My Apparent Problem with the Pole Stars of American History
Somewhere in the hazy period Tuesday between leaving work early at lunch time and leaving Hasbro Children’s Hospital around 8:00 p.m., I read John Fonte’s emailed response to Anchor Rising’s commentary on his recent piece about “civic conservatism.” For most of the remainder of that day, the part of my brain not preoccupied with other things thought that Mr. Fonte must surely be right that I had let slip thoughts in which I don’t actually believe or of which I had been blissfully unaware. Now that I’ve reread my comments and his, I’m not entirely sure how I transformed into a sneering anti-patriot in his eyes. He writes:
On Marc Comtois comments.
I pretty much agree with everything he wrote. I would only emphasize that the ethnic-based or “other” group culture that Americans possess should be subordinate to the overall American civic culture and to political loyalty to the United States.
On Justin Katz comments.
First, I don’t suggest that “my conservatism is the conservatism.” What I do suggest is that “civic” conservatism is deeply rooted in American conservatism and can be a unifying force. In a National Review cover story on June 2, 2003 I called this civic conservatism–“patriotic conservatism”–and described this tendency as glue that unites most (not all) conservatives. I am not describing a universal conservatism, I am talking about an American conservatism. Without American patriotism and an American nation there is no American conservatism that makes sense. Mr. Katz apparently has a problem with George Washington’s Farewell Address (“to concentrate one’s affections”). Also, he apparently has a problem with traditional American patriotism, given his sneering reference to “nationalism.” Well American nationalism has traditionally meant support for the heritage of Washington and the Founding Fathers, of Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan. Those who attempt to distinguish between American “patriotism” and American “nationalism” (which has never been blood and soil based, but philosophical, cultural, and historical)—play the game of an anti-patriotic impulse. An American conservatism that is devoid of Washington and Lincoln, is not an “American” conservatism that is recognizable to most Americans.
I apparently misread the degree to which Fonte believes that civic conservatism is somehow more fundamental than other conservatisms, and for that I apologize. In his paragraph:
True, most conservatives are fusionists, supporting limited government, traditional values, and strong national defense. But what stirs the blood?
I guess I mistook the “stirs the blood” phrase as applying to “most conservatives,” not just the handful who are more exclusively civic conservatives. Be that as it may, while I agree with George Washington’s prioritization, with respect to patriotic feelings, of the American nation over “local discriminations,” I disagree with the prioritization — implicit in Fonte’s categorical coinage — of the civic over the social, economic, and philosophical. If American patriotism centers around the “philosophical, cultural, and historical,” not the geographical, then conservatism ought to stir the blood based on those ideas.
I used the term “nationalism” not to invoke the bogeyman of Europe’s bloody, sectarian history, but to give an objective category to Fonte’s policy suggestions. If they are to be the policies under the “Civic” heading in American Conservatism’s platform, wonderful, but if they are to be conservatives’ leading edge, then I doubt that hearts and minds will be forthcoming. I support completely, for example, “the patriotic assimilation of immigrants without apology,” but I wonder how a person, let alone a movement, that is stirred less by culture than by national patriotism can argue with any force for a particular culture that those immigrants ought to be assimilated to.