By David Tulis
The Christian socialist cousins behind the American pledge of allegiance were men who had a low view of local economy. Their vision of America in 1892 was one of national and military power that cares little for any state or any local interest. Instead, the power they sought to promote was national, even global, powered by the rising industrial corporation and economy.
Every year on the Fourth of July and at Memorial Day Americans enjoy a bit of patriotic hoopla and cooking out, fireworks in July and flag waving on Memorial Day. Swimming pools open on Memorial Day. Graduates have trooped off their campuses.
The claim that holds sway on patriotic days such as Memorial is that the fallen in military cemeteries “died to preserve our freedoms.” The national cemetery in Chattanooga, a TV report says, is “the final resting place for those who paid the supreme price to keep the fires of freedom burning bright.” Scout troops poked federal flags next to hundreds of markers of dead soldiers. “Duty to God and Country [are] very important to us, and for these kids,” Boy Scout Council President Tim Spires tells TV12. “To have this opportunity to decorate our veterans and understand the freedoms that we have, and that it was not just given to them [the boys] easily.” Says Ben Johnson to TV9: “Memorial day is, you know, to celebrate America, to celebrate our troops, and the stuff they did for our country. We’re very very grateful, we’re very very blessed.”
Such sentiments would make the Bellamy duo only too happy if they were still alive to see course of national destiny that followed the track laid out in their pledge.
An oath of support
We think the pledge honors forefathers and founders — a great republic. It puts us in mind of our roots, our place of origin; it taps our connections and affections. A Christian supposes the pledge is a way of keeping the fifth commandment, which requires us to honor our mother and father and, by implication, compels us to honor and obey those in lawful authority, such as (we suppose) the federal president and the congress.
I pledge allegiance to the flag, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The pledge puts us in a civic and unitary frame of mind, binding us to an non-breakup-able United States and its government. Mr. Bellamy, a Baptist minister who lived from 1855 to 1931, wanted to create a ritual with a propaganda effect in favor of the social gospel. It was a slogan, an oath, to be inserted into the mouths of millions of schoolchildren and people at public events to get them to emotively call upon the nation state to fulfill for them the principles of charity, duty to family, duty to the law.
Liberal Christianity and modern humanitarian activists — even conservative ones — share in a mistake. That is a disregard for the means by which utopia or reforms might be ushered in. Care of the homeless, the poor, the widow, the untutored, the jobless — these woes are great among many boulevards of a city, and the obvious agency for remediating these blights is the powerful state. In the 1890s the might of the national state seemed limitless. It was a period of political and industrial expansion and if these twin complexes caused social upheaval and dysfunction, the solution is America herself, her national government. Americans needed to nationalize their good works. Christ’s mandate for the widow and the orphan are obeyed through bureaucracy, and our duty is to make sure that administration is well funded and highly respected.
So great appears the necessity of easing social ills caused by the rise of a national industrial economy that the means to alleviate them is of no great concern. Yes, church, family, charity and private association have their place, but the muscle that matters is that of government.,
Francis’ cousin Edward is author of Looking Backward, an 1888 novel that was hugely popular and argued for the creation of a total caretaker state. The book inspired hundreds of nationalist clubs around the U.S., with Francis Bellamy founding the first one in Boston. John Dewey, the socialist educator said Backward was formative for his thinking and provided a detailed socialist action plan. Endorsing it: the National Education Association. Borrowing from it: National socialists such as Adolph Hitler, whose Mien Kampf, in his 10th chapter “Federalism as a mask,” praises unitary national government vs. confederations of the sort initially created among the American colonies (pp 565-570, Houghton Mifflin 1971 edition).
The Bellamys differ from Karl Marx, whose economic theory of class warfare sought solution to that crisis in socialism and communism. The Bellamys wanted a voluntary public role in collectivism, not a public cowed by revolution. They eschewed arguments for violence and coercion. How better to get people on their side than by an oath uttered at officious events in which the federal flag is presented? Flags are part of the paraphernalia of nation states, says Martin van Creveld in The Rise and Decline of the State, as are uniforms, state operations manuals, policy offices, national police, conscription, secret services, internal surveillance, welfare systems, professional armies, birth certificates, marriage licenses and national anthems.
