“I pledge allegiance to the flag, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, with liberty and justice for all.” Pledge of Allegiance, pre-cold war
I hate the pledge of allegiance. This isn’t because I am not a patriot, it is because I am. No patriotic American pledges allegiance to the flag, to the Republic, or to anything but the ideals upon which it was founded. The pledge of allegiance is an abomination.
America was originally a British colony, and as such her inhabitants were subjects of the realm. A such, they were expected to abjure any personal rights or claims to the will of the Crown, who was the embodiment of God’s will on Earth. The monarchy was absolute, vested with the authority of the divine. This was not a unique state of affairs; in fact, almost every system of government on the planet was constructed on a similar, if not identical, frame of reference: governments were autocratic, ruled by an authority whose power was derived from whatever god or god was in vogue within any respective culture.
Some time around the mid 1770’s a group of American colonists decided that this situation wasn’t working out to their satisfaction, and decided to do something about it. Because this was well before the invention of Facebook “Like” buttons, Twitter, or ribbon shaped car magnets–or hell, even cars, for that matter–they resorted to the only remaining option and rose up in arms against their sovereign in order to form their own system of government.
This new government, they decided, would derive its just powers not from divine right, but rather from the consent of the governed. It would be led by a man, elected by the people, and tasked with allegiance to the citizens of this new republic to act in the interests of the community as a whole. No longer would the people of this newly formed country be relegated to the status of property of the state, mere subjects to be ruled; instead, they would be free men, unbound by any strict duty to the state, members of a new collective form of representative government.
It is in this light that I view the pledge of allegiance, a construct not envisioned by our founding fathers–and one which they would likely find offensive at its core. Patriotism, as they envisioned it, was taking up a rifle and defending the nation and its ideals from foreign incursion. It was living in accordance with the principles they laid out. It didn’t entail flag lapel pins, empty rhetorical flourishes, or hollow professions of fealty to idols.
On this July 4th, as the nation once again celebrates its independence, I call upon all true patriots to do so by truly examining this country and its history. To read the Federalist Papers. To read the Constitution, and the Jefferson Bible, and the Gettysburg Address. To examine the letters and papers of the men who put their fortunes and lives on the line to challenge their divine sovereign for the right to govern themselves and forge a nation that was unique and special not because of divine provenance, by rather for the specific, deliberate absence of claim to it.
The pledge of allegiance, with or without the “under God” clause, is an insult to their memory and sacrifice. Americans, once they chose that designation for themselves, were never meant to be subjects: property of the state to be managed and treated as peasants and serfs. The whole point of the American experiment was to create, unique to the world in which it was born, a nation where the government was, instead, beholden to the people–and not the other way around. The whole concept of the pledge of allegiance is a warped, anachronistic reversion to the age of kings; it has no place in this country. It isn’t patriotic; it’s a collective expectoration on the graves of our forefathers. I refuse to participate in such a heinous desecration of their effort.
On this, the celebration of American independence, I call upon my fellow citizens to take a long, hard look at this ridiculous and offensive practice, to review the words of the founders, and once and for all abolish this anachronistic throwback to pre-revolutionary times. Citizens shouldn’t be expected to swear allegiance to any government conceived for the people, of the people, and by the people.
Real patriots respect the rights of others to free speech, to different opinions, to free assembly, to disagree. Real patriots expect that the government should act as a servant of the people, not a ruler. Real patriots pledge allegiance to no flag and no government. Allegiance wasn’t what our founding fathers sought; they didn’t seek to usurp the King’s law, they hoped to replace it with a new law: a peoples’ law. This, to me, is sacred.
When we seek to deny their will with hollow pledges to symbols and constructs, with oaths comprised of words we barely comprehend ourselves–yet thrust upon our children without a moment’s though–we defile their legacy. The pledge of allegiance isn’t an honorable oath; on the contrary, it is a disgraceful sacrilege.
We the people, of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.
With those words, we forged a new nation, unique in the World, unique in history. We declared a government wherein the average citizen had a voice and a role. With the rise of corporate power, we may not be there anymore, but the fact remains, that was our beginning, and that was our covenant.
Loyalty oaths like the pledge are divisive; they create a barrier to trust by their very existence, and have no place in a free society. Challenges to the pledge have thus far been limited to the superfluous addition of “under God”, but the real issue is that the pledge exists at all. This 4th of July, declare your independence from inane jingoism and swear off this obnoxious practice, once and for all.