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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.

Empire's dead!
-- Bertrand Shadwell in The Public, for March 29, 1902

Louis F. Post
The Ethics of Democracy
Part 7, Patriotism

Chapter 4


There 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.


Yet 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.


There 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.


When 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.


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.


The 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.


It 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.


But 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.


This 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 strenuously propagated.


Of 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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