“Her Glory Is Not Dominion, But Liberty”
Gary Gutting concludes his article on patriotism and morality:
This project has had many failures, most often when we forget that the freedom of a nation must always grow from its own historical roots. We cannot simply wage a war that rips up those roots and then transplant shoots from our own stock (American-style capitalism, political parties, our popular culture). We have also often forgotten that the liberation of our own citizens is by no means complete. But none of this alters the fact that our governments have often worked and our soldiers died not just for our own freedom but for the freedom of all nations.
We are a MacIntyrean community that is still trying to live out a modern morality that seeks the freedom of everyone. I love America because I still believe that this sublime project is possible.
MacIntyre would likely be surprised to hear that a “MacIntyrean community” has such universalist goals. Most American soldiers have fought and died in our wars because they wished to defend and serve their country (i.e., because of their patriotism), and these wars have sometimes resulted in the liberation of other nations, but that has rarely ever been the reason for those wars or the sacrifices that American soldiers have made. Inasmuch as Americans have fought and died for the freedom of other nations, it has not been and could not have been for the “freedom of all nations.” I suspect that Gutting loves America and he believes this project of universal liberation is possible, but I doubt that he loves America because he believes the project is possible.
Seeking “the freedom of everyone” contradicts some of our oldest national traditions. Everyone remembers the part of John Quincy Adams’ July 4 speech that says that America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy, but the section that follows is even more important:
She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power.
Then towards the end of the speech, Adams said:
Her glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of mind. She has a spear and a shield; but the motto upon her shield is Freedom, Independence, Peace.
What Gutting proposes eventually requires that we ignore the last of those three words, and along the way we will convince ourselves once again that our aggressive wars can be justified in the name of freedom. If the project Gutting refers to has had “many failures,” that should be a warning that the project’s goal is one that no nation is capable of achieving.
P.S. To answer Gutting’s question, “the animating ideal of American patriotism” is the liberty of Americans along with the security of the United States. I don’t see how it could be anything else without ceasing to be connected to American patriotism.