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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Faction, false patriot endanger domestic, international liberty

Washington’s farewell in current affairs, questions of leadership and partisanship

“Father of country,” George Washington was American general and commander in chief of the colonial armies in the American Revolution (1775–83) before becoming the first president of the United States (April 30, 1789–March 3, 1797, Federalist Party, Vice President John Adams who succeeded him with Thomas Jefferson as his vice president). Washington was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia (1732) and died in Mount Vernon, Virginia (1799).

Editing, brief comment by Carolyn Bennett

Particularly relevant to current affairs, Washington calls out false patriots and private profit masquerading as public good. In his 1796 Farewell Address, George Washington warns “against the mischief” of “favorites” and factions in foreign and domestic “intrigue” and “against the impostures (assumed character, the fraud) of pretended patriotism

Indispensability of government

George Washington's Farewell
“… For the efficient management of your common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable.

“With powers properly distributed and adjusted, liberty itself will find in such a government its surest guardian. Where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, it is, indeed, little else than a name.”

Domestic, international affairs: Factions' breach of law tramples liberty

U.S. President's Farewell
“All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of the fundamental principle [of liberty].”

These obstructionists “serve to organize faction; to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation [the People], the will of a party — often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; … [making]

[t]he public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.

U.S. President James Madison
Tyranny: faction, partisan political party, corporate cabal over common good

“The … domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension — which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities — is itself a frightful despotism;” and at length, “leads to a more formal and permanent despotism.”

The resulting “disorders and miseries… gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual. And sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation — on the ruins of public liberty.”

Fast forward 200 years
Middle East Resources
United States post 9/11 years of irrationality, endless wars

“The nation, prompted by ill will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy.

“The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject. At other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. Often the peace — sometimes perhaps the liberty of nations — has [become] the victim.”

U.S. Foreign relations paradigm and practice
Major financial contributor to
U.S. political party campaigns
Siding with and leading aggressors, despots against demonstrators for justice, liberty, human rights

A nation’s passionate attachment for another nation produces a variety of evils, Washington said.

“Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.

It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation [that makes] the concessions: by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill will, and, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld, a disposition to retaliate.

“It gives to the ambitious, corrupted or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation) the facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country. Without odium, sometimes even with popularity,” to ornament deception, cover up “the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption or infatuation” with “the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable defense for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good.”

“To the truly enlightened and independent patriot,” such attachments “in avenues to foreign influence are particularly alarming.”

“…How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils?”

Such an attachment of a small or weak nation toward a great and powerful nation dooms the weak to be a satellite to the powerful. “Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another causes those whom they provoke to see danger only on one side and to veil, even to second the arts of influence on the other.”

ore than 200 years later, what hits home in George Washington’s farewell speech is this. Islanding or isolation is still out of the question. We must engage as a nation among nations; we must also care honestly for our own people.

Washington seems to be saying to our era of irrational post 9/11 pretexts and paranoia, of gilded “patriotic” play of favorites and pseudo-favorites with Saudi Arabian despots and Israeli aggressors, capriciously marking “enemies” (reverberating against peoples across the Middle Eastern region and domestically), endless hostility and retaliatory warfare and domestic neglect — these are not emblematic of “real patriotism.” They are in fact its antithesis: traitorous to the common good everywhere.  

Reinterpreting Washington, the real patriot resists “intrigues of favorite,” dangerous dichotomies: friend or foe, enemy or ally, the Forty-third’s “Axis of Evil,” financing or demonizing those “for us or against us.”

Sources and notes

George Washington: Farewell Address, published September 19, 1796 in Philadelphia’s American Daily Advertiser, http://www.greatamericandocuments.com/speeches/washington-farewell.html.

Kucinich’s Facebook quote today prompted my search for the first U.S. president. As a progressive, I believe we should take good ideas of the past and build on them (do not stop at Washington or Jefferson, whoever seemed on the right track), ever pushing ourselves, our society in the largest sense constructively forward.

Dennis Kucinich:

“Political party — Does the ‘partisan spirit’ today serve the interests of the American people?
“In his Farewell Address delivered September 19, 1796, George Washington warned repeatedly against ‘the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit’ of political parties:

‘They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put in the place of the delegated will of the Nation, the will of a party; ...

‘[t]hey are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning ambitious and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the Power of the People and to usurp, for themselves, the reins of Government….’

“Does partisanship today,” Kucinich asks, “‘subvert the power of the people’ putting our nation at risk?” 
I think George Washington would have answered yes to Dennis Kucinich’s question, and so do I.


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