Sunday, July 06, 2008

From the department of "not getting it"...

Here, Matt Yglesias expresses some American independence skepticism (author's italics):
My sense every July 4 is that I could get more jazzed up about independence if it were more plausible for Americans to work ourselves up into a fury of anti-British sentiment. In the real world, however, America's two closest allies are the former colonial power and the segments of British North America that didn't join in our rebellion. Ultimately, I think the United States is a pretty awesome country but it very plausibly would have been even awesomer had English and American political leaders in the late 18th century been farsighted enough to find compromises that would have held the empire together.
In response, the blog "Freespace" defends the awesomeness of the American Revolution (embedded hyperlink in original) :
It should not surprise us that Yglesias would say such a thing, however. Elsewhere he writes of the difference between liberals and conservatives that “liberals do a better job of recognizing that much as we may love America there’s something arbitrary about it—we’re [sic] just so happen to be Americans whereas other people are Canadians or Mexicans or French or Russian or what have you.” But this, of course, is getting the deal exactly wrong. These other nationalities are based on ethnicity and chance, while American nationality is based on choice and the assent to certain basic principles that make up our nation.
The only response to this point is "duh". This in essentially the defining principle of being an American liberal, so of course a liberal blogger like Matt Yglesias knows this.

Observe that Yglesias's point is actually quite similar to what the Democratic-Republican party of Jefferson and Madison would have believed. Jefferson and Madison were insistent that the cult (for lack of a better word) of, for example, July 4, the American flag, and General Washington was a lot of false patriotism designed to camouflage the neo-monarchical intentions of the Federalist party. Jefferson and Madison would probably have been very sympathetic to the view that July 4 is the day for Americans to rage against the enemies of the people (remember that Madison led America into the War of 1812 in order to "defend the revolution").

Presumably, what Yglesias is advocating here is not a political settlement on Britain's terms to avoid an American revolution, but one on America's terms. That is, a Britain that would have immediately embraced progress in the 1770s instead of drifting in the direction of progress over the course of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.


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