Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Idea of "Nation"

A very interesting essay here, as usual. Deneen asks good questions.

Our national self-understanding has been transformed over the past twenty-five years or more - from one bounded by particular stories of particular people, often with an emphasis on sacrifices made during war-time, instead to a nation-building effort to encourage allegiance to the idea of the nation, its animating ideals and underlying philosophy. As has been pointed out by my friend Mark Henrie, where once school-children learned about the lives and deeds of Betsy Ross, Paul Revere, and George Washington on or near the battlefield, now they are more prone to be taught (if at all) about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and above all, their Rights as enshrined in the Bill of Rights (and, from there, their ever-greater realization through various emancipation and civil rights movements). The story of America itself is not a patchwork of stories, but instead a grand narrative that discloses - with Hegelian inevitability - the unfolding of an every more perfect natural rights Republic.

This emphasis upon the idea of the nation has been shared alike by liberals and so-called conservatives alike. If the Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist (with an aim to overcoming any particular allegiances people may have had to region and varying traditions), it is today fiercely defended by conservatives. Our liberals have as their hero Martin Luther King, and our conservatives, Abraham Lincoln - both because they advanced the natural rights Republic. If there is one main point of distinction between liberals and conservatives today, it is that liberals believe that the idea of the nation can and should be extended universally, while conservatives would emphasize its limitation to a particular nation-state. Neither is much interested in defending the legitimate place of smaller units within the nation - other than as administrative units. Both are attracted to the theory of America more than its stories, poems, places and songs.

That last red-highlighted sentence makes GWBush (and Limbaugh, by the way) into liberals.

But the question is legitimate: is it the duty of the US to enforce 'the idea of a nation' through military means, let alone exactly what are the elements of that "idea"?

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