Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Loyal Opposition

     Earlier this month, it came to light that a group in Massachusetts wants to ban the Pledge of Allegiance from the Brookline Public Schools. The group’s argument is that the Pledge is “literally and psychologically a loyalty oath, reminiscent of McCarthyism or some horrific totalitarian regimes.” This argument spectacularly confuses loyalty to the country with loyalty to the people in power.

     Oaths of loyalty to a particular government or military official were a feature of the Roman Republic. The legionaries swore to follow their generals wherever they might lead. In the end, these oaths proved fatal to liberty, as Cæsar’s soldiers followed their general across the Rubicon. So the Brookline agitators would be perfectly correct to object to the Pledge of Allegiance if it were a Pledge of Allegiance to (for example) President Obama. However, that is not the case.

     “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands….” This is not a pledge to a government official, or even a particular government. It is a pledge to the republic itself. Such an oath should be required of every citizen. It is the ability to take the Pledge of Allegiance that establishes a person’s moral (not legal) right to participate in civic life, to exercise the privileges of citizenship, even (again, morally) to vote. Most of all, it is the taking of the Pledge that gives a citizen the moral standing to criticize the government. Who else has that standing—those who refuse to declare their loyalty to the republic? If we accepted the argument of the Brookline agitators, we would have to put our government and our civic culture in the hands of anyone who happens to be here at the moment. Even traitors. Even enemies.

     Oddest of all is that the Brookline group has seemingly missed the distinction between loyalty to persons and loyalty to the republic, given the public discourse of our times.  Who has more enthusiasm than the Right for both saying the Pledge of Allegiance and criticizing the White House?

1 comment:

  1. I'd argue that they may have a point. I made an oath of allegiance to the Constitution: NOT the flag and by extension some symbol of nationalism or tribalism.

    I'd be a Hell of a lot more comfortable with the Pledge if it were "to the Constitution of the United States and to the Freedom of the Republic it defends." See what I'm saying?

    Case in point, it was originally written *without* the phrase "under G-d" - a telling clue that its origin is Progressive Statist.