Epigraphs to Part 7
Patriotism having become one of our topics, Johnson
suddenly uttered in a strong, determined tone, an apothegm at which
many will start: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." But
let it be considered that he did not mean real and genuine love of our
country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and
countries, have made a cloak for self-interest.
-- Boswell's "Johnson"
Our country is the world -- our countrymen are all mankind
-- William Lloyd Garrison
Would we tread in the paths of tyranny,
Nor reckon the tyrant's cost?
Who taketh another's liberty,
His freedom is also lost.
Would we win as the strong have ever won?
Make ready to pay the debt.
For the God who reigned over Babylon
Is the God who is reigning yet.
The laws of right are eternal laws,
The judgments of truth are true
My greed-blind masters, I bid you pause
And look on the work you do.
You bind with shackles your fellow man;
Your hands with his blood are wet.
And the God who reigned over Babylon
Is the God who is reigning yet.
-- J.A. Edgerton, in "Democratic Magazine."
Though your word shall run with power, and your arm reach overseas,
Yet the questing bolt shall find you if you keep not faith with these;
Lest you be at one with Egypt, lest you lie as Rome lies now
In the potter's field of empires, mint and cumin, keep the vow.
Keep the truth your fathers made,
Lest your children grow afraid,
Lest you hear the captives' mothers weeping sore --
There is little worth beside --
They are dead because they lied,
And the young men's feet are at the door.
-- Mary Austin in "Land of Sunshine" for February, 1900
Toll for the death of the Empire! Through the gloom
Deep and vibrating, speaks the solemn bell
The last dread warning of the coming doom:
His body to the dust; his deeds to hell!
Toll for the death of Empire! Lift the head;
Take off the crown of tyranny and fear;
And let no man do honor at the bier.
Ring for the reign of Freedom.
-- Bertrand Shadwell in The Public, for March 29, 1902
Louis F. Post
The Ethics of Democracy
Part 7, Patriotism
is a certain habit of mind which regards partisanship as unpatriotic.
It is a very common habit, too. So common is it that most people like
to be considered as non-partisan. There are so few who do not
instinctively resent imputations of partisanship, that excellent
arguments may generally be discredited, especially with the cultured
mob, by the simple trick of cleverly denouncing as partisans those who
make them. Non-partisanship is supposed to be judicial and patriotic.
most of us are partisans. All people who think upon a subject at all,
along with a good many who never think, take sides. There is nothing
about this fact to deplore. Partisanship is by no means necessarily
unpatriotic. The important consideration is not that a man is a
partisan, but how he comes to be a partisan.
are two kinds of partisans. One kind take sides according to the
opinions they form. This is legitimate partisanship. The other kind
form opinions according to the sides they take. This kind of
partisanship is reprehensible.
a man is a Methodist merely because his mother was, or a Republican
merely because his father was, he is a partisan in the reprehensible
sense. He then forms his opinions according to the side he takes. The
same thing is true of all religious sectarians who cling to a church,
and of all political partisans who swear by a party, merely because
they happen to have been born in it.
is true also of that species of patriotism already referred to, that
patriotism which expresses itself in the phrase, "My country, right or
wrong." Could there be a lower plane of partisanship? To take the side
of one's own country, not only in battle but in argument, not only in
military service but in Congress and at the polls, regardless of
whether it is right or not, merely because it happens to be one's own
country, is surely partisanship of the worst possible kind.
thoughtless man may be a partisan for his country right or wrong, and
yet be a safe neighbor; but he who is not thoughtless, he who takes
that ground intelligently, is a man to beware of. If in any national
emergency he would be for his country right or wrong, he is not
unlikely in a personal emergency to be for himself right or wrong. As
one's country is only one's larger self, it should be the highest
aspiration of patriotism to condemn our country wrong, at least as
heartily as we praise our country right.
is to be feared, however, that most patriotism is of the reprehensible
partisan order. How many patriotic Englishmen knew or cared whether
England was right or wrong in the Boer war? How many patriotic
Americans knew or cared whether the United States were right in trying
to subjugate peoples in the Orient? It was enough to most of them to
know that their country was fighting. Whether it was for liberty or for
conquest, for defense or aggression, for plunder or power or peace, was
in their view of less than secondary importance. The one fact that the
country was their country gave color to their opinions on every
question involved. All such partisans form their opinions according to
the side they take, instead of taking sides according to the opinions
they form. They belong to the order of partisanship which cannot be too
often nor too unsparingly condemned.
not every Englishman who applauded the annexation of the Transvaal, nor
every American who approved the subjugation of the Filipinos, was a
partisan of that order. There were those in both countries who were
with their country not merely because it was theirs, but because they
believed it to be right. Their partisanship was entitled to respect
because it was the legitimate offspring and not the illegitimate
progenitor of their opinions. They did not form their opinions
according to the side they took; they took sides according to the
opinions they formed.
is the universal test of partisanship. Whether in affairs of
patriotism, of church, of party politics, or anything else worth
thinking about and acting for, the man who takes his opinions from his
coterie -- be that coterie as small as a prayer meeting or as large as
an empire -- is a worthless partisan. He is worse than worthless. In
political parties he generates dry rot, in churches he is the nidus for
infidelity, in the nation he degrades patriotism to the cant of
hypocrites and the flag to a fetish. He is a partisan, but his
partisanship is not legitimate. The partisanship that gives life to all
it touches, and makes for intellectual and moral growth, is that which
results from opinions independently formed, courageously declared and
partisanship of this kind no man need be ashamed. It is not a badge of
servitude. It is a test of devotion to principle. The principle may be
wrong. But according to his understanding it is right. There can be no
devotion without partisanship. Neutrality, which is only another name
for non-partisanship, may be observed by the indifferent. To the
devoted it is impossible. In the great conflict of mental and moral
forces no one can be neutral. He must take sides or get out of the
fight. And if he takes sides under the inspiration of his brain cells
instead of his birth marks, he can afford to smile at the wheezy
complaints of innocuous non-partisans. *
* Non-partisans must not be confused with no-party men. One may be a no-party man and yet be a partisan -- a partisan of a cause.
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