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Thinking About Patriotism

Over at Winds of Change, the Armed Liberal posts some reflections on patriotism. What does it mean in a post-modern world? Is it worthwhile? Is it distinguishable from mere nationalism? What does American patriotism mean, in a nation that has been formed from one ethnicity after another (and continues to be reformed and remodeled each year)?

Now I've argued on and on that we need an anticosmopolitan liberalism, one rooted firmly in the American Founding if liberalism is going to get any traction here in US politics. I've slagged and been slagged by the usual cast of Netroots characters over this issue, and I'll point out that the Netroots liberalism for all the sound and fury hasn't signified much in the political scene except to - almost certainly - hand the nomination to the least liberal candidate running, Hillary Clinton.

The basis for much of my argument has been the work of John Schaar, a little-known political theorist who happened to be one of my professors. Who I admit I should have paid more attention to back then.

The work I keep pointing to is his work, 'The Case for Patriotism' (excerpted here).

Abraham Lincoln, the supreme authority on this subject, thought there was a patriotism unique to America. Americans, a motley gathering of various races and cultures, were bonded together not by blood or religion, not by tradition or territory, not by the calls and traditions of a city, but by a political idea. We are a nation formed by a covenant, by dedication to a set of principles, and by an exchange of promises to uphold and advance certain commitments among ourselves and throughout the world. Those principles and commitments are the core of American identity, the soul of the body politic. They make the American nation unique, and uniquely valuable among and to the other nations. But the other side of this conception contains a warning very like the warnings spoken by the prophets to Israel: if we fail in our promises to each other, and lose the principles of the covenant, then we lose everything, for they are we." [emphasis added]

This sounds right to me. It's the idea I struggled to articulate last summer, in my posts about immigration.

This, then, is the challenge for America. How do we change -- culturally, demographically, and ethnically -- while still retaining that political idea, that commitment to a set of principles that make America, America?

Furthermore, what, exactly, are those principles? What is that idea? What set of principles are we committed to? For that, I think we need to go back to principles set out in the Declaration of Independence and the framework established in the Constitution of the United States.

More on that, in the future.