Friday, November 27, 2009

Can I call myself a non-mystic nationalist?

I recently finished two of the new biographies of Ayn Rand (both Jennifer Burns's & Anne Heller's. ) One or both recount a story where some annoying know-nothing nativist goes off on a rant against immigration in front of Rand.* And she replies, "I chose to become an American. What did you do?"

This anecdote popped into my head as I've been reading the Jonah Goldberg/Will Wilkinson/PEG exchanges on "mystic nationalism." Unlike Rand, I can't say that I chose to become an American. (Though my maternal grandfather did as recently as the 1960s.) But the Rand quote encapusulates the kind of patriotism I feel and want other Americans to feel. I'm not proud of my country because I feel some kind of sappy atavistic pull toward the flag or apple pie. I'm an American because I'm rationally convinced that I live in a wonderful country.

I'm willing to allow that perhaps it would be good to have a pro-nationalist default rule in place. That is, if you're thought about a particular public policy a lot and are genuinely unconvinced that your country's right, go with being a patriot by default. Again unlike Rand, I'm willing to allow that there's much more room for uncertainty and ambiguity in human affairs. But sorry, I don't get much more mystic nationalist than that.

*I'm at my future in-laws' house in Massachusetts and don't have the books handy. Thus the story might be imprecisely rendered -- sorry! -- but that's the gist.

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