Why do we pledge allegiance to a flag, ignoring the Founders’ instructions?

Summary:  We need to return to basics in order to reform America. Devising complex technocratic solutions are a snare and dead end, building castles in the sky while the 1% gain strength.  We need to return to the fundamentals of the American project, both the symbolic and conceptual designs. Today we look at the Pledge, another in a series searching for a path to a better future for America.

Flag and Eagle
Swear allegiance to the flag.
The bird is dumb, too.

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Oaths were not purpos’d, more than law,
To keep the Good and Just in awe,
But to confine the Bad and Sinful,
Like mortal cattle in a penfold.

— Samuel Butler’s “Hudibras”, Part II, Canto II (1664)

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This is great: Article II Section 1 of the Constitution:

I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

In the fires of the Civil War a more detailed oath was forged, passed on 13 May 1884, now taken by all civil, military, and judicial officials excerpt the President. This is perfect:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.

This oath points to our duty under the founding document. The Tea Party was exactly right that we have lost sight of our system as it was, and forgotten how it should work. Too bad they’re interested in only fragments of the Constitution, and despise some of its principles (i.e., they’re part of the problem, not the solution).

As the United States evolved in the Gilded Age, with rising inequality at home and imperial aspirations abroad, our rulers devised an oath suitable for peasants.  This was written by Francis Bellamy (socialist and Baptist minister) in 1892, formally adopted by Congress in 1942, and revised four times since then. The Founders are appalled by this.

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

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Swear on bible
Since so few still believe, we need to do this differently now

This is wrong in many ways.

  • The Constitution does not mention God, an explicit decision made for deep reasons.
  • Swearing allegiance to the flag is antithetical to their ideas as expressed in the Oaths of office they created.
  • That it is taken by children, too young to understand its meaning or seriousness, shows the intent to be indoctrination rather than devotion to citizenship.

This is the Pledge for a nation run by the 1%, a pledge to the Flag and pleasant abstract concepts. Their servants, today including people such as Eric Posner and John Yoo, will tell you what those things mean. Swear allegiance to the flag and obey. This is a betrayal to Founder’s legacy, and perhaps the moment when the American project first jumped off the rails.

We need a new oath, appropriate for a two century old nation entering the 21st century. One taken by adults, perhaps at their coming of age to mark assumption of citizenship. Post your recommendations in the comments.

Reforming America requires digging through the ruins of the US polity to find the foundation buried under the detritus. It remains sound, await our rediscovery of it, and we can rebuild on it.

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54 thoughts on “Why do we pledge allegiance to a flag, ignoring the Founders’ instructions?

  1. At West Point, we had to live by an honor code that a “cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” Obviously, in the real world, that’s far too black and white for all the shades of gray of human nature.

    It’s one thing to have checkbook honesty- paying your taxes without fudging, doing what you say you will do, etc… It’s another thing to have complete honesty about your own fears, insecurities, greed, anger, and other resentments.

    For that moral code, I prefer a passage from the Cadet Prayer- “let me strive to do the harder right over the easier wrong.”

    Can a nation do that? Can citizens?

    I don’t know.

    1. Mike,

      You raise an important point, lest we be carried away but the potential power — illusory power — of oaths. Our oath of allegiance cannot be an all-embracing moral code, like that of West Point cadets. That’s a matter of individual conscience.

      Our oath of allegiance states our obligations as citizens. Our relationship to the State, as individuals and collectively. Other than that we can be whatever we wish to be, limited only by the negative prescriptions of the law.

  2. Your article speaks about the “Tea Party” as if it’s some organized political force, but it’s many different groups, loosely aligned in regards to a few issues like balancing the budget, cutting federal spending, rolling back federal entitlement programs.

    Due it’s rather informal national organization, the caliber and type of candidates they’ve put forth, seem to me at least, to range from top notch to fringe kooks. They might be more effective if they took the time to become an actual political party and went through the process of building a national platform for a party.

    And no, I am not a Tea Party member. I’m one of those wanderers looking for some hope, who feels our political process might be beyond redemption if left to the devices of our current political class. Not sure how to get back to an America where the majority of the citizens will even agree on a few basic “obligations as citizens”, both to the Republic itself and to each other, when our political process feeds on fanning the flames of rabid ideology rather than seeking some common ground on issues. It’s kind of hard to build bridges to unite people when we’re doggedly building ever high fences to keep people apart.

    1. Liberty belle,

      “Your article speaks about the “Tea Party” as if it’s some organized political force, but it’s many different groups”

      I do not understand the basis of your objection. The Tea Party movement is a political force, and it has an organizational structure.

      Most movements in US history are “many different groups.” Business interests, labor unions, civil rights activists, climate change activists — all are forces producing political effects via a organizational structure composed of multiple groups.

