“Ultimately a hero is a man who would argue with the gods, and so awakens devils to contest his vision. The more a man can achieve, the more he may be certain that the devil will inhabit a part of his creation.”
From what I can tell, this man was a genuine “patriot”–rather than the 21st century “I love my country because blow up colorful shit in my backyard on the 4th of July” variety.
People on both sides of the political spectrum tend to brush aside the notion that one can be pro-American and still be highly critical of the American government. The far Right politicians say: “You’re either with us or against us.” The far Left accepts this dichotomy, as I see among the WASP graduate students in my social science department who celebrate anti-Americanism as if it’s the latest fad. Why is everyone so confused??
Below is my favorite Norman Mailer passage, from his book “Why Are We At War?”:
We had a parade in Provincetown on the Fourth of July, 2002. A rather nice looking, pleasant fellow — he looked to me like a young liberal lawyer — came up to me and handed me a small American flag. And I looked at him and just shook my head. And he walked on. It wasn’t an episode in any way. He came over with a half-smile and walked away with a half-smile. But I was furious for not saying, “You don’t have to wave a flag to be a patriot.” By July of 2002, it bothered me a good deal. Free-floating patriotism seemed like a direct measure of our free-floating anxiety.
Take the British for contrast. The British have a love of country that is profound. They can revile it, tell dirty stories about it, give you dish on all the imperfects who are leading the country. But their patriotism is deep. In America it’s as if we’re playing musical chairs, and you shouldn’t get caught without a flag or you’re out of the game. Why do we need all this reaffirmation? It’s as if we’re a three-hundred-pound man who’s seven feet tall, superbly shaped, absolutely powerful, and yet every three minutes he’s got to reaffirm the fact that his armpits have a wonderful odor. We don’t need compulsive, self-serving patriotism. It’s odious. When you have a great country, it’s your duty to be critical of it so it can become even greater. But culturally, emotionally, we are growing more arrogant, more vain. We’re losing a sense of the beauty not only of democracy but also of its peril.
Democracy is built upon a notion that is exquisite and dangerous. It virtually states that if the will of the populace is freely expressed, more good than bad will result. When America began, it was the first time in the history of civilization that a nation dared to make an enormous bet founded on this daring notion–that there is more good than bad in people. Until then, the prevailing assumption had been that the powers at the top knew best; people were no good and had to be controlled. Now we have to keep reminding ourselves that just because we’ve been a great democracy, it doesn’t guarantee we’re going to continue to be one. Democracy is existential. It changes. It changes all the time. That’s one reason why I detest promiscuous patriotism. You don’t take democracy for granted. It is always in peril. We all know that any man or woman can go from being a relatively good person to a bad one. We can all become corrupted, or embittered. We can be swallowed by our miseries in life, become weary, give up. The fact that we’ve been a great democracy doesn’t mean we will automatically keep being one if we keep waving the flag. It’s ugly. You take monarchy for granted, or a fascist state. But democracy changes all the time.