Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mennonite school caves in to nationalism.

Back when I was in the Midwest I worked with a peer-counseling group that was Christian in nature——this was obviously before I became a godless, heathen. I met a small group of students from Goshen College who drove some distance to join us for our monthly dinner.

I always had a bit of admiration for the Mennonites because they were pacifists and not nationalists. Their emphasis on peace appealed to me. I never was, and am not now, a pacifist. But peace has always been the foundation of my ethical and political beliefs. Peace is the absence of force, it is the cooperative, voluntary interaction of people. That is why I believe in free, depoliticized markets, they are cooperative, voluntary transactions where force and fraud are banished. I just felt one should not initiate force against others but did not think that the use of force, in defense against an aggressor was forbidden.

As part of their pacifist tradition the Mennonites didn't participate in things like national anthems, especially one glorifying "bombs bursting in air." Prior to sporting events at Goshen no national anthem played. Apparently some Right-wing radio host, obviously looking to boost his ratings, started a campaign against the school. And good Christians who have no problems with war and violence started harassing the school. So now the college has decided to start playing the national anthem before events. That disappoints me.

Nationalism, or patriotism, are emotions I don't share. I find them on par with racism: the belief that one is inherently superior on the basis of the involuntary membership to some collective body. I also think that nationalism and patriotism are inherently against the fundamental principles that our nation was founded upon.

The Founding Fathers didn't teach patriotism and obedience to government. They were rebels who deposed the government of the day. What they believed in was liberty. Patriotism is a cheap substitute for the real principles of the Founders. Patriotism demands loyalty to a place, not to any set of principles. An American patriot would be loyal to his country——which means to his government——regardless of what that country did. This neglects the fact that a government can itself be guilty of treason to the founding principles of the nation.

We need not go back far in human history to a time when patriot soldiers marched to war on the orders of their government. They were loyal to their state. They followed orders to defend their way of life. That their way of life required the rounding up of Jews and their deaths in miserable concentration camps was ignored. They were, after all, patriots.

A small band of students——Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, and a few others——formed an underground group that they called the White Rose. Using non-violent means they protested the actions of the Nazi government. They printed leaflets which they distributed challenging the morality of obedience to a corrupt and evil government. In their first message they wrote:
Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes—crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure—reach the light of day?
For this treason they were arrested and executed by being beheaded by the Nazi government. Most the German people chose to be compliant, good citizens and obeyed their government. Today those good citizens are reviled and the White Rose stand out as heroes.

I am proud of the ideals on which our nation was founded and ashamed of how most Americans treat those ideals. "We hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal..." What a beautiful ideal. But the great "patriots" of the nation vote for inequality of rights before the law. The principle is right, the patriots are wrong.

We were told that we are created with "certain inalienable rights" and that, because of these rights, "governments are instituted amongst men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Now we are governed by individuals who do not believe that rights pre-exist governments that owe their justification to the protection of rights. Instead they believe that government IS the source of our rights and we owe the State thanks for what freedom it grants us. This is the precise opposite of the values that inspired Jefferson to write his immortal words.

Patriotism is blind. It is intentionally blind. It ignores the sins of the nation and demands obedience to authority.

We once prided ourselves in rejecting the use of torture, unlike the cruel regimes that we historically opposed. Now the "patriots" defend the use of torture. We once opposed regimes sending armed forces into other nations to build a global military presence. Today so many tell us that our international imperialism is the highest form of patriotism.

Because patriotism appeals to blind loyalty it allows the growth of a government totally at odds with the principles upon which our country was founded. Paradoxically, if you consider those principles to the be core of our nation, they patriotism is best seen as a form of treason.

There comes a time, in the history of all nations, when adherence to common principles of morality requires one to be a traitor to the government under which they live. Governments are nothing but tools created to protect the rights of individuals. As Jefferson wrote" That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government...."

Jefferson warned that we should not do so for "light and transient causes." If the Founders were willing to commit treason against their governing classes, in the name of abstract principles like justice, equality of rights and individual liberty, do you really think they would be proud of the blind emotion of patriotism and nationalism?

America did not become great because it had a flag, or people said a "pledge" to that flag, or even because people obeyed the government. America became a great nation because the people were free to prosper. Freedom is the core principle of the nation and when we have a political class, working insidiously to remove that freedom, obedience to the state is not loyalty to the Founding principles of American, but treason.

What we should take pride in is not the name of America, or a red, white and blue piece of cloth. It is not "dying for the country" either, it is living for freedom and defending, not government, but individual rights.

Those people who call themselves patriots rarely are loyal to the American principles. We saw self-proclaimed patriots stripping African-Americans of their rights before the law. That is treason to the principles of our nation, even if it took our nation generations to put those principles into action. Arresting people, on the basis of their ideologies, as we did in the Red Scare of the 1920s and the McCarthy era, was not based on loyalty to the principles of freedom of speech and assocation, guarateed by our Bill of Rights.

In the 1920s, when FDR helped lead a campaign to entrap and arrest gay men in Newport, Rhode Island, that was in violation of the principle of equality of rights. When the Religious Right does it today in the form of Prop 8 or so-called "pro-family" legislation they are not being loyal to our principles but betraying them. Again that it has taken us generations to start to get it right is no excuse for refusing to acknowledge that "all men are created equal."

Too many people are allowing patriotism to blind them. They use it as an excuse to betray some core principle. The Founders were far from perfect but the core values that they tried to embrace, quite unsuccessfully in many cases, are still good values. Loyalty to those values inspire me—not anthems, flags, or bombs bursting in air.

I am saddened that Goshen College surrendered a bit of their heritage to pressure of blind patriotism. Their acquiesence to the raw nationalistic urges of the masses has made our nation a little less than what it was before. It helps in the process of putting blind loyalty, and not adhreence to universal, moral principles, at the center of our national identity. When patriotism has fully replaced those principles then what the Founder's called "these united states of America" would be nothing more than a hollow shell. It would be signify nothing. It would stand for nothing. And whether it retains the name and symbols of its history won't matter because the principles themselves would be dead.