    2. “The Tea Party was exactly right that we have lost sight of our system as it was, and forgotten how it should work. Too bad they’re interested in only fragments of the Constitution, and despise some of its principles (i.e., they’re part of the problem, not the solution).”

      In your article you mentioned “the Tea Party” as if it’s a unified entity and so far I haven’t seen that. I’ve seen a wide range of views, some laudable, some that seem plain nuts to me. Your article did not articulate which fragments of our constitutional principles you believe they’ve got right and where they became part of the problem. I’m just trying to understand how exactly you view “the Tea Party”.

    3. Hollyasbury,

      You appear to believe that there are no core or common beliefs among people inthe a Tea Party movement. Polls show that is incorrect.

      Also, people can have common beliefs which they politically express without being a “unified entity”. In America I do not believe there are “unified entities” among powerful national groups.

      If ants or termites attain sentience, their hive mind would qualify.

      Skynet, also.

    4. Okay, I’ll accept that, but which parts of these polled common views amongst them makes them part of the problem. I gleaned fiscal sanity as their main common thread and I was just wondering which parts of the Constitution they despise.

      I can find a few points of common ground with almost anyone I meet and from those conversations grow and with further communication, areas where I believed we were miles apart seem to dwindle rapidly. I can even find a few points on which to agree with the Occupy Wall Street crowd, despite being ideologically a fiscal and less so a social conservative at heart. I just was curious how you view the Tea Party, because saying they despise parts of the Constitution begged for a little more clarity.

    5. Hollyasbury,

      The tea part movement is MIA in most of the struggles concerning the remnants of the Constitution, except for those few shreds they like (e.g., guns, mostly on a misreading). And they’re fighting those parts of the Constitution they despise (e.g. Post-Civil War amendments, esp #14).

      The massive decay of our civil rights by the government is one of the great events of our generation — not just warrentless surveilance, but execution of citizens without due process. Plus the assault on voting rights, one of the fundamental rights.

      The TP folks are not to be found at the front in the assaults ontheConstitution. Perhaps they are too busy with their cosplay.

      This was all quite obvious three years ago, in September 2010. I am astonished you even raise the question now. Perhaps Fox does not cover these things?

      “Obama scores again against the Constitution. The Tea Party is right about the battle, but AWOL.”, 28 SEPTEMBER 2010

      http://fabiusmaximus.com/2010/09/28/21899/

  3. Thanks for your answer, filled with condescension and stereotyping me as it was (at least that’s how I took it with the FOX News jab). As the person who was banned from commenting on the American Thinker blog during the last GOP primary season for posting numerous criticisms of Sarah Palin, I’m amused. I tend to write rambling posts on my totally amateur effort blog. Here’s one, http://libertybellediaries.com/2013/02/07/who-is-a-terrorist/ , from February on the drone strike killing, 16 year old, American citizen, Abdulrahman al Awlaki. The AWOL Tea Party fits in with the AWOL GOP, AWOL DNC and most of the American public – not as if the Tea party is somehow individually culpable for the lack of concern about civil rights or the issues you mentioned. That seems to be the shoe that fits many.

    1. hollyasbury,

      “The AWOL Tea Party fits in with the AWOL GOP, AWOL DNC and most of the American public”

      Yes, that is exactly what I’ve been saying since the Tea Party was born. Their loudly proclaimed love for — willingness to fight for — the Constitution is false. Cosplay. In fact they are just regular Americans, indifferent to the decay of the Republic.

      I don’t understand how you misinterpret what I’ve said about this. I’ve said it in so many ways for so long.

      What I also find odd is that you say this:

      “not as if the Tea party is somehow individually culpable for the lack of concern about civil rights or the issues you mentioned.”

      I have said nothing even remotely implying that they are “culpable” (definition: deserving blame for”) these phenomena, let alone “individually culpable”. That seems to me quite a daft acqusation. What’s you basis for it?

      Re: Fox News

      It’s a commonplace observation by now that Tea Party supporters adopt a pretense of non-partisanship. Polls definitively prove this to be false.

      False claims not to rely on Fox News are also a standard part of this act. While this behavior cannot be reliably attributed to any individual, experience (mine, many others) shows that it is a very common characteristic of Tea Party defenders.

      Having gone through this scores of times, I find it the way to bet.

    2. “Culpable” was a poor choice.

      Your comment stating they “despise” some constitutional principles is where I lost you, because while they may not live up to how they bill themselves, I never perceived that they despise some constitutional principles.

      I liked some things some Tea Party candidates spoke about initially, but I haven’t seen anything consistent about where they fall on many Constitutional issues. Most seem to be more of the same politics.

      The big name ones seems more concerned with gaining enough traction to run in 2016 than in actually tackling important issues. So far, the Tea Party looks to be a convenient venue to bypass the GOP seniority system for Presidential consideration more than a real catalyst to tackle the problems.

