I don’t believe in saying the pledge of allegiance. Funny, since I was the person to read it aloud every morning of my junior and senior year.
People react strongly when I say this. How dare I not love my country!
It would be easy for me to use the excuse of the “under god” line which was added in 1954 as my reason for not reciting this oath. And that is one reason. I don’t believe in the tyranny of a state mandated religion. One persons “god” shouldn’t be anywhere on our money, court rooms, or schools.
But that is only one tiny reason. There are several others I’d like to share:
1. Taking a pledge.
Have you ever reflected on what it means to pledge something?
Pledge means a solemn promise or undertaking.
synonyms: promise, undertaking, vow, word, word of honor, commitment, assurance, oath, guarantee
First, should five year olds, who can’t legally make decisions or enter into contracts, be pledging to anything?
Second, to say this pledge I have to solemnly (seriously and earnestly) take a vow or oath. This shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. I can only evaluate if I can take such a serious oath based on careful review of what I’m pledging to.
2. Allegiance and Patriotism
Allegiance is to give loyalty and devotion to a thing. It was historically used by subjects to swear fealty to a monarch. In this case we are swearing allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.
Giving allegiance to a flag is just stupid but the implication is that you are giving you allegiance to is The United States of America so I’ll focus on that.
So, let’s talk about loyalty. Loyalty is about being reliably faithful to a person or thing. This is easy to see in interpersonal allegiance. I have an allegiance to my husband as I’ve agreed (taken an oath even) to be loyal to him.
My loyalty has limits imposed by my own morality. If my husband murdered someone I would not help him hide the body (sorry babe) because murder is immoral. This is what makes it different than fealty which doesn’t really care about your morality which is completely subsumed to the sovereign you are giving your fealty to.
Loyalty to an impersonal thing like a government should also have caveats for morality. This is why we expect soldiers to disobey orders when they are morally wrong as in the My Lai Massacre or the Abu Garaib torture. Loyalty in this instance means follow orders but not at the expense of morality.
Patriotism is defined as love of country and of our compatriots (fellow countrymen). I’ll talk about love of country in a moment but love of compatriots seems a simple thing. Of course I love my fellow Americans. Especially when we prove how loving and powerful we are as when we came together after 911. It warms my heart. I want all my compatriots to be happy and fulfilled.
Here’s the problem with love of compatriots. Compatriots are, by definition, those you have a common country with. Whether that is land, government, language, or ethnicity, the whole concept is based on Us and Them. Saying I’m “patriotic” implies I have love for other Americans instead of (at worst) or at least more than (at best) non-Americans.
This is where we get the idea that loving our country also means “there is no country I’d rather live in” which quickly slides in to: my country is the best. Better than yours. My compatriots matter more than you “others”.
I don’t think this is ever a positive view to hold but even if it were you better be sure your country deserves such devotion which I’ll talk about in a moment.
So patriotism and allegiance. Do they go hand in hand? Patriots are usually very allegiant but those with allegiance aren’t necessarily patriots.
For example, a mercenary has allegiance to his employer but isn’t necessarily a patriot. Their allegiance comes from a choice to act on behalf of a country/government not out of love of said country. Someone who is allegiant but not a patriot can not always be counted on to give “blind” allegiance.
A patriot, on the other hand, holds allegiance so strong that they will forgo their own sense of morality in order to show undying love for country/government.
“Stephen Nathanson contends that patriotic loyalty is not always a virtue. A loyal person can, in general be relied upon, and hence people view loyalty as virtuous. Nathanson argues that loyalty can, however, be given to persons or causes that are unworthy. Moreover, loyalty can lead patriots to support policies that are immoral and inhumane. Thus, Nathanson argues, patriotic loyalty can sometimes rather be a vice than a virtue, when its consequences exceed the boundaries of what is otherwise morally desirable. Such loyalties, in Nathanson’s view, are erroneously unlimited in their scopes, and fail to acknowledge boundaries of morality.”http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loyalty
In other words, loyalty driven by patriotism and nothing else is a vice not a virtue. For your loyalty to be virtuous it must have an accompanying morality that isn’t dictated by the object of the loyalty. It is the ultimate check and balance.
