Am I Anti-American?
February 26, 2002
Liberals used to accuse me of being an extremist
radical right-wing superpatriotic cold warrior. I didnt exactly
enjoy having these labels slapped on me, particularly by Mom, but at least
I could understand why some people used them. They were a caricature,
which is an exaggeration of real features.
Lately, though, Ive been called
some unflattering names by people I used to think of as my fellow
conservatives. One, a radio talk-show host, has gone so far as to call me
How did I go from being
superpatriotic to being anti-American, or even, as some have called me,
treasonous? I havent joined the Taliban, endorsed
terrorism, waged war against the United States, taken bribes from foreign
governments, or sold sensitive military secrets to Chinese or Russian
spies. Wherein, then, have I offended?
Thats easy. I havent
joined in the spirit of primitive patriotism that is expected of us in
wartime. In fact I deny that such patriotism deserves to be honored as
Discerning anthropologists have
enumerated traits by which certain social types may be recognized.
Youve seen the lists: You may be a redneck if ...
In the same way, I think there are
traits by which we can identify an anti-American.
If, for example, you think the U.S.
Government should abide by the Constitution even during wartime, you are
anti-American. If you think the government should at least declare war
before waging it, you are anti-American. If you deprecate a war that hurts
and kills innocent people without achieving its stated goals, you are
Thats not all. If you judge your
own countrys government by the same standards that you apply to
other countries governments, you are anti-American. If you think
America is not immune to the sins that have often afflicted other
countries, you are anti-American. If you think our government has made us
enemies we dont need, you are anti-American.
If you think that
even Americas good wars the Civil War and
World War II had terribly tragic results for this country and the
world, you are anti-American.
America is an extension of Western
civilization, one of whose deepest principles is rationality. The Founders
of the American Republic established standards, embodied in the
Constitution and explained in The Federalist Papers, by
which that Republic and its rulers should be judged. They didnt
expect automatic submission to the government; on the contrary, they set
down the grounds on which citizens should criticize the government and,
if necessary, remove its officers. A true patriot would be a critic, not a
serf, of the government.
This whole approach was in deliberate
contrast to the principles of absolute monarchism. A loyal American could
judge his government wanting, because the people, not their rulers, were
sovereign. They would have no sacred ruler set over them in the name of
God and claiming divine authority.
But this original sense of measure has
been lost. To judge your government by its own supposed criteria
the specific and limited powers named in the Constitution which our
officials are sworn to uphold is disloyalty and treason. Obey, or be
This reversion to primitive
authoritarianism would have shocked the authors of the Constitution. But
they are more alien to todays patriotism than the
Taliban. Today they would be considered anti-American.
Those men assumed that the
Constitution would be a constant rein on the Federal Government. It would
be used to rebuke any attempted usurpation of power; and for a while, it
was. But in times of war especially, the Constitution has proved a frail
instrument. During the Civil War, as Paul Craig Roberts recently put it,
Abraham Lincoln exalted the Union above the Constitution.
Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt went much further than Lincoln.
All three are now honored as great presidents. Those who
respected constitutional limitations are said to have been weak
presidents. And George W. Bush is already being praised, in some
conservative quarters, as a great president.
The question of constitutionality
rarely comes up, except in the feeble and marginal whimpers of
pseudo-constitutionalists such as the American Civil Liberties Union,
which actually favors socialist-style government in most respects. No
president has ever been removed for exceeding his powers. President Bush
doesnt even have to worry about that.
So if you consider the ruin of a noble
experiment in limited government Americanism, just set
me down as anti-American.