      My views target many political figures, across the political spectrum, hence I haven’t found a political tent to crawl into in a long, long time. Very few people even murmured a protest about the establishment of the Dept. of Homeland Security, drone strikes, the myriad impositions on individual liberty since 9/11, the escalating militarization of our police, and many other attacks on our freedom all in the name of keeping us safe. I’m as likely to read the English edition of Pravda, as I am to watch Fox news, and scarily many times in the past few years Pravda seems to be more believable. Thanks for your explanations.

    3. Hollyasbury,

      I don’t see much correspondence between what the Tea Party movement people believe and your statements about them, although there is a closer match between your beliefs about them and what they say about themselves. I am not surprised.

      By now there is a large body of research on this subject, plus the actions of the TP organizations themselves. So there is no need to guess.

      I cite some of this in posts about the TP:
      http://fabiusmaximus.com/tag/tea-party-movement/

    4. Hollyasbury,

      “Your comment stating they “despise” some constitutional principles is where I lost you, because while they may not live up to how they bill themselves, I never perceived that they despise some constitutional principles.”

      14th Ammendment, and the civil rights laws implementing it. This is unmistakable. The elephant in the room.

  4. During the W Bush Administration I blogged and once parodied the Pledge:

    The Pledge of Obedience

    I pledge obedience to the lies
    of the President of the United States
    and to the corporations
    for which it stands
    one nation
    under greed
    with Fear
    and propaganda
    for all

    I now see that this has been completely institutionalized in our political system. These are truely Orwellian times.

  5. You could do far worse than to echo the words of Lincoln at the end of his Second Inaugural: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

    Perhaps the specific reference to the Civil War might be eliminated: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

    When it comes to words and the true meaning of America, Lincoln is hard to beat.

    1. Wjastore,

      Great Lincoln quote! That is a vision of government.

      Even the last sentence is appropriate. We do care for widows and orphans, even those of non-vets. Unlike in the 19th century, when society let them suffer.

  6. “We need a new oath, appropriate for a two century old nation entering the 21st century. One taken by adults, perhaps at their coming of age to mark assumption of citizenship.”

    Is it possible to expand on this notion in some fashion so that perhaps citizenship and its benefits and obligations are voluntary? It would put an end to the argument that “taxation is theft”. And perhaps give everyone a reason to participate in solutions rather than arguing against all government.

    It seems reasonable to me that all citizens should be able to pass the same tests that immigrants have to pass to become citizens.

    Just curious what problems and possible benefits, such an approach would create.

    1. Doug,

      That is out of the box thinking!

      I do not understand how paying taxes could be voluntary. Taxes pay for services enjoyed by all- police, firemen, defense, basic health care.

      In Heinlein’s Starship Troopers citizenship is voluntary. Non-citizens do not vote, serve on juries, or get drafted. But they pay taxes.

    2. Perhaps rather than taxes, non-citizens would pay a fee for these services. Perhaps even at a higher rate. I think we could exempt visitors on visas, and immigrants who elect to pay taxes.

      Not sure how to build the system to collect the fees, but we do need to get ourselves out of the box. Things usually look different from the outside.
      I recall a few years ago somewhere in Tennessee that some one did not pay their fire protection fee and the fire department showed up and watched the house burn to the ground, but kept the fire from spreading to the home of a neighbor who had paid the fee.

      http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/06/tennessee-firefighters-watch-home-burn/?_r=0

  7. What about no oath at all?

    Or

    “I pledge to view the actions of my Country with skepticism, but not cynicism,
    To act at all times in accordance with the dictates of the facts,
    To discard blind belief,
    To Love, and to reject hatred”

    1. Merocaine,

      It need not be an oath, but something briefly stating the individuals’s responsibility to the a State is useful (people tend to already be clear about the State’s responsibility to them).

      I do not believe your version provides the basis for a strong cohesive union. It is more suitable for a libertarian utopia. Like Somalia.

  8. I would have thought it is more an instruction follow the facts to there logical conclusion, however uncomfortable that may be for entrenched modes of thought.
    I’m not sure how that equates with Somalia.

    The State only exists because of individuals, take them away and there is no state. To my mind it is better that an oath would be better given by the state to its citizens, and not the other way around.

    If people were clear about the states responsibility to them then there wouldn’t be politics or any disagreements about policy, all would be agreement. This achieved somewhat in Totalitarian States, since to disagree is foolish to the individuals. Since that isn’t the case in a Democratic State one must then take the opinion that there are wide disagreements about state responsibility.

    Since there is already one bad oath, why reinvent the wheel and dream up another bad oath.

    Please point out the flaw in my reasoning.

    1. Merocaine,

      Wow.

