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Monday, April 25, 2011

Essay; The New Patriotism

Published: July 02, 2001

My compatriots:

At a poolside gathering on the Fourth of July some years ago, the then-Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin asked Chief Justice William Rehnquist to read aloud the Declaration of Independence.

Rehnquist rose, buttoned his loud sport shirt to add a semblance of formality, and began. Halfway though the angry enumeration of wrongs done the colonists by King George III, he interrupted his reading to observe: ''This is quite an indictment.''

This week we will be celebrating a holiday that has come to be known as ''the Fourth of July.'' Why do we celebrate only the day and not the idea behind its real name? ''Independence Day'' commemorates the treasonous gamble our forefathers took in issuing the inflammatory indictment justifying their separation.

As the Fourth became mainly barbecues and fireworks, the idea of national sovereignty -- independence -- has become controversial, no longer such an unalloyed virtue.

We are taught that pride in independence is arrogant except in the case of the weak. Its opposite, interdependence, is now the passion of the elites: As ''travelers on the Earth together,'' we are members of one world, one planetary family, transfixed by the notion that national aspirations and powers should defer to a loose, global government driven by the power of world opinion.

The gutsy nationalists of 1776 were well aware of that power, even citing ''a decent respect for the opinions of mankind'' in their declaration. But our framers enlisted it on the side of independence, of one people's expression of freedom from oppression. The creation of the United States was modern history's greatest act of disunion.

The breakaway act spawned American patriotism. That word is rooted in the Greek pater, ''father.'' Our patrimony is the legacy of our ancestors; our patriotism is our love of fatherland or motherland. Patriotism is a devotion to the culture, tradition and way of life unique to our nation.

In Europe today, we see the systematic breakdown of patriotism. On that continent, where an excess of nationalist fervor and misguided patriotism led to devastating wars, the trend is toward amalgamation of nations. An economic Euro-patriotism that supersedes all national interests may ultimately homogenize what are now distinctive cultures and disparate interests.

That's Europe's choice; thanks partly to the colonies that broke away 225 years ago to become independent, it's a free continent, free to establish a continent-state. But Europe's march toward interdependence, combined with the needful embrace of interdependence by dependent nations elsewhere, has led to a distrust of America's national independence.

That accounts for the eager espousal of ''multilateralism,'' the consensus of the lowest and slowest common denominator. The fall from fashion of independence also accounts for the condemnation of ''unilateralism'' by those envious of American success or worried about U.S. free competition -- or by Americans uneasy about sole-superpower status who find surcease from shame in self-flagellation.

Here we are, then, on Independence Day, all too often feeling the need to salve our conscience for any assertion of our sovereignty and to justify our glorious independence.

Is the word ''glorious'' troubling? A touch too triumphalist? It is a staple of Fourth of July oratory, associated with the nickname of the flag, ''Old Glory,'' and of the lyric to ''The Battle Hymn of the Republic.'' But applied to our breakthrough in the consent of the governed, glorious is immodest, un-humble and (only whisper this) 100 percent apt.

Time for a new patriotism with less bombast but profound pride.

America's independence and our power give us the right to decide what is best for our national security; many of us believe that is also best for international security.

Our independence and our prosperity give us the opportunity to lead the world by our example: free enterprise bounded by the rule of law produces the most for the many.

Our independence and our historic moral concern give us the freedom to support human rights anywhere.

When Rufus Choate derided such Fourth of July oratory evoking the Declaration's ''glittering generalities,'' Ralph Waldo Emerson shot back: ''Glittering generalities? They are blazing ubiquities!''


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