Can the “Very Liberal” Celebrate Independence Day?


The week of Independence Day, Gersh Kuntzman of the Daily News, called for Major League baseball to permanently ban the playing of “God Bless America.”

While conceding some of its virtues, Kuntzman laments that the classic jingle “embodies” some of “our worst things,” vices like “self-righteousness, forced piety,” and “earnest self-reverence.”

Kuntzman approvingly alludes to a 2013 poll conducted by the author of a book on “God Bless America.” The poll found that 61% or so of those asked share Kuntzman’s judgment that the song should go the way of the dinosaur.  The real story here, though, is to be found in how those numbers break down:

While only 20.5% of those who wish to see the song banned from major league baseball self-describe as “very conservative,” a whopping 84% who want the same regard themselves as “very liberal.”

The “very liberal” stand side-by-side with “foreigners,” like Kuntzman’s British friend, who find “the self-righteousness” and “patriotism” of the song “exactly what [to] expect from Americans.”

What American wouldn't pledge their allegiance to the United States of America? Obama Won't!
What American wouldn’t pledge their allegiance to the United States of America? Obama Won’t!

This is telling.

Setting aside that these judgments reflect a profound, indeed, a scandalous, ignorance of the natures of both piety and patriotism, they are telling in another respect.  It’s worth asking:

Logically speaking, can the “very liberal”—i.e. the left—celebrate Independence Day?

Paul Gomberg is one leftist, a philosopher, who resoundingly rejects this as a moral and logical possibility.  In his essay, “Patriotism is like Racism,” Gomberg argues for his thesis that the former is as big an evil as the latter.

“Racism” is immoral because it violates the requirement of “moral universalism,” namely, the requirement that our “actions are to be governed by principles that give equal consideration to all people who might be affected by an action.” From this perspective, “all count equally and positively in deciding what to do.”

So, in other words, among the most “fundamental rights” that moral universalism bestows upon individuals is the right to be “treated impartially,” i.e. the right to be treated “without regard to race [.]”  Since “racism” consists in treating people partially according to race, it is immoral.

However, Gomberg is quick to note, the right to be treated impartially includes as well the right to be treated without regard to “nationality” and “citizenship.”

This being so, because patriotism is a matter of treating one’s co-nationals and/or fellow citizens partially, like “racism,” patriotism, then, is immoral.

In summary: Morality requires impartiality.  Racism and patriotism, though, require partiality. Hence, racism and patriotism are both equally immoral.

Gomberg adds that partiality toward one’s friends and the members of one’s community can also exacerbate social and economic “inequalities.”  For example, suppose Joe owns his own business and needs to hire more employees.  If he were to hire his “old school chums,” say, and/or residents from his old neighborhood, “the degree of residential and school segregation in most big cities in the United States” would all but guarantee that they would be of the same “ethnic group” as Joe himself.  And “given the greater initial disadvantage of most black people in access to capital and business opportunities generally,” the hiring of one’s friends and acquaintances “will tend to maintain or exacerbate poverty in intensely impoverished inner-city black ghettos.”

This is “racism,” for it undermines “human equality.”

Patriotism, though, does the same thing.  “People from other countries immigrate to the United States because of international inequality.”  Moreover, “international income gaps are vastly greater than domestic racial inequality.”  Therefore, “favoritism toward a more prosperous nationality or discrimination against nationals from poor nations contributes to a morally objectionable inequality” that is “no better” than the inequality that is the essence of “racism.”

Gomberg, quite inconsistently, does not criticize as “objectionable” the inherent “inequality” between the families of some and those of others, an “inequality” resulting from the robust partiality of people toward their own families. Yet the reasoning that he uses to condemn partiality toward one’s co-ethnics and co-nationals holds at least as strongly when it comes to familial partiality.

People tend to be more partial to the interests of their own family members than they are toward those of the members of other families.  Yet, overwhelmingly, people of all racial backgrounds continue to date and marry intra-racially.  So, this partial treatment toward one’s relatives, inasmuch as it translates into partiality toward the members of one’s own race, inevitably leads to inter-racial inequalities.

And inter-racial “inequality” is, according to Gomberg (and the prevailing wisdom of the Racism-Industrial-Complex), “racism.”

If, then, you’re, say, white and you choose to marry and procreate with another white person, you’re guilty of “racism.”

Gomberg doesn’t go there.  Most “very liberal” folks won’t go there (at least not yet).  The point here, however, is that neither Independence Day nor any other “patriotic” holiday, institution, or tradition can be a cause for celebration by the lights of the Gombergs of the world.

Quite the contrary: Independence Day, insofar as it marks the commemoration of the birth of a particular country, can only be viewed as immoral.

Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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