Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
This year’s Fourth of July celebrations brought out the predictable snarky dudgeon of the “woke” left. Major propaganda organs like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and NPR featured stories trashing the Statue of Liberty, the Declaration of Independence, and the displaying and waving of the flag, to the Left a fascist dog-whistle.
For the “woke,” celebrating patriotism on Independence Day is dangerous low-brow kitsch at best, and an equivalent of a Nazi Nuremberg Party Rally at worst. Such attitudes bespeak not a cosmopolitan, sophisticated intellect, but rather a shameless moral idiocy, as well as a mind filled with ideological clichés and stale received wisdom.
More important, despising one’s own country is dangerous, for the Marxist bacillus is still infecting our body politic and attacking patriotism, which is the immune system of a healthy state that can resist a murderous ideology.
Hatred of America both domestic and foreign reflects Marxists’ long resentment of the U.S. and its success in ushering their biggest achievement, the Soviet Union, into the trash-can of history. But this obvious superiority of capitalism to Marxism was obvious decades before the Soviet Union’s collapse. As French political philosopher Raymond Aron wrote in 1957, leftists have “a grudge against the United States mainly because the latter had succeeded by means which were not laid down in the revolutionary code. Prosperity, power, the tendency toward uniformity of economic conditions––these results have been achieved by private initiative, by competition rather than State intervention, in other words by capitalism, which every well-brought up intellectual has been taught to despise.” In other words, it was the capitalist U.S. that delivered prosperity and equality, while the Marxist U.S.S.R. produced misery and corpses.
But historical failure could not dampen Marxism’s appeal, which fed Western anti-patriotism even before the early 20th century. Whether from genteel Fabian socialists, or hardcore communists activists, disillusionment with, and disaffection from one’s nation was the mark of sophistication and progress. Attacks on patriotism, moreover, had already followed the growing dislike of the British Empire, a distaste that started accelerating after the gruesome Boer War (1899-1902). The industrialized carnage of World War I further eroded pride in, and affection for one’s own country. Both causes, anti-imperialism and Marxism, were combined in Vladimir Lenin’s 1916 Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, which substituted colonial subjects for the industrial proletariat that had become middle class instead of violent revolutionaries.
This animus against imperialism, moreover, became American policy with Woodrow Wilson’s enshrining of national self-determination as a guiding principal of the new globalist order. As Wilson said to Congress in 1918, “National aspirations must be respected; peoples may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent.” By the war’s end three empires had disappeared, and been divided into Western-style nation states. In the case of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, this was a geopolitical blunder the ramifications of which we are still living with today.
The British Empire’s continued existence intensified anti-imperialism and scorn for patriotism in the interwar years among England’s cognitive elite. By the Thirties, such attitudes of “unwarranted self-abasement,” as Winston Churchill called them in 1933, were commonplace. Cartoonist David Low’s caricature of the pro-imperialist, xenophobic, and racist Colonel Blimp became a slur used against the patriotic masses. Poet Wilfred Owen, in the most famous poem from World War I, “Dulce et Decorum,” called patriotism “The Old Lie.” Popular social commentator H.G. Wells protested against the “teaching of patriotic histories” that promote a “poisonous war-making tradition.” And novelist J.B. Priestly called patriotism “a mighty force, chiefly used for evil.”
Perhaps the most shameful expression of fashionable elite anti-patriotism came from novelist E.M. Forster’s statement published in 1939, when Great Britain was facing the existential threat of feral Nazism: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” Even socialist George Orwell recognized the danger of such myopic narcissism. In 1941 he wrote, “England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles, it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution.”
Orwell also saw such dangerous attitudes spreading beyond the intelligentsia into the wider culture, just as we witnessed happening here since the Sixties. Before World War II, Orwell wrote, “left-wingers were chipping away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British.” As a consequence, Orwell continues, this “systematic Blimp-baiting affected even the Blimps themselves, and made it harder than it had been before to get intelligent young men to enter the armed forces.” Meanwhile, as Churchill had written a few years earlier, “Bands of sturdy Teutonic youths [are] marching through the streets and roads of Germany, with the light of desire to suffer for their Fatherland.”
Take out the “slightly disgraceful” and put in “Fascist and racist”; change “Englishman” to “American,” and “Blimps” to “deplorables” and “bitter clingers”; for “anti-British” read “anti-American,” and for “Teutonic youths” read “jihadists” and “Chinese communists,” and these observations perfectly describe the progressive anti-patriotism that for decades has been on display not just on Independence Day, but 24/7/365.
And just as England’s non-elites were infected with this Marxist virus, so too today we see among Millennials and Gen Xers the same scorn for patriotism. In a recent Issues and Insights poll, only 36% of people between 18 and 34 were “proud to be American,” compared to 86% of those over 65. The “long march” of leftists through our educational and cultural institutions has been wildly successful.
Finally, the recycled anti-Americanism of Critical Race Theory is just Marxism’s latest spawn, and like its parent must programmatically hate the U.S. as the premier global villain. Following on Cultural Marxism’s shift from the factory floor to the graduate seminar, it has freshened up, with pseudo-scientific jargon devoid of any empirical support, the old Sixties hatred of America usually expressed by burning the flag, attacking military recruitment offices, or indulging slurs like “AmeriKKKa,” which pretty much sums up “systemic racism” without all the pretentious, empty jargon like “cisheteropatriarchy.” To paraphrase Sam Spade’s observation about hoods, “the cheaper the intellect, the gaudier the patter.”
Those displays of anti-Americanism we witnessed this Independence Day, then, are nothing new. They are not the product of Critical Race Theory, itself a retread of various Foucauldian and postmodern fads. The problem bespeaks the long, malign influence of Marxism, a totalizing ideology that, like all tyrannies, must eliminate any alternative sources of authority or allegiance so it can monopolize power and achieve its aim to dismantle our political order of unalienable rights, political freedom, and civil societies.
And just as old-school communists like Howard Zinn hijacked the civil rights movement and its struggle with legal segregation in order to recruit new followers, today’s Critical Race Theorists are exploiting racial divides and lurid racist history in order to leverage power, putting old Marxist poison in new Critical Race Theory bottles. But it’s no less a toxic brew.
For as Orwell and Churchill understood decades ago, such bad ideas can have malign consequences, endangering our freedoms not just by their ideas, but also by their consequences. Hoover Senior Fellow Thomas Sowell has written astutely about these dangers:
One may of course live in a country parasitically, accepting all the benefits for which others have sacrificed––both in the past and in the present––without any notion of being required to do the same. But once that attitude becomes general the country becomes defenseless against forces of either internal disintegration or external aggression. In short, patriotism and national honor cannot be reduced to simply psychological quirks, to which intellectuals can consider themselves superior, without risking dire consequences.
No country can survive if a critical mass of its citizens don’t believe it’s worth fighting, killing, and dying for. Rather, it will be easy prey for its enemies who do believe that their civilization, their country, their way of life is worth killing for. We find ourselves today drawing closer to putting that proposition to the gruesome test.
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