, or Iraq’s – speaks volumes about what he sees when he looks around him.

And he wouldn’t be wrong, just like he’s not entirely wrong about the US. But the fact that there’s something unique about America doesn’t make it unique in its uniqueness, and it doesn’t demand fealty from those who don’t owe it fealty. Love of the uniqueness of your country is not arbitrary; choice of which uniqueness to love is a function of one’s birthplace in an overwhelming majority of cases (Adam Yoshida is the exception that proves that rule, as far as I’m concerned). Armed Liberal can speak all he wants about how America’s origins in ideas rather than land or lineage make America the only country he would choose to be patriotic about, but there’s not getting around the fact that even having that attitude is a function of his birthplace; if he was born and raised in the USSR, for instance, he’d probably

 
 
 
 
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