Thursday, September 14, 2006


Twain on the Question of Patriotism

“You see my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; its institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease and death. To be loyal to rags, to shout for rags, to worship rags, to die for rags – that is a loyalty of unreason….”

I find this quote from Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in an essay by Howard Zinn in the latest newsletter of Poets Against War. I have been struggling a long time to figure out how to answer, "Do you love your country?" Or "Do you consider yourself patriotic?" Zinn's words come closest to answering that question for me.

A wonderful surprise is Zinn's first paragraph, in which admits to getting discouraged (he's human!) and says that he turns to literature for restoration. A marvel.

"Whenever I become discouraged (which is on alternate Tuesdays, between three and four) I lift my spirits by remembering: the writers are on our side! I mean those poets, novelists, playwrights and songwriters who speak to the world in a way that is impervious to assault because they wage the battle for justice in a sphere which is unreachable by the dullness of ordinary political discourse." Read the full essay here.

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