Monday, November 13, 2006

Patriotic Liberals and Other Creatures of Myth

I. Divisive Rhetoric?

I’ve been reading Ann Coulter’s works since she began publishing a few years ago. She levels many accusations at the liberal Left, but perhaps the sharpest invective in her repertoire is reserved for her theory that liberals are less patriotic than the average American.

“Why is the relative patriotism of the two parties the only issue that is out of bounds for discussion?” Ms. Coulter asks in her book Treason. “Why can’t we ask: Who is more patriotic: Democrats or Repulicans? You could win that case in court...Liberals want to be able to attack America without anyone making an issue of it. Patriotism is vitally important—but somehow impossible to measure. Liberals relentlessly oppose the military, the Pledge of Allegiance, the flag, the national defense. But if anyone calls them on it, they say he’s a kook and a nut. Citing the unpatriotic positions of liberals constitutes ‘McCarthyism.’ ”

To be honest, I’ve always assumed she was half-joking, or at least sprinkling her point with a liberal (ahem) dose of hyperbole. But recently, especially since reading James Burnham’s fantastic The Suicide of the West, I’ve come to realize that, Ms. Coulter’s intention aside, there is much truth to her rhetoric.

II. Liberal Egalitarianism

The starting point for our purpose is to note the liberal view of egalitarianism, though we might technically begin from even further back, to their relativist worldview. The liberal view of humanity states that there is no intrinsic difference between any brand of humanity, and therefore, humans should not discriminate against one another on the basis of property, sex, race, color, religion, or ancestry. At first, this egalitarianism found practical expression in the political realm, with the liberal program for universal suffrage. But in our time, it has bled into the social and economic fields, where it has actively sought leveling measures such as the progressive income-tax and inheritance taxes.

Once we accept this egalitarian assumption, the next step is simple: if all humans are essentially equal, then any basis for distinction, whether based on tradition, custom, prejudice, superstition or sentiment, is regarded as non-rational. As James Burnham puts it,

Looked at somewhat differently, liberalism’s egalitarianism is equivalent to a tendency - and we must continue to speak here of “tendencies” rather than of anything absolute - against social hierarchies and distinctions, against those factors in human life that mark off one group of men from the rest of mankind...Thus liberals are anti-aristocratic, and are opposed to political, economic or social distinctions based on family, religion or property, especially landed property, and perhaps most passionately of all to distinctions based on race or color.

As of yet, no great novelty, but this is where it gets interesting. Because of the liberal tendencies toward egalitarianism there is no real reason democratic centralization should stop with the single nation. In fact, the idea of a “nation” is viewed as an outdated and divisive concept. Thus liberals incline favorably toward ideas, movements and organizations that are universal in nature – world courts and united nations. And here, so that there be no mistake, I quote the liberal Quincy Wright, cited in The Liberal Papers:

Experience since the Second World War should have made it clear that a liberal foreign policy must assume that liberalism and democracy can only flourish or indeed survive in a suitable environment, that such an environment under present conditions can be no less extensive than the entire world, and that, therefore, liberal foreign policy must look at the world as a whole. Any form of isolationism and regionalism is obsolete. The nation that would save itself must subordinate its immediate interests to the maintenance of a peaceful, stable, and just world. That is the assumption that the United States and other nations made in establishing the United Nations.

III. A Matter of Priorities

In general, it is not the values to which a person adheres that reveal the most about his character, but rather the order of priority in which the values are arranged. Telling us, for example, that a person values family, life, liberty and peace tells us practically nothing – what human does not value these things? The real question is, what happens when there is a conflict of interests between the various values? Which takes precedence? Which is shunted aside ignobly?

Let’s take, for example, the values of Liberty (national independence and self-government) Justice (distributive justice of a more or less social welfare sort) Freedom (personal freedom and individual liberties) and Peace (the absence of large-scale warfare among major powers).

For the older liberalism of the nineteenth century, the order of precedence would be: Freedom, Liberty, Justice, and Peace (though Freedom and Liberty were used interchangeably). Older liberals tended to be patriotic and nationalist. They believed in the self-government, independence and sovereignty of their own country, and also in the right of other countries to self-determination. As rationalists, they believed that discussion was the preferred method of conflict resolution, yet Peace was still a modest priority.

But times have changed. For the majority of liberals, Peace has become paramount. The concepts of individual freedom (our Freedom) and national freedom (our Liberty) have become disassociated and downgraded, Liberty considerably more than the Freedom. What does the degradation of Liberty imply? Burnham answers,

To downgrade Liberty means to dilute the idea of the sovereignty of the nation and of the uniqueness and superiority of the civilization, and to reduce the importance that we attach to these in the scheme of public values. In terms of attitude, it means, concretely, that patriotism plus Christian faith are to one or another extent replaced by internationalism: not just an “international outlook” that views world affairs in global terms, with due realization that under modern circumstances there is a multiplicity of interests beside those of our own nation and culture that must be taken into account, but an active internationalism in feeling as well as thought, for which “fellow citizens” tend to merge into “humanity,” sovereignty is judged as an outmoded conception, my religion or no religion appears as a parochial variant of the “universal ideas common to mankind,” and the “survival of mankind” becomes more crucial than the survival of my country and my civilization.

Meaning, when push comes to shove, the interests of the “world” must take precedence over the interests of our nation. The fact that liberals often place the benefit of the world before the good of the United States should be patently obvious to any observer of the political scene. Tracts can, and have, been written about the damage caused to the interests of the US by global institutions such as the United Nations, adherence to international treaties, and subjugation to the decrees of the International Court of Justice.

Of course, some liberals will claim that while the US must certainly forsake its short term interests for the sake of the “greater good,” in the long run the US will be the ultimate beneficiary (and frankly, some will not even claim this much; the good of the many outweighs the good of the few or the US alone). Yet this is a dangerous and specious argument – the tangible loss is often both immediate and catastrophic, while the supposed benefits are illusory and indefinitely delayed.

IV. Patriotic Liberals and Other Creatures of Myth

I want to make clear that I do not question the worth of the liberal values here. It may be that the internationalist view is correct – that the good of the world in fact outweighs the good of the US, and that the US should submit to the judgment of international institutions, even when it conflicts with the direct interests of the US. I leave that to the reader to decide (though my personal view should be clear).

Nevertheless, what we can learn from the above is that most liberals are, practically by definition, relatively unpatriotic. Of course, they are ostensibly patriotic in the sense that they wish for the benefit and advancement of the interests of the US. But that desire is tempered by the overriding internationalism inherent in liberal ideology. When the two values come into conflict – as is happening more and more often in our increasingly global community – it is national patriotism that loses out.

It also stands to reason, as we pointed out above, that patriotism is actually anathema to liberal ideology. Because patriotism promotes an ideal of national pride, it is inherently divisive in nature. Thus, even though a liberal, and certainly a liberal politician, may mouth paeans to the idea of patriotism, it certainly leaves a bitter aftertaste behind. And this is only when liberals are not attacking patriotism outright. As Phil Donahue put it, patriotism is “the last refuge of scoundrels...Beware of patriotism.”

So it seems to me that there is great truth to the charge that liberals really are less patriotic than most Americans. Does this make any practical difference? Perhaps, and perhaps not. The coming two years will probably shed some light on the answer.

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