John Podhoretz chastises Americans who only think America is worthy of their affection when they agree with her political leadership. If love of country is conditional like this, he asks, is it really patriotism, or love of self? Excerpt:
Love is not a transitory emotion, as infatuation is. We love our parents and kids with a bond both deep and elemental, as basic as the impulse to breathe. There’s no falling in or falling out of love in these cases, even when hate and rage and disappointment are mixed in. That love is permanent.
And it usually extends outward to the homes we live in, especially if there is a multigenerational tie to them. It attaches as well to schools we attend, the town or city from which we hail, the state we’re from — and ultimately to the nation.
Does it matter who governs it, or even how it’s governed? The Russian writers of the 19th century loathed their leaders and the national system, but had a mystical belief in the greatness of Mother Russia. The greatest patriotic poetry in the English language is in Shakespeare’s “Richard II” and “Henry V,” both of which are also about crimes of governance.
In America over the past 50 years, this affection has been supplanted by an odd sense among the politically active that the country is only worthy of their love when they consciously consider it lovable — when it stands for the things they believe in and acts in ways of which they approve.
There is something almost unnatural about this. It’s the elevation of the abstract over the real — over the love of what one wants rather than what one has. Not to mention the insult to the United States of America — which, more than any other nation, deserves the love of all its people because of the inestimable bounties of freedom and prosperity it has provided.
Of course I endorse JPod’s view, and am glad he said something the nation needed to hear right now, and especially Red America. I would quibble with that last line, which implies that love of country depends on the nation’s providence. Would a poor American imprisoned, so to speak, by poverty and circumstance, be justified in not loving America? How could the sons and grandsons of black slaves love America, then? They could, and they did, but it seems to me that they had to love America’s promises more than its reality. That is, they loved what America aspired to be and could do more than what it was at the time, and what it did. The same might be said of Jewish immigrants who found themselves suffering from anti-Semitism and discrimination, or the Irish, or Italians. And so forth.
Maybe they loved America for no reason other than it was theirs. Ours. I find that this is why I’ve come to love Louisiana, and to reconcile myself to living here. When I was a young man, in the 1980s, like many college students at LSU I couldn’t wait to get out of this state. All I could see was its failures — failures in government, failures in culture, failures in business. All I could see was how it limited me. So I moved away. Then life happened, and I came to understand that those things I hated about Louisiana are still here, but there is also something deeper that I loved about it, something that was so essential to my own character that it made me want to learn to live with Louisiana’s imperfections, because the good there (here) has come to mean so much to me.
But that’s not quite right either, because that formulation still makes it sound like I moved back on the basis of a cost/benefit analysis. The truth is, I can’t precisely define and enumerate the reasons I moved back, but at bottom they have more to do with “because it is mine” than anything else.
Anyway, JPod’s column raises great questions about how to be patriotic when one feels dispossessed and disfranchised by the political system, or by the overall drift of American culture. Your thoughts are welcome.