On this Independence Day, in addition to watching fireworks, attending the neighborhood barbecue, and having a good time with those who matter most, as well as actually remembering the purpose of the celebration, that is, political independence from a tyrannical empire, I would like to continue being my contrarian nonconformist self and bring something dark and uncomfortable to my readers’ attention.
What could possibly be more (in)appropriate on this day—this Holy and Sacred Day—than to call into question—nay, to utterly denounce—one of this country’s most valued traditions, the recitation of the loyalty oath; the offering of blind, faithful obedience to a contract I did not sign, written by men I neither know nor necessarily respect, and interpreted by men far less worthy? Yes, the Pledge of Allegiance, second only to the Constitution and the Declaration (the Compact and the Articles long since forgotten) in the vast library of hallowed patriotic texts! Are there many other things so dear, so familiar, so comfortable (let alone more so) to the assembled children and to the huddled masses? No, I say! There are few. Very few. Especially today, this Glorious and Celebratory Day!
The Pledge of Allegiance, in it original form, was written by one Francis Bellamy, an early member of the Progressive Movement and an ardent admirer of Abraham Lincoln. It was at the request of the magazine The Youth’s Companion, which was at that time the sole seller of American flags (for which it charged handsomely) to public schools. From the start it is clear that the pledge was born not of patriotism but of monopolistic rent-seeking.
The original text,
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,
makes no allusion toward God, despite being written by a Baptist Minister (defrocked), Francis Bellamy. Mention of God was later added by Congress and signed into law by President Eisenhower, at the behest of various pressure groups (fortunately, none of these seems to have been particularly nefarious). I suppose that adding the words “Under God” somehow makes this already-tainted prose seem more American, more acceptable to those whose first inclination should have been to cast it aside as nothing short of idolatry or submission to tyranny.
The pledge incorporates several ideas that should be considered thoroughly disgusting to lovers of liberty. The symbolism of the “Nation” is more important than the actual principles it was supposedly founded upon. Individuals owe everything they are and everything they have to the collective entity referred to as the “Nation”. The states are not Constitutionally sovereign and the self-determination of the people living in them is undesirable. The right of the pledgee to separate himself from something he had no say in, no part in, no matter how evil or corrupt, is explicitly denied. “My Country, Right or Wrong,” as Stephan Decatur once put it.
It is arguable that its one truly positive line, “Liberty and Justice for all,” when written by such a man as Bellamy means something entirely different from what most people mean when they say it. Bellamy, you see, was inspired by the French Revolution’s “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,” not the American Revolution’s “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
He was a proponent of civic religion, not unlike what was instituted during the First French Republic just prior to the Reign of Terror, and an apologist of tyrannies and promoter of lies. Especially those of Lincoln, by Lincoln, and for Lincoln. He was also a cousin to Edward Bellamy, a the author of Looking Backward: 2000-1887, a novel of a future socialist utopia.
But this should come as no surprise. Egalitarianism and authoritarianism often go hand in hand. Our man Francis Bellamy may not have identified himself as a fascist, but, as with most progressives and socialists, this did not stop him from actually being one.
The original salute to the flag, also created by Bellamy was based on the old Roman gesture of unconditional fealty to the Emperor. Similar (or rather, identical, both in appearance and in purpose) salutes were later incorporated into the civic religions of Italian Fascism and German National Socialism. The American variant of the Hitlergruß was not dropped by the progressives running the public schools until 1942. The same people who introduced it knew that their purposes would be better served by erasing history. They didn’t want to be perceived as fascists, a perception which would be logical when considering the economic, war, and propaganda policies of the Roosevelt Administration as well as the nationalistic ideas of early progressives such as Francis Bellamy, John Dewey (who provided the education model for Fascism), Theodore Roosevelt (who provided the governing model for Fascism), and Woodrow Wilson (who provided the propaganda model for Fascism).
So the next time you are at a gathering with a bunch of ignorant (but often well-meaning) flag-worshippers, don’t be afraid to sit down or leave the room in protest. I’m not often in that situation, but the last time I was, I stood up, but kept both hands by my side and my mouth shut. I moved my eyes around, avoiding the flag. It was awkward at first, but I do not regret it. For me, personally, this was originally about my political philosophy. But the more I think about it, it is also consistent with my theological perspective. The Pledge is idolatrous.
I do not mean to be accusatory by this. Certainly, those who have not given clear thought to it may not be intending to say the Pledge in this way. But once they have thought it through, if they still think it is alright to say the Pledge, or are afraid not to say it for fear of embarrassment, I would find it hard not to judge them. If not on the level of their conscience, then on the level of their intellect or their ego.
In addition to the charge of idolatry I add that of blasphemy. The “under God” addendum makes the Pledge a form of taking the Lord’s Name in vain. Quite possibly one of the worst forms, in fact. I think it is much better to curse out of anger or surprise, than it is out of high-mindedness or groupthink. The sin is more forgivable when it is a spontaneous, thoughtless, and forgettable remark than when it is required recitation for all right-thinking Americans.
To paraphrase The Most Interesting Man In The World: I don’t always take the Lord’s name in vain. But when I do, I prefer to say “God Damn.”