The story “The Man Without a Country” used to be standard reading matter for seventh graders. In fact, it was the first “real” book—as opposed to those tedious Dick and Jane readers—that I was assigned in school.
It was exciting compared to Dick and Jane and the rest, since it dealt with an actual story that had some actual drama to it. It struck me as terribly sad—and unfair, too—that Philip Nolan was forced to wander the world, exiled, for one moment of cursing the United States. “The Man Without a Country” was the sort of paean to patriotism that I would guess is rarely or never assigned nowadays to students.
Patriotism has gotten a bad name during the last few decades. This trend seems to have taken root (at least in this country) with the 60s, the Vietnam era, and the rise in influence of the left. But patriotism and nationalism were rejected by a significant segment of Europeans even earlier, as a result of the devastation both sentiments wrought on that continent during World War II. (Of course, WWII in Europe was a result mainly of German nationalism run amok, but it seems to have given nationalism as a whole a very bad name, a trend that began after the carnage of World War I.)
Here’s author Thomas Mann on the subject of nationalism, writing in 1947 in the introduction to the American edition of Herman Hesse’s Demian:
If today, when national individualism lies dying, when no single problem can any longer be solved from a purely national point of view, when everything connected with the “fatherland” has become stifling provincialism and no spirit that does not represent the European tradition as a whole any longer merits consideration…
A strong statement of the post-WWII idea of nationalism as a dangerous force, mercifully dead or dying, to be replaced (hopefully) by a pan-national (or, rather, anational) Europeanism. Mann was a German exile from his own country who had learned to his bitter regret the excesses to which unbridled and amoral nationalism can lead. His was an understandable and common response at the time, one that many decades later helped lead to the formation of the EU. The waning but still relatively strong nationalism of the US is seen by those who agree with him as a relic of those dangerous days of nationalism gone mad without any curb or consideration of morality.
But the US is not Nazi Germany or anything like it, however much the far left may try to make that analogy. There’s a place for nationalism and for love of country. Not a nationalism that ignores or tramples on human rights (like that of the Nazis), but one that embraces and strives for and tries to preserve them here and abroad, keeping in mind that—human nature being what it is—no nation on earth can be perfect or anywhere near perfect. The US is far from perfect, but it is a very good country nevertheless, always working to be better, with a nationalism that recognizes that sometimes liberty must be fought for, and that the struggle involves some sacrifice.
So, I’ll echo the verse that figured so prominently in “The Man Without a Country,” and say (corny, but true): …this is my own, my native land. And I’ll also echo Francis Scott Key and add: …the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]DONATE
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.