For the last several issues, the thrust of Dissent has been increasingly hard to take. It reminds me of the early years of the Vietnam War era, when some Dissent editors apparently thought the New Left was a greater menace than the Johnson administration’s war policy. Surely we don’t need instructions from Michael Kazin, Mitchell Cohen, and Michael Walzer on how to be a “decent left.” Major bookstores are flooded with patriotic Americanism from Daniel J. Flynn’s Why the Left Hates America, Sean Hannity’s Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism, Chris Matthews’s America Beyond Our Grandest Dreams to Stephen Ambrose’s To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian. David Corn, the Washington editor of the Nation, attacks the organizers of the October 26, 2002, march on Washington as kooky sectarians and seems unimpressed that they managed to mobilize more than a hundred thousand antiwar protesters across the spectrum. With all of this going on, Dissent informs us that we should speak “patriotically to our fellow citizens.”
With the Bush regime pursuing increasingly dangerous policies at home and abroad (acknowledged by Dissent), it seems a political mistake to spend time attacking the minuscule sectarian left’s critique of the administration and the government’s foreign policy. Surely the “anti-American” left, as it is so frequently described in Dissent‘s pages, is not the real menace facing the country. And yet, Michael Kazin, an articulate liberal, feels compelled to call for “A Patriotic Left” (Fall 2002). After an initial obligatory declaration of his love of country (“I am not now and have never been . . .” ), Kazin indicts Katha Pollitt, one of our more informed writers, for her rejection of the current flag wavers. He denounces her as ignorant of American history because she insists on a global vision rather than a chauvinistic one. He cites Noam Chomsky as ignorant of history because he “describes patriotic blather as simply the governing elite’s way of telling its subjects, ‘You shut up and be obedient, and I’ll relentlessly advance my own interests.”‘ Surely Chomsky’s is a sensible observation. Perhaps Kazin, as well as several of the editors and contributors to the magazine, should return to the writings of Mark Twain, whose credentials as an American were frequently challenged because of his opposition to American and British imperialism. As for patriotism, Twain referred to it in 1908 as that “grotesque and laughable word.”
In his survey of patriotic statements by dissenting Americans, Kazin omits both Twain and Henry David Thoreau, who asked rhetorically, in his essay “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” “How does it become a man to behave ...
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