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Archive for June 26th, 2005

Desecration

The other day I saw the cover of the current issue of the bourgeois
magazine GQ. There, smiling in all her blonde glory, was Jessica
Simpson. She was wearing camouflage army pants, if "wearing" is the right word:
they were unzipped and pulled down below her hips. Around her neck was a set of
military dog tags. The only other thing she was wearing was a tiny bikini made
from an American flag. She was holding up two fingers in a "V" shape, which in
this instance I assume stands for "victory" rather than "peace". The caption on
the cover read, blasphemously, "God, this is a Great Country: 75 Reasons to Love
America." I didn’t open the magazine, but I suspect most of the 75 reasons could
be left intact, the word "hate" substituted for "love" and fit right in posted
on a militant jihadist website. Indeed, my reaction was the same one I had
shortly after September 11, when Michail Jackson, Madonna, and Kid Rock all
appeared in concerts, literally wrapped in the flag: No wonder they hate
us.

By chance, on the same day there was a story in the news about the American
House of Representatives, which had just passed a constitutional amendment
against the desecration of the American flag.

Now if this amendment goes on to pass the Senate, it will not result in the
arrest of Ms Simpson nor the editors of GQ; no, they will arrest anyone
who burns a flag in protest against whatever American policy the demonstrator is
objecting to.

The very etymology of the word "desecrate" indicates that only something
that is sacred can be desecrated. There are many flags that could be considered
sacred, as they incorporate sacred symbols: the cross of St. George on England’s
ancient flag, the cross of St. Andrew on Scotland’s. the crosses that are the
symbols of many other nations, from Greece to Sweden to Fiji. The ancient
French flag has the fleur de lis, symbol of the virginity of the Mother
of God. But there is nothing inherently sacred about the five-pointed star,
which is if anything an occult symbol, or about red and white stripes.

Well, then the earnest patriot will reply, it is the sacredness of the
ideas and principles which the flag represents which renders it a sacred
symbol.

Oh, really? A democratic republic may be a perfectly acceptable form of
government, better than  most, but it is hardly a matter of divinely revealed
truth. It does not come to us from the words of Christ, from Scripture or
Tradition. It is a human construct.

Chesterton famously said that America was a nation with the soul of a
church, and certain American writers have seized on this statement, but what
Chesterton meant was not that America was inherently virtuous, but that it is
uniquely founded on a creed, a set of principles. These principles are not for
the most part bad ones, insofar as they go, but if America is a religion it is a
false religion.

Those familiar with my writing know that I am hardly a flag-waving
Americanist. I have long argued against a sanguine interpretation of America’s
founding principles and history, and have certainly argued against any messianic
illusions about America’s  destiny. Indeed, I have been accused of being
anti-American. The charge is not true; it’s just that the thread of American
thought with which I have the most affinity- let us call it Jeffersonian
distributist populism- is hardly in the ascendancy.

But I was taught respect for the flag as a child. I don’t fly the flag
today, as I don’t want to be mistaken for a supporter of jingoistic centralized
imperialism -the thread of American thought which is in the
ascendancy-  but I have long been repelled by the lack of respect shown the flag
in modern America, which is a sort of subspecies of the decline of American
etiquette in general.

I am old enough to remember the uproar when the 60s radical Abbie Hoffmann,
God rest his soul, wore a shirt made from the flag. All that seems long ago and
far away, in this age of  flag hats, flag jackets, flag underwear, flag
handkerchiefs, and flags the size of football fields flying over automotive
superstores. The flag these days is often left out in the rain and allowed to
become frayed and tattered. For all my qualms about the American Thing, I teach
my children more respect than that.

There is a certain absurdity in outlawing the destruction, in protest, of
something which symbolizes, among other things, freedom of speech and
expression. It is odd that people who think nothing of sitting on the flag [flag
underwear] or blowing their noses on the flag [flag kerchiefs] would be outraged
about someone burning the flag. At least the flag-burner recognizes that the
flag stands for something. In his estimation it may stand for something that is
flawed or has been betrayed and must be burnt in outrage, but this is more an
act of respect than Ms Simpson’s bikini.

The flag amendment is yet another example of the politics of stupidity, the
substitution of sentiment for substance, a distracting sideshow of fireworks and
whistles, while freedom is further eroded in the name of patriotism.

and while I’m at it:

Convergence

On the same day that I saw the magazine cover with Ms Simpson, there was
another story in the paper. The Supreme Court had expanded the rules of eminent
domain to allow governments to confiscate private property to allow private
development.

This is a stunning attack on the rights of the individual and expansion of
the power of corporations.

Critics on the Right were quick to label it "Marxist," in light of the
government’s new power, but this is not quite accurate. There is a term which
more precisely fits: fascist.

The word "fascist," of course is vastly overused, or more exactly, misused.
It has come to mean "bad guy". However, it does still have meaning. Mussolini once said that fascism should properly be called "corporatism" as it
represented the convergence of the interests of the state and the corporation.
It is this same convergence we see in the Court’s ruling. Let us call it what it
is, and hope that an outcry that transcends the Right/Left paradigm will quickly
undo the harm it has done.

Daniel Nichols

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