Allegiance can’t be given lightly. You have to think about the actions of the object of your loyalty. How likely are you to have moral conflicts with the object of your loyalty? Is an act of morality that might not be loyal seen as “unpatriotic”? Is loyalty valued over morality?
If any of these are true the object in question might not be worthy of my loyalty.
3. The Republic
The pledge’s next line is about our allegiance to “the republic” represented by said flag. A republic is a form of government where the people rule through direct democracy or through elected representatives.
American republicanism is a bit different from other concepts of a republic in the classical world.
“Republicanism is the guiding political philosophy of the United States. It has been a major part of American civic thought since its founding. It stresses liberty and “unalienable” rights as central values, makes the people as a whole sovereign, rejects aristocracy and inherited political power, expects citizens to be independent in their performance of civic duties, and vilifies corruption.“http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republicanism_in_the_United_States
This sounds like something I would be willing to pledge allegiance to. But, only if the current state of our country was represented by this definition.
Is the CURRENT republic worthy of allegiance? Are liberty and unalienable rights central values in America today? Do we have inherited political power? Do we vilify corruption?
Or has corporate money eclipsed any true republicanism? Is corruption seen as an unavoidable feature of the system or rooted out wherever it is found?
4. Liberty and Justice for All
The final phrase of the pledge also sounds great but only if it is in any way true for us and our compatriots.
Liberty is freedom. Are we free? Are we all equally free? Or do we lead the world in imprisoning our compatriots? Are our compatriots of color given the same liberty as white compatriots or are they three times as likely to be jailed for equal offenses?
Do we all have access to justice? Or does money become the ticket to justice instead of it being a birthright of our country?
Does our country act justly in its relations with other countries. Do we keep our treaties? With the Western Shoshone Nation for example? Does our country respect justice when enacting trade laws? Or do we enslave and ravage other countries in order to promote the interests of our compatriots only?
If I’m going to pledge allegiance to something I’m going to have to take that seriously and ask some hard questions before I do. I want to know that this country deserves my allegiance and that my loyalty will not be immoral at least some of the time.
I don’t pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. The republic for which it stands has been corrupted by corporatism and the aristocracy of capitalism. Our nation doesn’t operate under any god I recognize. Liberty is dependent upon your skin color and net worth. Justice is entirely dependent upon immoral and selfish interests and applied unevenly based on skin color and net worth.
The United States of America does not deserve my allegiance. It is unworthy of it. I don’t pledge it out of blind patriotism. I don’t recognize my compatriots as more important than my non-American brothers and sisters.
When my government realizes it has become completely unworthy of your pledge it will be the first step towards deserving it.
I pledge allegiance to humanity and all the kindness and good for which it is capable. I pledge allegiance to the cooperative spirit and peacemakers that work everyday to make the world a more just and free place for everyone. Not just compatriots defined by outdated lines of nationalism.
And my kids won’t say the pledge until they can cogently answer these questions for themselves.
“Then get out”
If you can’t understand the right of an American citizen to NOT pledge allegiance then you don’t understand anything about this country.
“You can only say this because of the freedom of America”
Agreed. There are certainly many countries where I could be killed or imprisoned for refusing to pledge allegiance. I don’t think the only criteria for allegiance to my country should be that “it could be worse”. I have a higher standard than that.
“No country lives up to your standards”
Agreed. I could tell you dozens of countries doing a better job in a lot of these areas but that isn’t really my point. I don’t want the US to become like some other country and then I’ll pledge. I don’t want to pledge to a country. Nationalism is an antiquated idea that no longer serves the needs of the Earth or humanity. Technology has made us smaller, closer. We have the opportunity to erase our arbitrary boundaries that make us hate and kill each other. We can move beyond us and them and realize our future is only secure if we are WE.
“But the troops…”
My refusing to pledge allegiance to this country does not mean I don’t love our troops. My dad and husband both served. I’m a pacifist and don’t believe in the military at all. That doesn’t change the intentions behind their actions when they enlisted. There are many beautiful things our military does. It isn’t the fault of individual soldiers that warmongering is such a big part of our current ethos as a nation. Someday, without war, these military men and women will continue their peacekeeping work without the violent side.