Friday, May 04, 2007

Our country, right or wrong

I'm still working on the posts I've been mentioning and was actually starting another post for the interim, and then got sidetracked doing something else ... but now that I've started blogging again that strange feeling of nervous anxiety at letting a day go by without some post of some kind showing up on the blog has returned to me (I'm guessing some of my fellow bloggers might know this feeling.) So while I'm busy working on other stuff, I thought I'd pause for a moment to link to a blog post from a while ago by Massimo Pigliucci at Rationally Speaking which I definitely would have done if I'd been blogging at the time he wrote it (back in October.)

The post is about the phrase "my country, right or wrong" and how it historically is actually an expression of patriotic dissent rather than blind nationalistic allegiance. Massimo explains (bold emphasis mine):

This phrase is often quoted in times of blind so-called patriotism and imperialistic nationalism. Yet, although the phrase itself is as old as it is stupid, few people who utter it seem to realize that its most famous incarnation is actually a rebuttal by Senator Carl Schurz back in 1872. The complete sentence is: “My country, right or wrong. In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Schurz' biographer reports that the Senator's comment was greeted by a “deafening” applause, which clearly shows that members of that august body had more balls at the end of the 19th century than their counterparts at the beginning of the 21st.

Later on, on 17 October 1899, Schurz gave a speech at an event called the Anti-Imperialist Conference, in Chicago. Imagine anybody organizing such an event in today's America! Schurz elaborated on his original comment: “I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves … too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: ‘Our country, right or wrong!’ They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: ‘Our country—when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.’”

I don't know about you, but to me those are some stirring words. I think that should be our rallying cry as we fight to stop the death of democracy. Our country - when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right!

Now let's get to putting things right.

1 comment:

Charles said...

Unlike Schurz, I no longer have absolute confidence in my fellow countrymen, not after 2000, 2002, and especially 2004.

Back in the 60's, when civil disobedience was big, an ethicist wrote a book about what an ethical individual owes to their country and their fellow citizens.

It was, as I recall, full of pop-psychology concepts, simplistic philosophy, and in general not a work of great depth. Perfectly appropriate for the time, and it sold well.

What was of value in it was the concept, derived from the beliefs of the founders of this country, which were in turn taken from certain philosophers, that we owe our fellow humans something, and that this something is what provides a basis for agreeing, ethically and philosophically, "my country, right or wrong" -- and its limitations.

For my part, I believe that we owe our countrymen loyalty, duty, and honor. We owe our leaders nothing beyond what we owe our fellows -- rather, they owe us, a concept which most of them seem to misunderstand.