      Yes, Somalia is your ideal State. Fits your description perfectly. That’s all that need be said.

      This Libertarian nonsense has been dissected a zillion times; that it still lives shows that the missing link today is in our heads.

      If, as is almost certainly true — as in all discussions with libertarians — you disagree. Well, ok. The rest of us will soldier on while libertarians natter about individuals, Ayn Rand, and construct dream castles in the sky.

      Time has long past to ride on that merry-go-round again.

  9. There seems to be two Fabius Maximus characters, one is reasoned, articulate and capable of engaging in a conversation of ideas, his posts and comments are though provoking.

    The other guy…see the above comment.

    I’ve never read Ann Rand, I’m not a libertarian.

    And I don’t believe in oaths to States, can your limited conception of reality handle that?

    Is that so far out of left field for you to dig? Do you even realize most of the rest of the west gets by

    without swearing allegiance to the State, and guess what? they are not libertarians.

    Put the other guy back on!

    1. Merocaine,
      Perhaps I am delusional, but isn’t the constitution the oath of the state to its citizens – especially the bill of rights. One could argue that the state is violating its oath, but that is a different issue.

    2. Merocaine,

      I am unclear why you are not following the discussion, but will attempt to explain.

      (1) “And I don’t believe in oaths to States, can your limited conception of reality handle that?”

      It’s been repeatedly stated that an oath might be of use, but there might be other solutions to the problem. For instance I gave this reply to you, which seems quite clear:

      “It need not be an oath, but something briefly stating the individuals’s responsibility to the a State is useful (people tend to already be clear about the State’s responsibility to them).”

      (2) “Do you even realize most of the rest of the west gets by without swearing allegiance to the State”

      That’s too broadly stated. Almost every (perhaps every) nation has their officials and officers swear oaths of some sort. In the US we are all, in a sense, representatives of the State — hence the logical swearing of oaths.

      As for the rest of the world, the US is large, has extremely high levels of immigration, AND a polity with no ethnic or religious basis. That’s a unique combination, and makes it difficult to build social cohesion. Oaths might be useful for America. It’s an question of operational utility.

      (3) You ignore my clearly stated disagreement with your comments. It’s not about oaths.

      “The State only exists because of individuals, take them away and there is no state. To my mind it is better that an oath would be better given by the state to its citizens, and not the other way around.”

      First, that’s a weird perspective. Yes, States are composed of individuals. More important is that without States (i.e., some large-scale political order) there are no individuals in the sense we treasure. No property, no freedom. Just “lives that are nasty, brutish, and short.”

      Americans are as a rule quite clear about the obligations of the State to them — as in “I know my rights”. But we have become less clear on our obligations to the State. Without that cohesion breaks down. The examples I’ve cited of Argentina and Somalia seem to mean nothing to you, which suggests a possible source of your misunderstanding.

      (4) “If people were clear about the states responsibility to them then there wouldn’t be politics or any disagreements about policy, all would be agreement.”

      That’s a anoying reply, rebuttal by absurd exaggeration. There is complete agreement among people (family, community, nation only in Heaven. Nor is there politics in Heaven. But a functioning State requires a robust understanding of the reciprical responsibilities of the State to individuals and vice versa. Your comments are evidence of this is breaking down in America.

      Clearer than this I cannot make it.

  10. Now that’s a reply.
    I thought the Constitution was to do with how the state is organized.
    The Bill of Rights is exactly what you say it is. Now can someone tell me why we have to Swear an oath to the state? Isn’t that redundant because of the civil and federal laws we live by? I would argue that it is.
    One could argue that the State is in violation of its duties, but that is a different argument.

    1. Merocaine,

      This is an interesting aspect of debates these days, where people start off with amnesia about centuries of history.

      Libertarians are ignorant about western philosophy starting with Hobbs, starting off with bizarre ideas about the nature of individuals and society that Hobbs and Enlightenment philosophers would have thought primitive.

      Climate doomsters ignore climate science progress since discovery of the greenhouse effect in 1824. Talk to them about other factors — negative feedback cycles (e.g. Clouds), cycles (e.g. Solar, ENSO), other anthropogenic effects (e.g., aerosols cooling the atmosphere and warming ice when deposited) — and they scream “denier” and cover their ears.

      Then there are the Tea Party believers with their ignorance of history after Reconstruction — such as the state-sanctioned terrorism enforcing apartheid and voter suppression in the South (and to a lesser extent elsewhere).

      Struggles with these people clog comment threads, burning the oxygen that would otherwise go to useful discussions. Fruitlessly, since these believers never change their delusions by so much as a jot.

      Everybody running threads must grapple with this problem. Many are just turning off comments. Others burn hours attempting to reason with them. Others use strong moderation (x’ing these people out as noise). For examples see:
      http://fabiusmaximus.com/2013/01/13/internet-comments-47928/

      I have tried the first two, and use the third only in extreme cases.

