Patriotism Redefined


The New York Times begins the New Year with a plea for granting amnesty or a reduction of charges for Edward Snowden, a good and decent start given the Establishment-oriented framework—yet failing to criticize the totality of aggrandizing power, repression, and illegality which lay behind and make possible the abuses—the outright political criminality—that Snowden revealed.

NYT speaks of the “resulting furor” created by his revelations. I wish that were so. But in fact, what furor? The American people, including many self-styled liberals and progressives, manifest the silence found in the already habituated to making an accommodation with tyrannous government in exchange for alleged safety and “freedom” to disproportionately consume the world’s resources and demonstrate near and far US military power.

Beyond silence lies tacit and, for most, actual approval, of national supremacy, itself an unquestioned goal, as measured by a unified hegemonic system in which market penetration, trade-and-investment expansion, regime change, and all necessary means of implementation, take precedence over social democracy at home—the last thing wanted, in the first place. The people, wallowing in the false consciousness of externally-prescribed definitions of patriotism, i.e., that which buttresses the ruling order, allow the commission of CRIMES in their name, including the self-inflicted wounds at home in the further construction of a class-state of widening disparities in wealth and power.

Snowden, to many, remains a traitor, because to admit otherwise, to wholly redefine patriotism as the exposure of and opposition to corrupt, authoritarian government, removes the foundation of complicity in self-serving privilege which, deliberately set in place, blinds us to the near-universal exploitation we practice on others and ourselves.

Nowadays, to be an American is to look the other way. To avert the eyes, as POTUS unleashes missiles on drones, which leave blood spats where humans once stood—or slept in their beds; as NSA in symbiosis with the FISA Court tears apart the fabric of, not only privacy, but what it means to be an individual, entitled to self- and public-respect; as international relations become subject to the promiscuous eavesdropping on the world’s leadership fueling the breakdown of trust so necessary to averting war; and, inseparable from the foregoing, as government’s loss of integrity turns its own mission from serving the general welfare, to providing all-out support from every direction—military, financial, ideological—for mega-capitalism thriving on the spirit of privatization, non-regulation, and rampant cynicism.

No wonder, then, to look in utmost alarm at the true patriot, a whistleblower who blows the whistle on fast-encroaching totalitarianism, militarism, pointless consumerism, and the concomitant of all three, the formation of an underclass, held hostage to a low-wages paradigm, but more, a warning to the rest of society that power directed outward can also—and under provocation, will also—be turned inward.

My New York Times Comment on the editorial of the same date, “Edward Snowden: Whistle-Blower,” Jan. 2, follows:

When is a crime not a crime? What are the political-moral foundations of true patriotism? Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People” is tiddlywinks compared with the enormity of USG’s moral turpitude, Obama’s complicity in if not continued authorization for high crimes and misdemeanors (for starters, categorical violation of the 4th Amendment of the Constitution), the criminal cynicism and blatant disregard for civil liberties and human rights in Washington. The Times of course deserves commendation–a true beacon of sanity in what has become a Nazified milieu of governance and the exercise of power. Hats off for that.

Yet, not sufficient. The problem runs deeper than abuses connected with intelligence-gathering. For that to occur, other factors must be in operation first. There is no longer restraint on the trespass of human privacy–indeed, privacy per se is held in contempt, not only by a government engrossed in seeking power, power not only to satisfy a geostrategic vision of global hegemony and financial-commercial dominance, but power as a philosophic absolute in itself, yet also by a populace corrupted by consumerism and military engagement, to the extent of falsely swapping traditional freedoms for acquiescence in a cesspool of arrogance, superiority, rigid notions of exceptionalism.

It is not a crime to expose repression and illegality. The true criminals are those who create and defend those conditions. Rather than offer amnesty, POTUS should surrender to The Hague.

Norman Pollack is the author of The Populist Response to Industrial America (Harvard) and The Just Polity (Illinois), The Humane EconomyThe Just Polity, ed. The Populist Mind, and co-ed. with Frank Freidel, Builders of American Institutions. Guggenheim Fellow. Prof. Emeritus, History, Michigan State.  He is currently writing The Fascistization of America: Liberalism, Militarism, Capitalism.  E-mail: pollackn@msu.edu.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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