"My" Country 'Tis of Me
A reader sends a link to a review of Todd Gitlin's collection of essays entitled "Intellectuals and the Flag" at the Claremont Institute. Todd Gitlin, described as a "figure in the American Left since his Vietnam-era days in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)" depicts a movement that has journeyed into a "spiritual wasteland" for which it has only itself to blame.
He provides an honest account of the reasons for his generation's disenchantment with patriotism—an account that helps explain why, even now, the term almost never escapes the lips even of mainstream liberal Democrats without being prefaced by the indignant words "impugning" and "my." For Gitlin's generation, the "generation for whom ‘the war' meant Vietnam and perhaps always will," it could be said that the "most powerful public emotion in our lives was rejecting patriotism." Patriotism became viewed as, at best, a pretext, and at worst, an abandonment of thought itself. It became of interest only in so far as it entered into calculations of political advantage. Far from being a sentiment that one might feel with genuine warmth and intelligent affection, it was merely a talisman, which, if used at all, served chiefly to neutralize its usefulness as a weapon in the hands of others, by making it into a strictly personal preference that others were forbidden to question: "my" patriotism.
Read the whole thing. It echoes some of the themes I wrote about in "Easy to be Hard; Easy to be Cold". The key linkage flows from the concept of "my" patriotism. It's a kind of designer love for "one's" country which is specific only that conception. The review describes "my" patriotism as:
the habitual resort to the ideal of dissent "against the nation for the nation" [which] can easily become indistinguishable in practice from yet another manifestation of the Great Refusal, in which the second "nation" is a purely imaginary one to be "achieved"-and the "troops" one "supports" are entirely distinct from the actual causes for which they are risking their lives, and such "support" shows no respect for the series of conscious choices that made them into "troops" rather than civilians.
The ultimate irony of this process is that the Left's countercultural definition of patriotism became instead one of perpetual alienation. Community, rather than becoming achievable, became impossible. The movement that was supposed to exalt the group rather than selfish individualism managed to outsmart itself. The result was a path that didn't lead to the Age of Aquarius but to the condition of neurosis.