      My current policy is to just mark out these people and move on, engaging instead with people in the real world. Like all solutions to intractable problems, this is an inadequate make-shift expedient.

    2. The trick is not to mark groups’ opinions as “not worth talking to”, because finding solutions to our country’s problems will require pulling along as many people and they come with widely divergent views. Every team is built by finding some common ground, so it’s an inclusive process and that’s how to begin uniting America.

      Our problems are much deeper than whether we have a pledge of allegiance. We’ve got so many people so keen to stereotype based on perceived political groupings, that we’ve lost touch at looking at all Americans as individuals with lots of potential strengths, ideas, skills sets, etc. that might be useful.

      I won’t be posting here again, so you can put me into whatever group you choose – just place me as far away from your elitist snobbery as possible. I haven’t heard one solution yet here, just who you think shouldn’t be listened to based on your stereotyping. How on earth you think you can fix what’s wrong when you start off writing off entire large segments of America is beyond ridiculous – “Oh you stupid person, you don’t understand the Constitution, so your comment doesn’t count!”, “Oh you must be a Tea Party member, because you asked why this thread says they despise constitutional principles or you’re dreaded Fox viewer or something – you’re just not smart enough to post here among the enlightened few!”

      The Constitution was written with a mechanism for change – to add or repeal amendments – suggesting such a change does not make one despise the Constitution – it’s the exact mechanism that follows constitutional principles. The founders also, in their infinite wisdom, made it a steep hurdle to make such changes – thankfully. And no, I never supported repealing the 14th Amendment, I never joined a Tea Party, I watch Fox news, MSNBC and CNN, because I like to compare coverage, mostly I read as many newspapers online as I can, I oppose capital punishment and drone strikes ( except maybe in a declared war and under tight controls), so I am not sure what that makes me. Maybe when you’ve decided amongst your chosen few, you can let us ordinary Americans know and show us the way. I spent most of my life as a homemaker – I talk to just about everyone and I try to learn as much about what they think, what they’ve done, so I know who they are. I don’t discount anyone.

    3. libertybelle,

      “because finding solutions to our country’s problems will require pulling along as many people and they come with widely divergent views. Every team is built by finding some common ground, so it’s an inclusive process and that’s how to begin uniting America”

      In fact that is historically false, in addition to being utopian nonsense.

      Societies are reformed by finding people interested in reforms of that kind, motivating them to action — sharply defining and marginalizing those opposed — and gaining passive acceptance of the majority. The American Revolution won with perhaps 1/3 of the population as loyalists in 1776. An even smaller minority favored some form of abolitionism in 1860.

      More broadly, social change occurs largely as generational change. Anyone who has debated the average Tea Party enthusiast quickly recognizes its futility. These are to a large extent angry old white people. They believe that a black President is inherently illegitimate, that Freedom of Religion means the US should be a Christian Nation. Decades of indoctrination have given them deeply held but largely false knowledge of history and economics. They are now at their peak of influence: peak income, and as they retire, peak time. Only age will remove them from the national stage.

      Praying for God to change their views is the method most likely to work; I leave it to you to determine the odds of success.

    4. libertybelle,

      (1) “I haven’t heard one solution yet here”

      In the For More Information section there are links to the posts discussing reforms. My guess is that you have not read any of them.

      (2) I have given very specific answers to your comments. You focus more on their tone than their substance. More on mention of the obvious similarities of your comments to the views on Fox News than the nature of the objections raised.

      (3) It’s unclear to me why you find schoolyard name-calling an effective rebuttal. My guess is that name-calling is your response when you have nothing substantive to say. Well, “sticks and stones may …”

    5. Merocaine and Fabius

      I think it is fair to ask whether we need an oath. In fact I think that was hinted at by Fabius in the body of this post.
      “As the United States evolved in the Gilded Age, with rising inequality at home and imperial aspirations abroad, our rulers devised an oath suitable for peasants. This was written by Francis Bellamy (socialist and Baptist minister) in 1892, formally adopted by Congress in 1942, and revised four times since then. The Founders are appalled by this.”

      If our founders saw no need for the citizens to swear an oath of allegiance, what has changed in 225 years to make such an oath appropriate today?

      If there is reason for such an oath, is it symbolic or does it or should it carry more weight than today’s pledge, more like a contract?

      What would the expected benefits be? And to whom would they accrue?

    6. doug p,

      “I think it is fair to ask whether we need an oath.”

      That’s a great question, and the answer should logically precede design.

      The original Pledge came about in part because of concern about the understanding of American principles held by Americans — especially immigrants. That’s still a legitimate issue, and perhaps even more so than in 1884. We have sustained and high levels of immigration. Let’s look at the latter, first.

