Two hundred and thirty-one years have passed since a bunch of rabble-rousing troublemakers declared the independence of 13 American colonies from their mother country. Much has changed in that time, and it’s all too easy for us to regard Independence Day as just another expression of neocon nationalism run wild. And. as far as national “celebrations” are concerned, it probably is.
But, as bad as things are, let’s not forget the important distinction between nationalism and patriotism that historian John Lukacs has taken such pains to recall. Unlike our libertarian friends, who all too often lump one in with the other, we paleocons ought to insist that patriotism is the love of a particular place and the people therein, while nationalism is a commitment to a people abstracted from their history and place. The first, properly understood, is Christian; the latter belongs to the revolutionary age that began with the French Revolution.
The neocons were never patriots (at least, not American patriots), which is why they can prattle on about spreading “the American values of freedom and democracy” around the world, as if the Founding Fathers who fought for our independence were not fighting for their homes and families, but for Platonic ideals. We, however, are (or should be) patriots, committed to the very real places we live and people we live with. The only true alternative to nationalism, in fact, is patriotism; if we renounce our patriotic devotion to our country, what possible ground do we have to stand on to oppose neoconservative nationalist aggression?
So tonight, don’t take part in the nationalist celebration that will light up your television screen. Instead, walk down to the local park with your family, and watch the local fireworks. (Try to stay away from the “musical accompaniment,” which will, of course, be nationalist.) Talk to your neighbors; have a few laughs. Remember what it was once like to be free, to be an American, before the empire came—and what it may be once again, when this empire, like all empires, passes into the dustbin of history, and these nationalists, like all nationalists, destroy themselves.
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