As I have mentioned here on several occasions, in a former life I was in close and sympathetic association with The Nation magazine for several years. On one of those occasions, I discussed a bit of that history and recycled something I had written for a special Fourth of July issue. Since that short piece is, sadly, still appropriate, I hereby recyle it again, from that earlier post:
But I digress. (Of course I do. What is recycling if not a vain digression?) I continued to publish there a bit after I left, but with decreasing frequency as my views and the magazine’s began to diverge even more. On one occasion the editor, Victor Navasky (whom I still regard as a fine fellow), rejected something I had submitted as too far beyond the pale, but, perhaps for old times’s sake or maybe simply a commendable bid for a bit of diversity, he asked me contribute to a special July 4 issue on “Patriotism” that, as it turned out, contained a large number of short statements by various writers in The Nation’s orbit.
I would say, given the company I was it, my piece was way out in right field. But, given that company, it was so far out that it’s a mistake to regard me as having any company there at all. I can’t link it because that was back in the days before the Internet, even before computers. You can find it in Nexis or the library in the July 15, 1991, issue, but you needn’t. I still like it, and so I’m recycling, I mean reprinting, it in its entirety here:
FOR TOO LONG THE LEFT HAS TOO EASILY REGARDED patriotism as the first refuge of scoundrels. Perhaps the main source of this longstanding discomfort with patriotic sentiment is that patriotism celebrates, at least in theory, the national community as a whole while the left, especially in theory, is oppositional, outside, dissenting. Traditionally class based, with workers viewed as the engine driving society to a better future, the left is now largely a collection of racial, ethnic and gender interests plus some academic defenders of multiculturalism — progressives all, but with no agent of progress and hence no real reason to believe in progress, in sight or in mind.
With little to unite it except opposition to the dominant culture, the left today has lost both the desire and the ability to lay claim to any significant portion of the landscape of American values. Equal opportunity? It has a disparate impact. Free speech? It protects racist and sexist epithets. Self-determination? A principle useful only for bashing the Russians or protecting oil sheiks. This is overstated, to be sure, but not by much. From what precinct of the left today could an authentic voice claim something like “This land is your land, this land is my land . . .”?
Patriotism is an expression of solidarity, a principle long favored on the left, but the term itself reveals our predicament. Solidarity of whom? With whom? For what? It is a far but revealing cry from “Solidarity Forever” to “Solidarity in Support of Diversity,” a banner displayed during the recent controversy over affirmative action at Georgetown Law School.
That’s a hard flag to rally around.