[This release date for my new book, Of Thee I Sing: The Contested History of American Patriotism, has been pushed back a bit, but I don't know there's ever been a more important moment to talk about patriotism. So this week I’ll use portions of the book’s Introduction to briefly highlight each of my four categories of American patriotism, leading up to a special post on my goals for the project over the next couple months—and how you all can help!]
Here are two spots in the intro where I define my second category, mythic patriotism (which, as I wrote in this History News Network column, is far too often used to exclude American histories and communities from our vision of the concept and the nation):
1) “The U.S. doesn’t simply exist for celebration in the present moment, though—it has developed over centuries of complex history, much of which might seem difficult to celebrate. So a second, interconnected form of patriotism is the construction of mythologized narratives of the past, ones that allow for a concurrent embrace of the historical United States but that do so by excluding certain aspects of, and too often communities from, our history. 2020 has featured a striking example of this exclusionary mythologizing patriotism (which I’ll call mythic patriotism for short) in The Federalist magazine’s 1620 Project, a response to the New York Times magazine’s 1619 Project that seeks to commemorate “the anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival at Plymouth Rock.” Given that Plymouth Rock itself is a myth, one constructed more than a century after the Mayflower reached the New England coast, that framing concisely illustrates how mythic patriotism imagines national histories which can then be celebrated as idealized American origin points and legacies—but which also require the exclusion and even the erasure of other histories and communities, such as the native cultures that were already present when the Pilgrims arrived.”
2) “Yet the idealized side to such celebratory patriotism can easily slip into propaganda, and too often our communal celebrations have been linked to the second, mythic form of patriotism. Bates’ second verse illustrates such mythic patriotism, particularly through her image of “pilgrim feet, whose stern, impassioned stress/A thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness!” While this myth does highlight certain aspects of what the Puritan arrivals brought to and experienced in America, it does so both by simplifying that community’s own histories and by entirely excluding the histories of Native American cultures in New England and beyond; that exclusion was particularly ironic in the late 19th century Western United States, the time and place where Bates first composed the lyrics just a year before the Wounded Knee massacre. Idealizing a particular American history and community at the expense of others creates an exclusionary vision of the nation that makes it much harder for all Americans to share in this form of patriotism, making mythic patriotism far more divisive and even destructive than other celebratory forms.”
Next patriotic category tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Examples of mythic patriotism you’d share?