      (1) Immigrants, from the Migration Policy Institute:

      1. Data on the nativity of the US population were first collected in the 1850 decennial census. That year, there were 2.2 million foreign born in the United States, almost 10% of the total population.
      2. Immigrants peaked at nearly 15 percent in 1890 mainly due to European immigration.
      3. According to the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey (ACS), the US immigrant population stood at almost 40 million (13%) of the total US population of 309.3 million.
      4. Almost 2/3 are from Mexico, Central, America, and East Asia.

      (2) Citizenship

      More serious, the long history of stability in America has eroded away our knowledge of how America works. Many citizens consider a functioning polity like clean water — our just due, reward of a generous deity. The Sovereign Citizens, Libertarians, and the Indifferent Majority consider individuals as stand-alone units — with States a useful tool, like an iPad. Everybody is clear what the State owes them; the other side of the coin is less well understood.

      The Enlightenment insight creating modern States — that the lone individual’s life was nasty, brutish, and short — is alien. Instead their ideas of the individual come from fantasies — silly fiction by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prarie) and Ayn Rand, The Wilderness Family films, etc. In fact we are strong and prosperous only to the extent that we stand together. Somalia is the alternative on the other extreme. Many societies have suffered loss of domestic cohesion, and the slide to ruin is swift. Europeans said “Rich as an Argentinian in 1920; nobody says that today.

      So a statement understandable by all of the individual’s obligations to the State might prove useful.

      More broadly, many societies have coming of age ceremonies in which the individual takes on responsibilities of an adult. Something like that might prove useful to us. Ceremonies have their own power. Symbols have real effects on the mind. Thinking that people are rational, purely materialist beings, is a useful simplification for an economist, but madness for a political scientist.

    7. doug,

      “If our founders saw no need for the citizens to swear an oath of allegiance, what has changed in 225 years to make such an oath appropriate today?”

      That they did not see the need for an oath means little. It was a miracle that they erected the skeleton of our State. They left filling in the details to future generations. We are not limited to their deeds. They started the Construction of America, they did not finish it. There is no finish, except at its fall.

      I said the specifics of the Pledge were antithetical to the Founders’ design, not the idea of a pledge.

    8. “Thinking that people are rational, purely materialist beings, is a useful simplification for an economist, but madness for a political scientist.”

      I think Greenspan has now admitted that the notion that people are rational does not work well for economists either.

    9. Doug,

      I have not paid attention to Greenspan since he finished as Fed Chairman. What little I’ve seen suggests that he is still an Objectivist (Ayn Rand). I wonder how much of that belief contributed to his poor record of economic forecasting (both as a private economist and at the Fed), and more importantly to his disastrous reign at the Fed.

      By disasterous, I mean for America (most Americans, and the nation). The 1% and the financial sector profited greatly during his years.

    10. Greenspan is hawking his new book, so he is all over the talk shows, Bloomberg, cnbc, etc. He will probably even visit Bill Maher. Yes I think that belief which he held while at Fed, at least partly explains his failure to see the train coming. Here is a recent piece of his from Daily Reckoning
      http://dailyreckoning.com/the-forecasting-imperative/
      Essentially he admits he knows nothing. But I suspect that is true of all forecasters.

    11. Doug,

      “But I suspect that is true of all forecasters.”

      That is a common belief. It is easy to test. Look at one of the survey of economists’ forecasters: the Blue Chip survey, the Wall Street survey, or the Fed’s Survey of Professional Forecasters. Write your forecasts, then compare outcomes for the following year.

      I’ll bet their forecasts are far better than yours.

      You might as well say that NFL players have no exceptional skill.

    12. Fabius,

      I make no claims to be a better forecaster than anyone else, nor would I claim to be more clairvoyant than any of those groups. I would not claim to even be as good at it as the average.

      Those folks who have been writing the gloom and doom newsletters since the 70’s were finally correct in 2007-8. But most years they were way off the mark. My guess is that over time an individual’s forecasting performance is probably not as accurate as the consensus or median forecasts.
      I do feel that the forecasts themselves become part of the inputs into the system they forecast. Much like the observer in a psychology experiment becomes an influence on the behavior of those observed.
      In that way it may be that the “consensus” forecast becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

      The “animal spirits” of the participants can and occasionally do lead the herd in a different direction and this can take place quite suddenly. I can guess that there can be many reasons for these sudden departures from expected behavior, but fear and greed are probably involved.

    13. doup,

      “I make no claims to be a better forecaster than anyone else, nor would I claim to be more clairvoyant than any of those groups”
      That’s missing the point. The pros’ forecasts are better than chance, and better than non-pros. That disproves your assertion that they “know nothing”.

