I was at my child’s school the other day, and happened to glance at the daily handout the children receive. It had the usual special announcements and ended with “Today’s Patriotic Quotation.” I was rather pleased to see that there was a patriotic quotation included (on a daily basis, yet). Reading the quotation, though, just depressed me. As far as I could tell, it had nothing whatsoever to do with patriotism.
Patriotism means support of or pride in ones country. A patriotic quotation, therefore, would laud something distinctly American. I’ve been happily awash in patriotic quotations lately, since I signed up for daily emails from The Patriot Post. Every day, as part of the material this organization sends to me, I get a quotation from the Founders reminding me of America’s exceptionalism. Here are just a few examples:
“Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.” –Thomas Jefferson, letter to Wilson Nicholas, 1803
“No morn ever dawned more favorable than ours did; and no day was every more clouded than the present! Wisdom, and good examples are necessary at this time to rescue the political machine from the impending storm.” –George Washington, letter to James Madison, 1786
“The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.” –James Madison, Federalist No. 57
“I trust that the proposed Constitution afford a genuine specimen of representative government and republican government; and that it will answer, in an eminent degree, all the beneficial purposes of society.” –Alexander Hamilton, speech to the New York Ratifying Convention, 1788
I admit that many of the Founder’s quotations are more intellectually sophisticated than the average 11 year old can comprehend, but there are other truly patriotic quotations floating around, highlighting the wonders of the American system and the fundamental goodness of the American people. (And I would be delighted if you would send your favorite patriotic quotations to the comments section in my blog.)
The day I visited the school, though, the “Patriotic Quotation” had nothing whatsoever to do with America. Instead, it was this, from Eleanor Roosevelt:
It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.
Am I missing something when I read that, or am I correct that it is entirely unrelated to America? Instead, it’s the standard pabulum of the Left, waffling on about the wonders of peace.
Believe it or not, despite the fact that I’m a conservative, I’m all for peace. But peace is only worthwhile if it stands for something. As my regular readers know, I’m extremely fond of quoting Tacitus, who spoke of Roman military victories thusly: “They make a desert and call it peace.”
Totalitarian countries are very peaceful. There are no barroom brawls, no street protests, no euphoric rock concerts, no wacky TV shows, and no political debates. All is quiet. If citizens follow the myriad rules, if they keep their heads down and worship at the government’s shrine, all is peaceful. The residents in such countries work at peace daily in their continual efforts to stay alive.
You’ll pardon me for being condescending here, but I cannot escape the feeling that the liberal approach to war and peace is extraordinarily shallow. They attach labels to appearances, and then try to derive deep meanings from those labels. (Hardly surprising, I guess, from a political orientation that rotates around the hardcore labeling that is identity politics.)
Here are the familiar liberal tropes, the behavior labels, if you will: “War is bad.” “Peace is good.” “Small armed groups rising up against a large military are good.”
But what if the War is the Civil War, which broke the back of the institution of slavery? (It also severely damaged states’ rights, which I understand, but I’m focusing on slavery here, a genuine evil that Progressives surely would want to see destroyed.) Or how about if the War is World War II, which defeated Nazi Germany?
I don’t need to re-hash my peace shtick, set out above. Peace is good only when it’s allied with freedom. Peace alone can easily be the quiet of the grave.
As for the “small armed uprisings,” you know that I’m thinking of all the Progressives who compare Al Qaeda or Hamas to the American Revolution. At the shallow strata that constitutes Progressive thinking, if you’re big, you must be the oppressor, and if you’re small, you must be the oppressed.
I actually wrote about this precise point some years ago in an American Thinker article regarding Leftist — or, as I called it, Marxist — morality, a post triggered by my watching an acclaimed movie called Maria Full of Grace, which was a sympathetic portrait of a drug smuggling illegal alien. Marxist morality is a distinct creature from our more traditional Biblical morality. Rather than reinvent the wheel, let me quote myself:
This ethical paradigm [i.e., Marxist morality] isn’t premised on right and wrong. It is, instead, concerned with oppressor and oppressed. We all know, of course, that Marxism orders the world by oppressors and oppressed. I always saw this hierarchical standard, however, as ex post facto retrofitting explaining, not why someone was right to do as he did, but why he shouldn’t be punished. This Marxist approach was an explanation for things that had already happened (a la the Officer Krupke song), not a moral justification for determining future conduct.
