Disenchantment and the American Flag

When I was at my brother-in-law’s high school graduation just a few weeks ago, we were all invited to join in the pledge of allegiance. For some reason, I had a great aversion to saying it, and I kind of mumbled it. Frankly, I’m not convinced that I should have said it. I experienced a similar aversion to putting my hand over my heart during the national anthem a few weeks ago at a university graduation. I felt something I’d never felt before—resentment.

This was not my country; this was the evil empire.

I remember how I was enchanted with the flag. From a very early age, I said the pledge of allegiance at school. For many years, most of my history classes were about the American founding. I don’t remember a time before I knew who George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were, and I probably learned the year 1776 before I learned my own birth year. I was inculcated into a mythos of civil virtue. I was given a canon of heroes to admire. And all of these heroes were decidedly American. When I pledged allegiance to the flag, I did so proudly. I did it with gusto.

But something changed along the way.

The honest truth is that I don’t really feel any allegiance to America. For one, I’m a Mississippian, and it’s never quite made sense to me that Southerners just sort of got on board with the United States after a crushing military defeat. The American South has actually been occupied by a foreign power for over 150 years. Why are we expected to feel some sense of fondness toward the DC oligarchy that destroyed our way of life?

Now, I’m not some neo-Confederate white supremacist. There was a lot wrong with what was going on in the American South. Racism and chattel slavery are evil, no qualifications.

But can you name another conquered people that has the level of pride in their conquerors that Southerners have in America? The Civil War represents a radical centralization of power in Washington. It was the final nail in the coffin for the idea that the United States were simply united states. Even the word “nation” has to be redefined to fit the unique American perspective. It was Abraham Lincoln’s assertion at Gettysburg that solidified the belief in “one nation,” but this is a patently false assertion. Southerners did not share a common language, history, ethnicity, or a common culture with Northerners.

What Lincoln did to the South is the equivalent of the Queen telling the Scots that they might as well be English, but after a brutal war, the South just rolled over.

And it wasn’t long before this proclamation bled over into other nations. The turn of the twentieth century gave us the peak of American imperialism. The failure of the American experiment, a confederation of sovereign states, led to the rise of a world superpower far greater than the European empires could have ever imagined. With the founding goal of greater decentralization, the United States produced the most powerful, most centralized institution known to man.

In addition, America has ceased to really offer me anything. I certainly give a lot to America, or rather, America coerces a lot from me. But my grandparents actually got some tangible benefit for being an American. I don’t get any of that. I don’t really owe that much of a debt of gratitude to the state. I would be just as well off in Austria or Kenya or Brazil. Any global capital that may have come with American citizenship before has been outmatched by rapid globalization.

And these are just a few examples. Our curious obsession with the flag extends further.

At best, the flag is a symbol of a bygone era that I never really got the opportunity to take part in. At worst, it’s a symbol of state oppression, excessive taxation, and greedy imperialism.

Of course, I’m grateful for what was, and I’m grateful for those willing to serve in a military capacity. But I’m not so grateful to be an American anymore because, frankly, I don’t think it’s worth the effort anymore.

Into the Future

Well, if my analysis is accurate. If America has lost its magic, what’s next?

Our world is precariously peaceful, allowing for the unprecedented advance of technology since World War II, but it is a fragile system. We need to be looking for ways to leverage our advances to make the system more resilient.

For example, the world reserve currency, the US dollar, is managed by a small group of financial experts (or non experts), and we’re all just hoping that these people will make the right decision. What if they don’t? What if super inflation becomes a reality?

Or what if a key choke point in our supply chain gets blocked by a beached ship?

We need answers. We need solutions. We need a world bigger than America, but we also need a world smaller than America.

The great irony of our day will be that the biggest move toward globalism in world history will also be the best move for decentralization. As the world gets smaller, individual influence and autonomy grows. As the American flag comes down, maybe we’ll all be reenchanted with a greater system. A system that is both stateless and governed. A system that is distributive but not coercive. A system that truly rewards the good and punishes the evil-doer, not with hierarchical force, but with a grassroots commitment to law and liberty.

Part of me would love to be proven wrong. Part of me wants to be enchanted again with patriotic fervor, but until then, I’m looking to the future.