      “Those folks who have been writing the gloom and doom newsletters since the 70′s were finally correct in 2007-8.”
      I am talking about the professional economists making forecasts, not hucksters.

    14. Fabius,

      I agree “they know nothing” is not accurate. But they do not know what will happen. They estimate what will happen based on facts and a model. The median value of all those estimates is often reasonably close to the actual experience. But is that partly, or maybe largely because so many people act based on those estimates, that they become a self fulfilling prophecy?

      Does having been annointed as an expert give you some sort of power over the future?

      As a group, perhaps?

      I suspect that this conventional wisdom thing actually works because it is accepted by the population as a whole.
      Thus influencing conventional wisdom is a valuable undertaking.
      Maybe the reason for this blog?

  11. “They started the Construction of America, they did not finish it.”

    This notion which I agree with completely seems to be a foreign concept to “Constitutionalists”. I’m not even sure that most of the electorate believes this. Perhaps if this was better understood we would be better equipped to not only prevent its fall but to create a better America than has ever existed.

    I think it is less important what the founders envisioned than what today’s citizens envision and will work to create.

    1. Doug,

      I agree on all points.

      Even the “originalists” on the Supreme Court do not hesitate to make new rules to achieve their desired ends. They use “originalism” as a cloak when it suits them. Now that they’re gaining strength they need the cloak less often. My guess (emphasis on guess) is that we will see increasingly bold actions by the Court in coming years, as they play a big role in building the New America.

  12. “It’s been repeatedly stated that an oath might be of use”

    Why an oath might NOT be of use:

    1. There are no reasonable means to enforce the breaking of an oath. Higher taxation? Deportation? Deportation is the analogue of an official losing their job for breaking their oath as applied to the citezenry. I vote imprisonment.

    2. There are few ways to tell if a citizen’s oath has been broken or was never sincere. When they are, they are covered by criminal sanctions.

    In ordinary life circumstances, how would anyone know that I was lying when I took the:

    “The Pledge of Obedience

    I pledge obedience to the lies
    of the President of the United States
    and to the corporations
    for which it stands
    one nation
    under greed
    with Fear
    and propaganda
    for all”
    ?

    The difficulty is that you can only tell that I was insincere when I took this oath after my behavior told you so, which I will, for fear of disproportionate taxation or possibly deportation or even imprisonment, be sure to hide from others.

    3. People are oftentimes incapable of following through on promises. Many people, otherwise unobjectionable, are incapable of following this oath:

    “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

    If you think that you are capable of doing so either you’re either delusional about the contingent nature of identity, belief, and people’s ableness to act accordingly; or – congratulations – you are a saint and capable of doing so yourself. Then you must only refine your ideals since following them out is a matter of course.

    The above applies to the taking of oaths by adults since we both seem to agree that imposing them on children is futile and possibly abhorrent.

    “It need not be an oath, but something briefly stating the individuals’s responsibility to the a State is useful (people tend to already be clear about the State’s responsibility to them).”

    This responsibility is detailed and enforced by the exhaustive list of possible criminal infractions and sanctions. Further measures amount to tinkering with people’s belief systems so that they are compelled to act in accordance with how one believes they ought to act. Black magic, like the conservative’s campaign beginning in 1963 that you told me about. In this instance, however, it is presumably for the collective good.

    I like the FM site; I learn a lot from it. But many of the notions in this post and replies to comments seem completely wrong-headed to me. An attempt to institute Boyd’s idea of a national goal – through what means exactly? It’s not merely “a question of operational utility”. The carrot is not evident to all, and the stick is nonexistent or already exists through criminal proceedings.

    Furthermore, the equating of not wishing to have to take an oath in order to exist in a country, in which one was quite possibly born in and may not have the resources to relocate from, to a belief in a utopian heaven, or not grasping the situation in Somalia or being a Libertarian are strawmans.

    It seems like FM wants everyone to have a shared sense of responsibility. An admirable sentiment at the level of basic human decency, and one that I share. But a national oath or general agreement on one’s responsibilities to the nation seems to me, well, nationalistic.

    1. derek5,

      I don’t believe anyone here is going as far as you believe, and many aspects of your comment are quite mistaken.

      (1) “There are no reasonable means to enforce the breaking of an oath. Higher taxation? Deportation? Deportation is the analogue of an official losing their job for breaking their oath as applied to the citezenry. I vote imprisonment. There are few ways to tell if a citizen’s oath has been broken or was never sincere. When they are, they are covered by criminal sanctions.”

      Nobody if proposing any such thing. We are talking about revising the Pledge. There are no penalties for breaking the Pledge. Even in the mad McCarthy days they did not go that far. We don’t punish violating an oath of office or oath taken on a bible before court testimony — but rather for violating specific laws. In all of these the oath is an explanation to the person taking it of the responsibilities assumed.

