The Pledge of Allegiance
Alex Tabarrok has some strong thoughts on the Pledge of Allegiance.
He points to an old essay by Gene Healy which asks, “What’s Conservative about the Pledge of Allegiance?” and notes its origins as a quasi-communist mantra. That’s amusing on a number of levels. He also reminds us that a stiff arm salute was once the preferred stance whilst taking the pledge, until Adolf Hitler co-opted the gesture.
Even aside from that, Tabarrok finds the Pledge “creepy.”
I wouldn’t go that far but I tend to share his distaste for the ritual. My reasons aren’t libertarian, however, but quite conservative. It’s not so much that I find taking oaths distasteful or contrary to our Republican spirit but, rather, that I take my oaths seriously.
Let’s look at the Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,
I’m sorry, but I feel no allegiance to the flag. It’s a piece of cloth. I owe it nothing.
I’m attached to it as a symbol, to be sure, and reflexively observe certain courtesies in certain ceremonies involving it as a symbol. And, in the right circumstances, I find myself moved by its display or angered by its abuse. But only, I stress, because of what it represents.
Which, of course, brings us to the next line:
and to the republic for which it stands,
Why not just say “I pledge allegiance to the United States of America” and be done with it?
This also brings me to a much more fundamental objection to the Pledge. I have taken, multiple times in fact, oaths to the Republic in the context of military service. There, however, it was precisely clear what it was I was swearing to do: Defend the country from all enemies, foreign or domestic, through violent means, if necessary, at the risk of life and limb.
Conversely, what is it that school children are being asked to do when they take the Pledge? Not a damned thing, that’s what. Indeed, most of them likely haven’t a clue as to what they’re reciting. That’s not an oath, it’s meaningless nonsense that’s an insult to oaths everywhere.
one nation under God
I simply don’t believe this to be true. I don’t think there’s a God, let alone that we’re somehow subordinate to him. A lot of others agree.
I’m not offended, for example, that In God We Trust appears on my coins. Most Americans do in fact believe that there’s a God and do in fact trust in such a being and derive some comfort from that belief. It does me no harm to acknowledge that fact on my legal tender.
Having people recite it as part of a loyalty oath, however, is problematic. At best, it further dilutes the Pledge into a mere social custom.
I seldom give this one much thought but, really, it’s silly. For one thing, we are in fact divided. We’re a Federal system that still maintains the legal fiction that each of the 50 states hold a divided sovereignty. Further, it’s an obvious poke in the eye of Southern secession which I continue to believe was perfectly legal if ill advised.
with liberty and justice for all.
Presuming that this construction is meant to be parallel, does anyone truly believe in liberty for all? I don’t believe criminals should all be freed, for example.
I believe in justice for all, of course, although I’m not sure what it has to do with anything. Presumably, it’s helping explain why it is that the Republic deserves allegiance. But one would think one would have considered the merits of the thing before taking the oath.
As a general rule, my preference is for oaths and other patriotic paraphenalia to be confined to their proper occasions. The National Anthem should be played on the 4th of July and where it’s otherwise appropriate. This does not include, for example, random baseball games. People should take oaths when they mean them and are prepared to actually do something about them.