Beyond Reproach; On Questioning “Patriotism”

Strictly speaking, the word “Patriot” cannot apply to modern American progressives because the word “Patriot” actually means someone of Whig persuasion. To say that Progressives are not Patriots is merely to affirm the obvious fact that Progressivism is an Anti-Liberal political philosophy, and is obviously not meaningful. I do not “question the Patriotism” of American leftists, as that would be akin to questioning the Christian Faith of a Hindu. The American Patriots that fought for their rights as Englishmen were not Patriots because they “loved their country.” That would be nonsense: America was not yet a country, and most people would question whether you love a country you try to separate from. No, the Patriots loved an idea. To be sure, a fairly uniquely English idea, but certainly not one the British Government believed in, since the denied it to those in their colonial dominions. That idea was freedom, but in particular it was freedom in what Schumpeter called “the bourgeois sense.”

But the recent controversy over Rudy Giuliani’s remarks is not, contrary to the abuse of the term, over him “questioning Obama’s Patriotism.” In reality, Giuliani questioned whether Obama has the same kind of love of America, or whether he has the love of America, that people like Giuliani do.

I mean really, how dare he! You Republicans, you’d probably question Lenin’s love of Russia, or Robespierre’s love of France. Outrageous! Everyone’s Nationalism is beyond reproach: who would want to lead a country he did not love? Surely no one.

Do you see the rhetorical point I’m trying to make here? I think it’s actually obvious that American progressives cannot love American-at least, not as America is or has been. Democrat Nationalism-not Patriotism, that would be an oxymoron-is love of America as it could be, if only they could make it so. But a love of what the country could be if only you were in charge, implies a hatred of the country as it has been, if how that country has been, has been in a recalcitrant state, standing athwart your march toward Utopia. This is I believe what Giuliani has rightly observed appears to be a feature of Obama’s worldview in particular. And in some sense, if you love America you ought perhaps look askance at those who would see her transformed into something very different before they could truly be proud to call her home. I know that I would-that I do.

But far more important, I think, than whether one loves the country as it is or has been, is the question of whether what one wants for the country, for the people that inhabit our polity, is truly good for them. And this, not whether Democrats are Nationalists or not, is the truly damning indictment of their entire ideology. Robespierre loved France: he loved to see it terrorized. Lenin loved Russia: he loved to see it suffer. Of course, there are also those who love their country, in that they love to see the boot of their country on everyone else’s throat-think Mussolini or Hitler-but the left in America is relatively uninterested in directly oppressing foreigners. Contrast all of those with Patriotism, a love for what is actually good for the people of our country, love of things that would be good for everyone. The love of the American idea as such, neither a love for a people, a geographic location, or a government, but a love of American freedom.

I have absolutely no doubt that Obama has no such love for the American idea. No one should really be surprised by that. And I suspect most people criticizing Giuliani would understand that if only they wanted to. But they don’t want to.

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