“I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of these united states of America, and to their confederation, guided by natural law, protecting the life, liberty, and property of all.” -the Pledge of Allegiance, as it ought to be
In 1892 Francis Bellamy, an avowed socialist, wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. Recitation of his Pledge was originally accompanied by the distinctive “Bellamy salute,” an upward thrust of the arm in the direction of the American flag. Over the years, the Pledge underwent various mutations. Clauses were added and the salute was eliminated, courtesy of Nazi imitation. Congress approved its current form in 1954. The phrase “Under God” was the final addition, courtesy of the Cold War against atheistic communism.
Modern progressives lobby for the extraction of the words “Under God.” Most conservatives insist that this phrase is the lynchpin of the Pledge. Both fail to understand that the entire Pledge is fatally flawed.
I refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, my conscience won’t allow it. But rather than standing there looking like a complete tool while others belch it out, I offer my own pledge:
I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of these united states of America, and to their confederation, guided by natural law, protecting the life, liberty, and property of all.
I hope that my revised version reveals the incipient evil in the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I pledge allegiance to the Constitution . . .”
Flags are necessary symbols, but that’s all they are . . . symbols. And the problem with a symbol is that it can take on multiple meanings.
For example, some consider the Confederate flag a statement of racism; others see it as a visual embodiment of strict constitutionalism. Because both readings contain a kernel of the truth about the Confederacy, it is natural to wonder which a redneck is pushing when the stars-and-bars festoon the hood of his monster truck.
When you pledge your allegiance to “the Flag of the United States of America” what exactly are you pledging your love and loyalty to? Like the Confederate flag, the American flag is a nebulous thing. Any demagogue can warp the flag after his own image, so long as his demagoguery is couched in patriotic rhetoric. Does the flag provide an objective standard by which we can judge our leaders’ actions and policies? Consider the fact that both Republicans and Democrats wear flag pins on their lapels whenever appearing in public. The flag is a wondrous piece of emotional propaganda by which both parties stamp the imprimatur of patriotism on their every misdeed.
The Constitution, on the other hand, is an objective standard. Sure, it is imperfect. Sure, there will always be debate over the meanings of particular clauses. But despite these flaws, the Constitution serves as a yardstick that government policies must be measured against. It is easy for a demagogue to usurp the symbolism of a flag. It is harder to twist the words of the Constitution. Furthermore, the Constitution provides a touchstone by which citizens may scrutinize their government. Can a citizen judge the legitimacy of government policy against the flag?
In the Bellamy Pledge, the flag represents empty and irrational patriotism. The Constitution offers a rational and objective basis for social order.
(This is not to say that it is wrong to display an American flag. I am only suggesting that the flag is not a worthy object of the Pledge of Allegiance.)
“. . . of these united states of America, and to their confederation . . .”
Contrary to 150 years of propaganda, the United States was never intended to be a nation. True, the Constitution represents a unifying bond, but it did not negate state sovereignty. Here’s a simple analogy using a modern parallel:
the states : these united states :: the United States : the United Nations
Hence, in my revised pledge “united states” is not capitalized, so as to emphasize the primacy of state sovereignty. The use of the article “these” and not “the” emphasizes that the pluralism of the states underpins their union.
By pledging allegiance to the confederation of states, I deliberately reject American nationalism. I am not promising to uphold the American central government at the expense of state sovereignty. A confederation is, by nature, voluntary. Hence, a pledge to respect the confederation is a pledge to respect its voluntary character. Even were I to allow that confederation to dissolve, I would not be violating my pledge. Rather, I would be respecting the voluntary nature of the confederation until its very end.
Every person who intones Bellamy’s Pledge to the indivisible nation is promising to forcibly prevent other people -other free agents- from withdrawing from the nation. By taking the Pledge, a person places himself as a despot over his neighbors. No word in the Pledge is more illiberal than the phrase “indivisible.”
” . . . guided by natural law . . .”
Did I just omit the Pledge’s shout-out to God? Well yes, I did.
God is great. God is good. I believe this. But not all Americans identify with the Judeo-Christian tradition. In America there is a place for Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, etc. Requiring them to pledge their loyalty to the Judeo-Christian God hardly respects their religious liberty.
That being said, the American Constitutional order ought to have a rational, objective, and intelligible foundation. This requires some modicum of moral consensus. This common ground can be found in natural law. Natural law offers a set of moral principles that are knowable through reason and universal in application. People may not always agree on the content of natural law, but agreement on the existence of natural law is prerequisite to a public square and common language of debate in a plural society. As much as Christians might wish it to, Scripture alone does not accomplish these ends.
In order to reach theological common ground, C.S. Lewis wrote about “Mere Christianity.” America would be wise to ground public debate in “mere natural law.”
The Christian must not think that natural law detracts from the glory of God. Christians, after all, believe that the source of natural law is God’s eternal law. From the Christian perspective, natural law represents those moral principles that God made readily accessible to all men. He created our common ground. He gave people the faculty of reason, by which to discern the natural law.
Thomas Jefferson was correct, God “must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” Reason is God’s creation.
“. . . protecting the life, liberty, and property of all.”
For these are the only legitimate functions of government. There’s nothing terribly wrong with the original phrase “liberty and justice.” Again, it’s just not that specific.
I don’t demand that you, dear reader, adopt my modified Pledge of Allegiance. I do encourage you to question the political and philosophical ideas underpinning Bellamy’s Pledge. Never pledge your love or loyalty to deplorable ideals simply because it is the “patriotic” thing to do.
Do you refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not? How would you amend the Pledge?