PATRIOTISM IS a funny thing. It can be used to justify almost anything. Timothy McVeigh believed he was a patriot. He was a terrorist who murdered 168 innocents. Senator Joseph McCarthy believed he was a patriot. He was a censorious demagogue who ruined the livelihoods and reputations of hundreds. J. Edgar Hoover thought he was a patriot. Enough said.
As countless others have observed, some of the most ardent flag-wavers are those who violate the Constitution in the name of protecting it. Take Attorney General John Ashcroft, for instance, who arrogantly opined during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last December that "those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty" merely "aid terrorists — for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve." Or the United States Congress, whose members thoughtlessly passed the USA Patriot Act, which tramples on the First and Fourth Amendments.
All that said, liberals — those of us scaring "peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty" — have had a squishy relationship with patriotism. In part, it’s rooted in leftist disdain for nationalism, perhaps best expressed by Emma Goldman, in an essay titled "Patriotism, A Menace to Liberty." "Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate," she wrote. "Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot."
This ambivalence has ceded the discussion of what patriotism is to conservatives. Those, as noted above, who are most likely to be found violating the Constitution in order to protect it. This July Fourth, after a year of unprecedented attacks on our civil liberties by well-meaning "patriots," as Dan Kennedy reports in the fifth annual Muzzle Awards (see page one), progressives should celebrate the Constitution by taking back patriotism. How to start? Reread the Bill of Rights, reprinted below.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
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