The 4th of July. The day we celebrate the birth of our nation. I won’t dwell on the history behind the choosing of the specific day of the 4th, much like I won’t delve too hard into choosing the 25th of December for the birth of Christ.
This is a day that brings up some of the most significant ideas with which mankind can be concerned. Big ideas, holy ideas, ideas that cut to the core of what it means to be human, to be a person and how humans as a group ought to organize themselves. Ideas good, and bad, men and women have died, starved, killed, maimed, sacrificed and argued over for, really, all of mankind’s history. So, today I will look at some of these big ideas, try to define them some, and give you some insight into how my thinking on them has evolved.
Patriotism: Love for or devotion to one’s country. First known use circa 1726. Synonym: Nationalism.
What does it mean to be a patriot? We have all heard the old saw, one man’s patriot (freedom fighter) is another’s terrorist. Is Patriotism truly conditional? Were the Iraqis I helped kill patriots, or religious fanatics, or terrorists? Is patriotism a virtue, or a vice? I suppose, before we can answer those questions, we must first define what is one’s country? Is it the political State into which we are born? Very few Iraqi’s or Afghan’s I have met define their personhood based on a nation-state in which they live. They are Haqqani or Pashtu or Kurd. They are from Irbil or Mandalay or Kunduz. They are NOT Iraqis from Iraq or Afghans from Afghanistan. Yet, no one can doubt their patriotism to the group with which they self-identify. In that sense, I am very much a Southerner, and, even more, an Alabamian, and, specifically, a hillbilly from North Alabama. I hope, one day very soon, to be a proud member of the Free State of Winston (Google it).
At its core, Patriotism is about loyalty. Loyalty to “mine” and, by inference, suspicion of “them”. Loyalty, in ancient times, was a much bigger deal than these days of swiftly changing allegiances of convenience. If a man was disloyal, you could die, your family could die, all you had worked for could be gone in an instant of betrayal. There is a reason treason has always carried the harshest penalty. Most of the great castles and walled cities that have fallen to an invader have fallen to treachery from within, not siege from without. Most of the great Empires have rotted from within, not been defeated by outside foes, at least not until the rot had made the Empire no longer recognizable as such.
I consider myself a patriot. An American patriot. I still believe in American exceptionalism. Not in the sense that everyone should emulate us. But, having travelled all over the Middle-East, Europe and SW Asia I can say with some authority that America IS unique, in both the good and bad she holds. I’m also not blind. The political structure we live under, the Constitution which I am sworn to defend, was a noble effort by well-meaning and brilliant men. It was not perfect then and has gotten no more so over time. It was almost immediately ignored by its founders when they had to move from theory to actual governance and has been all but robbed of its original intent over the last 236 years. I have love and devotion for the American people. I have love and devotion for the ideals represented by the effort of the Constitution; individual Liberty, limited republican government, starting from a basis that man has rights simply because he IS, not because a State has granted them to him. I think we need to now go farther. Not only do we need to regain the ground we have lost to the Statists and Fascists, Republican and Democrat, we need to push back, dissolving even many of the bonds that ARE in the Constitution. Returning the VAST majority of decision making authority to the lowest level conceivably possible. We need to re-affirm not only the rights of the individual, but we need to embrace the Zero-Aggression Principle and the indefileable rights to property and life upon which any moral form of government must rest.
Nationalism: loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.
Nationalism is Patriotisms ugly, illegitimate step-brother. The Nazi’s were the Nationalist-Socialist party. Nationalism is the basis for fascism and has been the rallying cry for every great dictator. It has been used to whip the masses into a frenzy, to excuse every horror of mankind. It is the concept of “mine” vs. ”them” carried forward into fanaticism, with no basis in any higher sensibilities. It is the place of jingoism and yellow journalism. It is the worst sort of hypocrite, fancifully glorifying imaginary superiorities while excusing the worst excesses and atrocities to preserve the same.
Idealism: the cherishing or pursuit of high or noble principles, purposes, goals, etc.
Realism: interest in or concern for the actual or real, as distinguished from the abstract, speculative, etc.
Realpolitik: political realism or practical politics, especially policy based on power rather than on ideals.
America, at heart, is an ideal and Americans are idealists. Even when the life they lead is realistically so very far from those ideals. I can embrace the idealism, but the Realpolitik of American life leads me to believe that that idealism is either flawed or logically false, because the realism in which we live has not lived up to the promise of the idealism. We do not have individual Liberty in any meaningful percentage of what we had in times past, and the trend, despite the efforts of the Tea Party, is against us. The world is caught in a swirl of Socialism and Globalism, antithetical to individualism and Libertarianism. It is my opinion that the weight of the global structure exceeds its ability to support itself. Eventually, you run out of other people’s money. That doesn’t mean that when it fails, what replaces it will be any more to our idealistic liking. Historically, the odds are on despotism and/or warlordism. More than anything, what keeps me to my purpose of defending the Constitution is my idealism. My belief that it is POSSIBLE to carve out a shining city on a hill that can inspire and lead the rest of the world to believe in the value of individualism rather than collectivism, because of what we DO not what we SAY. I believe it…but I do not hope for it. The odds are simply too long, and if I believe the prophecy of my faith, doomed from the start. That doesn’t mean it’s not a hill worth dying on though. There are many things worse than death.
My traditional Anarchist friends will tell me that all States are, by definition and logic, illegitimate because they must use force to continue to exist and they must rob their citizenry in order to sustain themselves, thus violating the Zero Aggression Principal and property rights by their very existence. I won’t argue against this logic, at a philosophical level I agree. Any State, no matter how limited and benign, must tax to exist and must use force to enforce its laws or it is NOT a State. Philosophically, if the State can use force or the threat of force to collect that tax, regardless of how noble the use is that it will be utilized for, it is using the excuse “the ends justify the means” which is, in its essence, an invalid moral argument. Conversely, a contract, mutually entered into, is moral. So, we see that a moral form of collective organization would revolve around voluntary associations voluntarily entered into. There is also nothing within the ZAP that forbids self-defense. You have every right to swing your fist right up until it hits my nose, then I have every right to defend that nose and to exact real damages from you for your decision to swing your fist into my nose.
But, that form of anarchism is another sort of idealism. It, too, will fail when faced with the Realpolitik of a Mongol horde. The mass of humanity on this old, spinning ball is simply too uneducated, too poor and too angry to adopt those fine ideals without first addressing their real, Maslowian needs. And, the Oligarchs, while not the stuff of Alex Jones’ feverish imagination, are every bit as powerful and self-interested as the mercantilists and monopolists of previous centuries.
So, where does that leave us, if our idealisms have failed us? It leaves me an idealist. I believe, because I choose to believe in those things which, if they are not in reality, OUGHT TO BE. The difference between man and beast is our ability to think, to imagine beyond the here to the might be. To choose to strive for the might be against all odds. All the rest of it, it’s just tactics. Some are better than others, but in whatever way you choose to celebrate this 4th and all it means, continue to push forward towards that idealism that most Americans share, to remember and honor the sacrifice of those who have laid it all at the feet of the tree of Liberty, and prepare yourself to be one of the builders of the City on the Hill, rather than just another Doubting Thomas. Rather than one of the Founding Fathers, I’ll leave you with this quote from one of the greatest movies of all time.
“Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love… true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.”