If you haven’t seen the movie, the plot precis is that a poor, unemployed, pregnant Columbian girl gets herself a job as a mule, running cocaine into America. The San Francisco Chronicle, in its review, introduced the movie as follows:
A “Bonnie and Clyde” moment — when you find yourself rooting for the outlaw over the authorities — comes a third of the way into “Maria Full of Grace,” a revelatory independent film whose moments of incredible sadness are offset by the same state of grace that blesses its astonishing title character.
Given that the lead character is an unwed pregnant woman engaged in illegal conduct, I naively assumed that the “state of grace” to which the review refers was the moment in which Maria suddenly realizes that she is engaged in evil, immoral conduct; repents; and works to undo the wrongs in which she was involved. Had I begun by reading the Roger Ebert review, I never would have made this silly mistake. Thus, Ebert has this to say, in relevant part:
Long—stemmed roses must come from somewhere, but I never gave the matter much thought until I saw “Maria Full of Grace,” which opens with Maria working an assembly line in Colombia, preparing the roses for shipment overseas. I guess I thought the florist picked them early every morning, while mockingbirds trilled. Maria is young and pretty and filled with fire, and when she finds she’s pregnant, she isn’t much impressed by the attitude of Juan, her loser boyfriend. She dumps her job and gets a ride to Bogota with a man who tells her she could make some nice money as a mule — a courier flying to New York with dozens of little Baggies of cocaine in her stomach. [….]
Maria is a victim of economic pressures, but she doesn’t think like a victim. She has spunk and intelligence and can think on her feet, and the movie wisely avoids the usual cliches about the drug cartel and instead shows us a fairly shabby importing operation, run by people more slack—jawed than evil. Here is a drug movie with no machineguns and no chases. It focuses on its human story, and in Catalina Sandino Moreno, finds a bright—eyed, charismatic actress who engages our sympathy.
By writing the above, Ebert unwittingly defines the second part of Leftist morals, the part that states that, if you are on the bottom of the Marxist hierarchy, your status preemptively sanctifies any conduct in which you engage, provided that it is directed against oppression (however you define that oppression, or whoever creates that oppression). In other words, morals aren’t just about feelings, anymore. Instead, they can be determined relative to a person’s status on the economic ladder. “Maria is a victim of economic pressures.” Given her situation, she cannot make immoral choices. All of her choices are virtuous responses to her degraded situation.
I might have spent several days brooding over the movie’s complete immorality, and the critics’ swoons over that same movie, if I hadn’t heard the next day a laudatory review on NPR about the new Battlestar Galactica series. In that science fiction show, cyborgs have conquered humans living on a distant colony, and the humans are struggling to deal with the situation and to overthrow the cyborgs. The critic interviewed in the NPR spot said that, to him, the show worked to make the viewer understand the insurgents in Iraq by showing us that they have an “oppressed minority fighting against conquering majority” viewpoint. In other words, it makes the Iraqi insurgents sympathetic.
Frankly, I have a hard time being sympathetic to people who back regimes that murder millions of its own people; who enjoy beheading innocents; and who would like to impose a relentlessly grim religious rule that requires death sentences for eating ice cream, singing, playing tennis, or putting on a clown show for children. These are not good people whether they’re in power or are seeking power.
In the Leftist moral view, however, just as all workers are exploited and should be praised for taking the initiative by engaging in utterly immoral, illegal activity, so too are all underdogs virtuous. If you’re in charge, you’re bad; if you’re struggling to overthrow those in charge, you’re good. It doesn’t seem to occur to Leftist moralists to examine the motives of those involved in any given struggle.
There’s more of the same in the rest of my article, here, but I think you get the point.
And so I’m right back at the quotation they served at my child’s school as an example of patriotism. It had nothing to do with America, and everything to do with a conviction that some abstract peace is the highest goal. Having read that, I sincerely wonder what yesterday’s patriotic quotation was, and what tomorrow’s will be. Does the school ever praise our country, or does it just use famous Democrats and Leftists as mouthpieces for shallow and abstract ruminations about facile and meaningless goals? I hope that the day I was there was just a one-off, since our children our vulnerable, and their schools’ indoctrination affects them strongly.