Sunday, October 9, 2011

All Patriotism is Local

Peggy Noonan writes, teasingly, about a resurgence of patriotism in our country. As someone who thinks the Samuel Johnson line, "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel", is one of the most abused sayings in English, I would welcome such a development. But I say teasingly because there doesn't seem to be any data to support that proposition, and my personal experience hints that, if such patriotism exists at all, it is an inch deep. She writes:
The untapped patriotism out there—if it were electricity, it would remake the grid and light up the world. And it’s among all professions, classes and groups, from the boardroom to the Tea Party meeting to the pediatric ICU.

We think patriotism reached its height after 9/11, but I think it is reaching some new height now, and we’re only beginning to notice.
But how is that patriotism manifesting itself? In ever-more-bitter national politics? In endless wrangling over a government solution to economic problems that are fundamentally due to our failure as a people to work hard, be thrifty and innovate? If the result of this patriotism is that 2012 becomes a year remembered for the most bitter presidential election in history, then I say our patriotic energies were wasted no matter the outcome.

What we seem to have forgotten is that "love of country" is an abstraction until it is tied to particular behavior in a particular place. The college grad who does "Teach for America" is helping a small number of kids in a certain city. Same with the person who does Habitat for Humanity on the weekends: it's not 'humanity' that they help, but a small number of families who get much-needed homes. We only talk about these larger abstract terms because we want a convenient shorthand to describe similar actions taken by thousands or millions of people.

So the reason I think Noonan's patriotism is so paper-thin is that most people will not be doing anything concrete to act on it. There's simply no outlet for their energy, because all of the focus is on who's running the show as President, and what the federal government should do (or fails to do). Well, guess what: anyone reading this is not going have any influence on whether Obama or Republican X becomes the next leader of the free world, or what they do in that role.

Which brings me, I suppose, to both why I am a conservative and why I'm something of a hypocrite. I think the best hope for our country is to get back to people directing their patriotic and political energies to the local, to the concrete. If Mitt Romney or Rick Perry or Herman Cain wins an election in 13 months, that doesn't mean anything has been solved, or improvement in our economy or culture is much more likely. People need to start making changes locally that can bubble up and improve the country as a whole. I'm a conservative because I think that government, at the national and sometimes even at the state level, impedes that happening by nationalizing every problem and convincing people that someone in Washington will 'do something' for them. I'm a hypocrite because I don't do enough locally to back up that conviction. (But, I hope to here in beautiful Maplewood.)

A million people doing something for their town or their neighbor is going to accomplish a lot more than a million people campaigning for a president or a party. If you love your country, help your neighbor.

No comments:

Post a Comment