What's Conservative About the Pledge?


"Very little," says Cato's Gene Healy. (Link via Johan Norberg.) For more pledge history, see Charles Paul Freund's column from last year.


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  1. Some religious groups (Jehovah’s Witnesses?)refuse to say the pledge because of the “graven images” thing. I’m not religious, but on this one, I believe they have a point.

  2. how many 5 year old kids know their rights and are willing to tell their new surrogate mother/father (teacher) that they refuse to say it?

    The pledge is a non-binding optional exercise…there is no contract made with the state or with God, and there are no enforceable clauses within it. That a 5-year old does not know his or her rights, or is unwilling to exercise them, does not mean that the right has been violated. The child is coerced only by its own ignorance and that of its parents.

  3. We’re overlooking a more fun issue: How many kids actually know the words to the pledge?

    On my first day of first grade (for some reason my school didn’t have kindergarteners do the pledge) the principal got on the loudspeaker (and it was hardly crystal clear) and told everybody in all the classrooms to stand and put their right hands over their hearts, face the flag, and then repeat along.

    So there’s a room full of us trying to figure out which hand is right vs. left, where the heart is exactly (belly? center of chest? just below the neck?), and where the flag is. And then we all just mumble along. Nobody ever told us the right words, so we mumbled our bad understanding of the garbled version coming out of that lousy PA system. I don’t know how many years it took before I figured out that it was NOT

    “and to the republic, for Richard stands…”

    I didn’t know who Richard was or why he was making his stand, but I figured he must be doing something important.

    I’ll worry about the ideological merits or demerits of the pledge later. Right now I’m having fun imagining the cute scene of a bunch of little kids trying to figure the thing out.

  4. thoreau: “I pledge a legions to the flag of the united dates of america and to the republic for richard stands, one nation underawed, in the visible with libertines and just us for all!”

  5. This is of zero importance. The state opresses people, to the extent that it does, by taking their money, and throwing them into jail for things they ought not be thrown in jail for. Not by making kids put their hands over their hearts and mumble. Some of you need more balance and perspective.

  6. JDM,
    I dare say most of us here have some balance and perspective.
    What I think most of us are saying is, “What does it say about the ‘personality’ of gummint that causes it to take pleasure from a pledge” I mean is gumment paranoid?

  7. I’m curious – when did reciting the pledge of allegiance turn into some sort of blind support for a Conservative administration? The pledge of allegiance is nothing more than an espousal that one supports the ideals that America stands for, one of which is a representative democratic form of government. This form of government doesn’t work without some debate, some dissent, and some disagreement. So, when one says the pledge, it’s not a pledge of unconditional support of any Conservative administration, past, present, or future. What it is is a statement of belief in a form of government (representative democracy).

  8. chthus,

    As a patriotic exercise, I suggest posting pictures of Daniel Shays, and reciting Jefferson’s call for a rebellion every twenty years.

  9. “What’s Conservative About the Pledge?”

    I know, you asked me first, but: What’s stopping the people and their representatives from outlawing it?

    If the Pledge is such a buggy-eyed, floaty-haired wicked bad idea, can we get it off the books — the way most things are gotten off the books? Or do we have to run to court and get five life-tenured unaccountable judge persons with super-secret Constitutional decoder rings to say what our rights are? Geez.

  10. I don’t understand the title of this article at all. I’ll agree that it’s a pretty weak case he’s making against the pledge. There are stronger one’s, and I personally think this issue illustrates the unacceptability of public education to a free society. But the thing that really gets me here, is how he’s supposedly exposing how ‘unconservative’ the pledge is. He supports his thesis with statements like the following:

    “Though no one can be legally compelled to salute the flag, encouraging the ritual smacks of promoting a quasi-religious genuflection to the state.”

    I mean just what the hell does he think conservatism is anyway?

  11. Well you see, matt, CATO usually argues its position based on the merits of its case, and the lack of logic or evidence behind the opposition’s case (or they try to, anyway). The argument “X is bad, because it’s author is a Y” isn’t their normal way of doing things. This was remarkably shallow, by their usual standards.

  12. As a Canadian, on the outside looking in, I’m finding this issue of making kids recite “The Pledge” truly amusing.

    It seems to me that everyone here is completely overlooking the simple and obvious problem.

    Why on earth would you send your kids to public school?

