This year’s Fourth of July arrives at a time of doubt and even disdain for our nation’s birth and foundational principles. For most of our history this day has celebrated the bold, epochal Declaration of Independence that staked a claim to self-government and freedom from the world’s most powerful empire. The nation that followed after eight years of war went on to become, and still is, the freest, most prosperous, and, for all its all-too-human betrayals of those principles, the most generous great power in all of history.
The heart of our affection does not come from blood and soil, but from truly revolutionary ideals expressed in the Declaration’s preamble: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The new nation was created to “secure these rights,” not to bestow or create them, and it “derives [its] just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Such obvious truths, however, have been for decades contested by some of our country’s most privileged beneficiaries, and the patriotism that expresses our country’s goodness disparaged and mocked. In its place a fashionable oikophobia––the hatred of one’s country, principles, virtues, history, and the fellow citizens who still believe in our civic ideals and their goodness––preens morally and embraces the impossible utopias that such oikophobes promote.
Patriotism, the beating heart of our “unum” that binds the “pluribus,” is besieged at a time when we face dangerous developments like enormous debt, open borders, and assaults on our Constitutional order and Bill of Rights at home, and abroad totalitarian rivals “filled with passionate intensity” to supplant our global power, and diminish our freedom.
The story of patriotism’s decline begins over a century ago in Great Britain with the growing influence of Marxism, disaffection with the Empire, and citizen-of-the-world internationalism, particularly among the intelligentsia and cultural elites. The Great War that broke out in 1914 and ground on for four years of industrialized carnage, a slaughter of “lions led by donkeys,” confirmed for many of the disaffected that their country was irredeemably flawed and unworthy of affection.
It’s telling that the most famous work of literature to come out of the war is Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum Est,” which calls patriotism “the old lie.” But other writers also rejected patriotism. H.G. Wells, one of the most popular writers not just in England, but also in the world, wrote against “the teaching of patriotic histories that sustain and carry on the poisonous war-making traditions of the past”––an early example of the “cancel culture” of today’s “woke” activists.
One of many cultural markers of this disdain for patriotism is the despicable statement made by novelist E.M. Forster, a member of the Bloomsbury group of countercultural writers, critics, and intellectuals that arose before World War I. Forster’s and the “Bloomsberries’” anti-patriotic sensibility is obvious in his famous statement, “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope that I should have the guts to betray my country.” And he said this in 1939, when Great Britain was beginning the struggle against a monstrous totalitarian enemy that was stopped only because millions of men gave their lives to protect the freedom of juvenile narcissists like Forster.
This sensibility was widespread among intellectuals, causing George Orwell to observe in 1940 that “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.” Worse, they were “trying to spread an outlook that sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British.”
Obviously, these attitudes affected morale during the interwar years and contributed to the popularity of appeasement, as Winston Churchill said in 1933: “Our difficulties come from the mood of unwarrantable self-abasement into which we have cast by a powerful section of our own intellectuals . . . . But what have they to offer but a vague internationalism, a squalid materialism, and the promise of impossible Utopias?”
Orwell’s and Churchill’s evaluations have turned out to be some of the best descriptions of our own country’s decades of anti-patriotic intellectuals, writers, and professors. And just as in England, Marxism has been the virus that has spread this dangerous fashion, especially among the so-called “woke.” Starting in the Twenties, variations of Marxist collectivism and anti-nationalism began to permeate American culture both high and low. The reason is obvious: The United States’ freedom, individualism, and entrepreneurial genius are all diametrically opposed to Marx’s “scientific history,” and collectivism’s bloody failures.
But this influence has been worsened by globalism and its specious cosmopolitanism and slandering of patriotism as parochial and small-minded, if not fascist. In contrast, the cognitive and cultural elites in many respects identify more with their fellow global elites than they do with their own fellow citizens, most of whom comprise Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” whom she smeared as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic.” Barack Obama scorned them as “bitter clingers to guns and religion,” FBI agent Peter Strzok as “smelly Walmart shoppers,” and Joe Biden as “semi-facists.”
To these self-styled sophisticates, the “deplorables” are the low-brow fans of monster-truck rallies, gun-fetishizing members of the NRA, knuckle-dragging church-going Bible-thumpers, and the xenophobic Pledge of Allegiance reciters, National Anthem singers, and flag-waving saps who believe in America’s exceptionalism, America’s freedom, America’s opportunity, and America’s essential goodness, even if, like all humans, we at times in our history have failed and fallen short of our ideals and principles.
But this oikophobia is dangerous. It has infected schools and universities, popular culture and corporate boards, high culture and government agencies. It has contributed to our military services falling short in attracting the recruits willing to fight, kill, and die that we need in a dangerous world of feral rivals who have no doubts or fashionable guilt or smug sophistication when it comes to achieving their aims at our expense.
Finally, this brief history of anti-patriotism, and the long record of its infiltration of the West mean that restoring patriotism and oikophilia will take a monumental effort, or perhaps a mind-concentrating catastrophe. But the worst slaughter on our soil in our history, the terrorist attacks on 9/11, inspired only a brief outpouring of patriotism and affection for our country. In less than a year, most of the flags had come down, and the narrative that our global offenses had brought upon us a justified retribution, once more dominated our public discourse.
But we still have much to celebrate this Fourth of July. Despite the assaults of the leftist “woke” on our freedoms and beliefs, the Constitutional order, battered as it is, still stands. The Bill of Rights still stands. And the divided government of checks and balances still guards our freedom, as this term’s Supreme Court has demonstrated in epochal decisions on abortion, affirmative action, and executive presidential and federal agency overreach. And regularly scheduled elections will still take place, and put in our hands the power to change course.
That alone is worth celebrating this Fourth of July.