[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 fourth and final category, critical patriotism (the second alternative to celebratory and mythic patriotisms, and the category for which I would ultimately argue, as I did in this USIH blog post):
1) “Kaepernick’s anthem protests thus also embody a fourth vision of patriotism, a critical patriotic perspective that highlights the nation’s shortcomings in order to move it closer to its ideals. An exemplary contemporary expression of such critical patriotism is the New York Times magazine’s 1619 Project, a work of public scholarly journalism, created by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and written by a group of historians and artists, that defines the arrival of enslaved Africans as a national origin point in order to analyze the foundational and enduring histories and legacies not just of slavery, but also of African American protest and patriotism. As Hannah-Jones puts it in her Pulitzer Prize-winning introductory essay to the project, “It is black people who have been the perfecters of this democracy.” The 1619 Project thus echoes and extends one of America’s most succinct and moving expressions of critical patriotism, from the African American writer James Baldwin: “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.””
2) “At the same time, examples of active patriotism are often driven by a sense of wrongs that need righting, by a perspective that the nation needs to be moved forward from past or present failings toward a more perfect future. Bates’ fourth and final verse offers a vision of this critical form of patriotism: “O beautiful for patriot dream, that sees beyond the years/Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears!” Written at the depths of Gilded Age inequalities, of the rise of Jim Crow and the lynching epidemic, of the culminating genocides of the “Indian Wars” and the nation’s expansion into new imperial arenas, these lines implicitly but importantly contrast present “tears” with a “patriot dream” of a more beautiful future. That expression of critical patriotism can be linked to both historical and 21st century examples of that perspective, models of criticizing national flaws and failures in the hopes of moving the nation closer to its ideals and forward toward a more perfect union.”
Special weekend post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Examples of critical patriotism you’d share?