Through the fluttering icon with its inverted pentacles (stars), the Bellamys helped create a rallying point to get people to partake of a national versus a local, tribal, familial or even Tennessee orientation. No to top-down coups and violent overthrows a la Vladimir Lenin in 1918 Red Square; yes to the social cement of a famous and popular pledge to bring about the utopia they sought for the benefit of all.
The vision in the American pledge of allegiance is not one of a horizontal society, a free market, a local economy in which the people are left alone. It envisions a vertical society, a managed market, a regulated Thrive 2055 life where everything is at least partly public.
Memorializing the dead
Is the pledge a trap for the unwary? Does it violate a Christian’s duty to God? ‡ The pledge does not evoke God’s name, and so cannot perhaps be strictly called an oath that binds the soul of the speaker. But certainly the word pledge is more commanding than the word “affirm” or “promise.” With its pleasing cadence, the pledge seeks to make the boys at my Trail Life USA gathering at Clear Creek Church of Christ in Chattanooga, also your son in his Boy Scout troop, become reliable voters, dependents and soldiers, like those buried in the national cemetery along Bailey and South Holtzclaw avenues.
So I hesitate to make any sort of pledge to a flag and “the republic for which it stands” because it is asking too much.
My son, 11, and I might propose and celebrate the states united, the ideals of American democratic and federal government. America, perhaps, a term representing the vague ideals of personal liberty and prosperity.
But the United States? That warfare and surveillance state that listens in on my phone calls and keeps records with which to accuse me?
Memorial Day began with a celebration of the cause and sacrifices of the Confederate dead, though its origin in the war to prevent Southern independence is disputed. The men whose corpses are beneath the soil are said to have died for the price of freedom. That is understood to mean that every war hazarded by the federal government has been a defense of constitutional liberty and a constitutional republic. That thought may raise our esteem of deceased veterans in the presence of their survivors, and give us a sense of belonging, and a sense of thankfulness for soldiers’ bravery. But given that the Bellamy ideal has been largely accomplished in the form of the American national state, are our sentiments true?
Please, think with me on these points. We have too much national economy, too much centralization, too much Washington, too many wars on foreign soil and their trails of dead. It’s time for local economy. It’s time for decentralization. It’s time for Chattanoogans and Tennesseans, in a decade of national declension, to seek after the peaceable and profitable goals embraced within Christianity, its free market, its service to the other, its raising up of the weak and the lowly.
This speech by Ron Paul, the nation’s greatest statesman, is a concise argument for nonintervention, peace and prosperity. 3 minutes.
David Tulis is married, the father of four home educated children, and a deacon at Brainerd Hills Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga. He hosts Nooganomics.com at Chattanooga’s CBS Radio News affiliate, Hot News Talk Radio 1240 AM 1 to 3 p.m. weekdays on the federally regulated airwaves in Chattanooga, South Pittsburg and Dunlap.
‡ For two Lord’s Days an elder of my church, Vaughn Hamilton, discusses the history of the pledge and peril in which it places a Christian before God. Interested in the reformed faith? Here are links to his talks, Part 1 and Part 2. Many thanks to Mr. Hamilton for his reading on this topic.
Webb Wright, “Boy Scouts Honor The Fallen At The National Cemetery,” WDEF TV 12, May 25, 2014
Tom DiLorenzo, “Pledging Allegiance to the Omnipotent Lincolnian State,” Lewrockwell.com, Oct. 17, 2003
Peter Drier, “Bob Greene Ignores the Socialist Origins of the Pledge of Allegiance,” Huff Post, Dec. 24, 2013
Gene Healy, “What’s Conservative about the Pledge of Allegiance,” Nov. 4, 2003, Cato Institute at cato.org
See Todd South, “Fallen but not forgotten: The nation remembers its war dead today, but their kin remember every day,” Timesfreepress.com, May 26, 2014