Monday, May 26, 2008

Progressive Patriots

For far too long liberals have ceded the idea of patriotism to jingoistic right wing nuts. Not only does this marginalize libs, but it does a great disservice to the great and proud history of progressive patriots of the past: the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the civil rights activists, most of the Founding Fathers and Mothers, etc., etc. It's a misreading of history and a luxury we can no longer afford. Here's an interesting article from E.J. Dionne on the redefinition of patriotism—through a progressive lens—for a new generation.

Choice cut:
Obama's Patriot Campaign
The reaction of too many progressives to patriotism is "automatic, allergic recoil," say two young Seattle writers, Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer, in their important book "The True Patriot."

Instead of recoil, they offer rigorous standards for what patriotism should be. "True patriots," they write, "believe that freedom from responsibility is selfishness, freedom from sacrifice is cowardice, freedom from tolerance is prejudice, freedom from stewardship is exploitation, and freedom from compassion is cruelty."

Their new progressive patriotism bears some resemblance to the old progressive patriotism of Theodore Roosevelt. "We cannot meet the future," Roosevelt said in a 1916 Memorial Day speech, "either by mere gross materialism or by mere silly sentimentalism; above all, we cannot meet it if we attempt to balance gross materialism in action by silly sentimentalism in words."

For good measure, the trust-buster also declared that "the big business man" must "recognize the fact that his business activities, while beneficial to himself and his associates, must also justify themselves by being beneficial to the men who work for him and to the public which he serves."

Both of these examples suggest that anyone who enters into a serious discussion of patriotism is required to offer more than bromides about love of flag and of country. Patriotism has to involve definitions, commitments and actions.