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The End of Right Patriotism?


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The End of Right Patriotism?

By Patrick J. DeneenFebruary 17, 2009, 6:19 PM

My Georgetown colleague Michael Kazin wrote recently of the re-ascendancy of Left-wing patriotism and its revival as a “liberal faith.” Long moribund in the aftermath of the Vietnam War – when the New Left especially came to abhor American participation in foreign interventionism, militarism, colonialism and its embrace a crass consumerist free-market ideology – it has taken some four decades for the Left again to embrace the American narrative of liberty, equality and prosperity, helped along by the efforts of aging New-Leftist Todd Gitlin and made finally reputable with the election of Barak Obama. While Michelle Obama backpedaled from her unscripted campaign statement that she was “proud of America for the first time in [her] life,” her admission encapsulates the view of a wide swath of the contemporary Left. Seeing the innumerable flags being waved on the Mall on the morning of Obama’s inauguration, there came the full realization that the Right monopoly on the imagery and language of patriotism had come to an end. Kazin predicts a vibrant set of competing narratives over the meaning of the American narrative, with both Left and Right laying claim to the mantle of patriotism.


Something more significant is taking place on this front, however. A growing chorus of voices on the Right – still marginal to the mainstream of the Republican Party, admittedly (I would have to include myself) – has begun taking up quite a bit of the substance of the criticisms of America made formerly by the New Left, albeit to a different tune and distinct set of goals. Reading Andrew Bacevich’s recent book The Limits of Power, I was struck by – and sympathetic with – not only the often stinging rebukes and criticisms of policies and political actors, but a more sweeping condemnation of the broad sweep of American political history and its basic self-congratulatory narrative Scissors-32x32.png

Reagan agreed with these old conservatives about communism and other things. But he transformed their movement from a past- and loss-oriented movement to a future- and possibility-oriented one, based on a certain idea about America. As early as 1952 during a commencement address at William Woods College in Missouri, Reagan argued, ”I, in my own mind, have always thought of America as a place in the divine scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land.” Scissors-32x32.png

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