I recently saw a little FaceBook post making the rounds among some of my family members. A simple image of a US flag with a caption bemoaning the fact that the morning recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is increasingly uncommon.
Now this normally would have simply passed me by in the normal daily current of slightly disagreeable but not-worth-arguing-over traditionalist conservative social media, but something about this particular sentiment really stuck with me.
I recited the Pledge when I was a child. I put my hand over my heart and said the words while facing the flag. It was what I was supposed to do, what a good patriot should do, and I felt like a responsible little citizen when I did it.
But of course I didn’t really understand. No kid does. They do what they think they are supposed to do and ingrain the behavior and hardly think twice about it.
But as an adult, I have developed a rather severe anti-authoritarian streak. Not an anti-authority streak mind you, or an anti-order streak, but an anti-authoritarian streak. I believe a well administered and regulated society works best. I respect the rule of law and even when I disagree with them, I respect the benefit that deference to authority figures brings to the administration of a society. But order, civic discipline, and deference to authority, are means, not ends. They are tools. What I cannot abide are gratuitous displays of authority. Authority wielded for authority’s sake alone.
And as an adult, loyalty pledges strike me as incredibly authoritarian.
If my employer asked me to sign a loyalty pledge to the company, to serve the company and never do anything to wrong the company, I would feel extremely uneasy and obviously wouldn’t agree to do it. If I were, say, a politician and my party asked me to pledge loyalty to the party, I would feel uneasy and would not do it. It’s hard to explain exactly why, but it does not sit well with me. To put it simplistically, it gives me the creeps, it triggers some primal thing in me that warns me something is wrong with the scenario.
And it is the same with being asked to stand as a group, salute a national symbol, and recite an allegiance pledge to a nation.
Perhaps it has to do with this basic notion of unconditional positive regard: the idea that there is something to which you hold a positive and supportive disposition no matter what, regardless of circumstance. A loyalty pledge asks exactly that of you, to agree to grant a particular person or organization or institution your unconditional positive regard, at least in action and word, and preferably in thought too.
And while I am willing to grant plenty of things in this world conditional positive regard, unconditional positive regard is a much dearer thing to ask of me. In fact I dare say it exists in this space right along side my basic pride as something that will not be given no matter what, integral to my core identity. There are those who will say that Children are perhaps the one great exception to such a reservation, but speaking only personally for myself (as someone who has no children) it is hard for me to imagine even my children having no possible barrier that would lose them my positive regard, even for my offspring I have to imagine my loyalty and allegiance would have some conditions, albeit exceedingly generous ones.
Asking me to give that up, to pledge loyalty, devotion, allegiance, to a large nebulous entity like a nation, its just not something I can do. In fact I dare say that such allegiance is the sign of a bad citizen, not a good one. If you want what’s best for a nation, make your support and approval, your allegiance, conditional. You will serve the nation well and do your part, but only so long as it respects you and does it’s part for you. The nation must always exist in a constant state of earning the good will of it’s citizens, deserving allegiance and loyalty through continued excellence, not securing that good will through repeat recitation of pledges from childhood on. That practice is just…..