      (2) “This responsibility is detailed and enforced by the exhaustive list of possible criminal infractions and sanctions.”

      No. Not remotely true. The obligations of a citizen go beyond duties for where there are criminal penalties for failure. Voting, for one.

      (3) “Furthermore, the equating of not wishing to have to take an oath in order to exist in a country”
      Perhaps you are unfamilar with the process of naturalization?

      (4) “in which one was quite possibly born in”
      As with Merocaine, this is rebuttal by exaggeration to the point of insanity. Nobody here has suggested or implied such a thing. Most of the discussion concerns oaths as symbolic tools.

      (5) “or not grasping the situation in Somalia or being a Libertarian are strawman”
      Yes, your comment is a strawman. The point about Argentina and Somalia does not concern oaths, but societies in which social cohesion is lost. It’s a real concern for nations like ours. Oaths might or might not be a useful tool to address it.

  13. I am not sure how it all might go, but it seems like it should begin something like this:

    I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America
    And to the Republic it resolves to create
    One nation, of, by, and for the people
    With liberty and justice for all.

  14. I believe you misrepresented my comments, I’ll leave it at that.
    I’ve enjoyed posting here, and I do love the site, but the tenor of the replies to some of the comments here have been distasteful and unwarranted.
    I’m sure I’ll still read Fabiusmaximus, but my commenting days are over.

    1. Merocain,

      “I believe you misrepresented my comments, I’ll leave it at that.”
      Since I reply to exact quotes, that is difficult to understand.

      “the tenor of the replies to some of the comments here have been distasteful and unwarranted.”
      Yep, criticism is like that. I read the letters in Science and Nature and wonder how scientists avoid duels. But most people are not used to that level of analysis on their remarks. In casual discussions — like those on most websites — a friendlier tone is mandatory — excerpt for outsiders bringing in foreign views, who are subjected to swarming attacks (often quite personal). That’s the other side of the comity.

      “my commenting days are over.”

      Perhaps that’s for the best. Almost all the 30,100 comments on the FM website are criticism of my posts, many of which are quite hostile (and of course there is the hate mail). A more logical person than I would join you and stop commenting. I continue, however, in the probably vain hope that there is some utility to this.

    2. Merocain,

      A follow-up about the tens of thousands of comments (and thousands of emails) critiquing my posts. These people are valuable contributors to the FM website, and it would look far different without them. They’ve sharpened by views, and forced me to upgrade my analytical skills and level of supporting evidence provided.

      The sword does not enjoy the process of heating, hammering, and quenching.

      Let’s see if we can continue this endeavor, and what it will look in six more years (should it last that long).

  15. FM:”Nobody if proposing any such thing. ”

    dougp’s comment (#6):”Perhaps rather than taxes, non-citizens would pay a fee for these services…I recall a few years ago somewhere in Tennessee that some one did not pay their fire protection fee and the fire department showed up and watched the house burn to the ground, but kept the fire from spreading to the home of a neighbor who had paid the fee.”

    Can you see why giving special benefits to ‘real’ citizens could be interpreted that way?

    Me:“Furthermore, the equating of not wishing to have to take an oath in order to exist in a country”
    FM:”Perhaps you are unfamilar with the process of naturalization?”

    First, I should have written “peacefully exist” Second, I was/am arguing against the idea that there should be special benefits for those who take an oath; the negative of which is denial of service, etc. to those who don’t.

    I appreciate that you engage in and are capable of accepting criticism. Even so, I apologize if I came across harshly. I have recommended this site to many people who I thought it would interest, so when I saw this post that seems to me foolish I decided to present my argument. You said it was a strawman because no one was suggesting what I was arguing against. You did not address the strawmen in your replies equating the position of no oath requirement with a naive belief in heavenly utopia or being a Libertarian. You also did not address the point that people are usually unable to live up to Lincoln’s inspiring words.

    If nothing will be done to people for not taking an oath, or pledge or whatever you choose to call it, and people often can’t live up to such ideals anyway, what’s the point? That’s why this idea of yours seems foolish to me.

    1. Derek5,

      That is a clever and different perspective on these things. It is a cousin of Heinlein’s future society in Starship Troopers.

      Different levels of belonging in society, but not in the usual sense of being based on ancestors or wealth — but obligations assumed. Not something I have taken seriously, but now that you mention it — it looks well worth considering.

      Rather than try and get everyone to assume the burden of citizenship, let people assume the burdens they choose.

      There would, of course have to be benefits proportionate to the burden. Lower taxes, perhaps? Preferential access to some good jobs?

      I cannot imagine how this might work — but neither could Heinlein — except as an appeal to idealism. But it is an intriguing idea — the sort of out of the box thinking we need.

      Thanks for raising this!

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