Thursday, April 24, 2008

Unity, Dissent and Patriotism

I am currently reading Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg who is one of my favorite columnists. His articles alone are worth the cost of my National Review subscription.
In the latest issue, Goldberg writes about Barrack Obama and his call for "unity." He relates it to the general liberal failure to understand patriotism. Liberals think patriotic conservatives are fascists, but united liberals are patriotic. Unfortunately, the whole article is only available to subscribers. Some highlights:
When John McCain released an ad calling himself the “American president Americans have been waiting for,” one could hear outraged caterwauling from the Democratic jungle: What’s John McCain trying to say? We’re un-American? Who’s he calling unpatriotic? Fred Barnes, writing in The Weekly Standard, calls this anticipatory offense “patriotism paranoia.” Indeed, there does seem to be psychological insecurity on display. If I say to a male friend, “Those are nice shoes,” and he responds with “How dare you call me gay!” it’s fair to say he’s the guy with the issues. . .
Part of the problem is that many on the left think patriotism is essentially fascist, another name for nationalism and jingoism. And some may use it that way — but some may also call a duck a “cat,” which doesn’t mean we should all be hostage to this usage. The misuse of “patriotism” and “dissent” is worse, because a country without a word to describe its love for what is best within it is a country ill-equipped to defend what is best within it. . .
Barack Obama and other Democrats use the word “unity” as a substitute for something like “patriotism.” They consider “questioning the patriotism” of Democrats — even when it’s not actually being questioned — beyond the pale and “divisive.”
But, unity itself is inherently neither good nor bad.
Unity by itself has no moral worth whatsoever. The only value of unity is strength, strength in numbers — and, again, that is a fascist value. That’s the symbolism of the fasces, the bundle of sticks that in combination are invincible. Rape gangs and lynch mobs? Unified. The mafia? Unified. The SS? They had unity coming out the yinyang. Meanwhile, Socrates, Jesus, Thomas More, and an endless line of nameless souls were dispatched from this earth in the name of unity.
Our government is set up specifically to discourage too much unity. Unfettered unity is really just the tyranny of the majority:
The founding fathers dedicated a great deal of thought to the subject of unity, and they found it was something to view with skepticism at best and, more often than not, with fear. Hence we have a constitution designed to thwart the baser forms of unity. Our government is set up so that the Senate cools the populist passion of the House, the executive thwarts the passions of the legislature and vice versa, and the Supreme Court checks the whole lot, to which its composition is in turn ultimately subject. “Divisiveness” — the setting of faction against faction, one branch of government against another, and the sovereignty of the individual above the group — was for the founders the great guarantor of our liberties and the source of civic virtue.
Liberals also confuse dissent and patriotism. Like unity, dissent is by itself is neither good nor bad.

Or consider this supposedly brilliant bumper-sticker insight: “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Mark Steyn has had great fun with that line, pointing out that Thomas Jefferson — usually credited as its author — never said anything of the sort. Steyn traces the fakery back to a 1991 quote from Nadine Strossen, the head of the ACLU, an organization with a vested interest in putting the founders’ imprimatur on relentless knee-jerk complaining. . .
It is worth pointing out that if Jefferson had in fact said something like that, he would have been what social scientists call a moron. As John O’Sullivan once noted, tongue firmly in cheek, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Treason is the highest form of dissent. Therefore treason is the highest form of patriotism.” Yet when you listen to the verbal contortions many on the left go through to defend the New York Times’s efforts to reveal national-security secrets, or to journalists who think expressing open sympathy for America in the international arena is a grave sin, or simply to the usual battiness of countless America-haters, you can appreciate the wisdom of the Italian proverb that the truest things are said in jest.
Equating dissent and patriotism is an egregious example of moral equivocation:

Now it must be said that no conservative standing upon the shoulders of Burke, Nock, Buckley, Hayek, Goldwater, and Reagan would for a moment dispute the suggestion that dissent for the right reason can be one high form of patriotism. But it depends on the reason. The dissenter-for-dissent’s-sake is among the most common species of pest in the human ecosystem. The reflexive contrarian who cares not what he is contradicting is quite simply the most useless of citizens.

When confronted with the assertion that the Soviet Union and the United States were moral equivalents, William F. Buckley Jr. famously responded that if one man pushes an old lady into an oncoming bus and another man pushes an old lady out of the way of a bus, we should not denounce them both as men who push old ladies around. Likewise, we should not say that the man who dissents from a church-burning mob and the man who dissents from a fire brigade are morally equivalent “dissenters.”
Liberals try to end debate by calling for unity and labeling principled objection as cynical and divisive:
Rightly ordered unity in a democratic republic is the end result of ceaseless debate and discussion. But today, ceaseless debate and discussion is precisely what many liberals object to. As Al Gore is fond of saying about global warming, “The time for debate is over.” Legions of liberals insist that we must move beyond ideology and partisan differences on this, that, and the other. But have you ever heard anyone say that we need to “move beyond ideology” for the sake of bipartisan unity and then abandon his own position? Of course not. When someone says that we need to get past labels and move beyond ideology, what he means is that you need to drop your principled objections and get with the program.
So, what is patriotism really? I like the description above. It is the word we used to describe our love for what is best within our country.