  13. lately i’ve been getting a bit tired of hearing people on blogs cry “ad homenim”, but this is just too blatant. good call joe.

    also, aren’t there more important issues to tackle these days?

    Sorry Gene, nothing personal man.

  14. “the pledge is dumb because swearing allegiance to an inanimate object IS FUCKING STUPID.”

    Yes, after all my years “pledging allegiance to the wall” (in the immortal words of Paul Simon)…neither the wall, nor the flag on which it stood, ever asked me to do anything.

    So now I pledge allegiance to dogs (except when they tell me to kill people). 😉

  15. Well, as a Catholic, I want to know why it doesn’t say in the pledge “One nation under God and the blessed Virgin…” I’m sure I could get the Christian Coalition to support this…

    What? Why are all the Protestants, atheists, agnostics, Jews, Muslims, etc. looking at me funny right now? 😉

    Anyway, I would never trivialize the pledge. It’s very important that young kids be taught that Richard stands!

  16. This is of zero importance. The state opresses people, to the extent that it does, by taking their money, and throwing them into jail for things they ought not be thrown in jail for. Not by making kids put their hands over their hearts and mumble. Some of you need more balance and perspective.

    Which shows less perspective: Complaining about the Pledge of Allegiance or complaining about what people say on a blog?

  17. “The pledge should be to the constitution of the United States,…”

    No, no, no. The Constitution isn’t something that *private citizens* follow…it’s something that *government employees* follow (or at least take an OATH to follow).

    Prior to the 13th amendment, the Constitution required that states return runaway slaves. For any libertarian to swear “allegiance” to a document that codified the return of slaves would be an abomination.

  18. “As long as jackboots aren’t involved, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with ceremonial appreciations of the constitutional principles that undergird a free society.”

    But “indivisible” is not a constitutional principle. Or would you pull that out, in a revised Pledge?

  19. “Why do so many conservatives who, by and large, exalt the individual and the family above the state,…”

    Heh, heh, heh! Well spun! This would be referring to conservatives like John Ashcroft, G.W. Bush, John McCain, and company?

  20. That has got to be weakest, most ad homenim-filled collection of sniping irrelevancies I’ve ever read. And this is coming from someone who bascially agrees with CATO’s premise.

    “The Pledge is bad, because the man who wrote it believed in nationalizing industry, and encouraged the use of a salute that later took on a negative connotation.” Weak, dude.

  21. The Pledge, like the National Anthem, is a way to get the crowd to shut up and pay attention. People who don’t go along are vilified by social pressure. So it’s useful at beginnings of things.

    A John and Ken show (KFI) on the Pledge, that starts slowly but picks up steam as more and more offended people call in. http://rhhardin7.home.mindspring.com/johnkencut.pledge.ra (2.1mb big) (you can stream it by putting that URL into a file named (say) temp.ram and clicking on that file; otherwise it downloads before playing, if your computer is like mine anyway.)

    Taking offense is a ritual as well.

  22. Isn’t a “Pledge Of Allegiance” the antithesis of a “Declaration Of Independence”?

  23. matt, did you not get the part where I wrote “And this is coming from someone who bascially agrees with CATO’s premise?”

    I have a lot of problems with government teachers leading children in the Pledge. I just don’t think “Bellamy was a poo-poo head” is a very good expression of them.

  24. You may not see anything wrong with worshiping the state

    Who’s worshipping the state? Does anybody pay attention when they say the pledge? Is the person who said the pledge somehow different after saying it than before? There is {0} effect in saying the pledge. You say it essentially to yourself, because nobody around you cares whether you pledge allegiance to the colorful fabric or not. It’s a poem, and if you want, you can say you pledge to a flag under dog with liberal injustice for all. There is no consequence…how could your rights be trampled on by a phenomenon that is wholly without consequence?

    Isn’t a “Pledge Of Allegiance” the antithesis of a “Declaration Of Independence”?

    The former is a poem adapted for use as an optional statement of allegiance. You are not required to say it, and by the laws that have already existed in this country for a long time you are not allowed to harass people who don’t say it. The latter is a document essentially saying, “We don’t want to pay taxes, George. Fuck off.”

  25. at the same time, teaching little children to recite an oath of allegiance rubs me the wrong way.

  26. “…slavish… devotion to the state, wholly inappropriate for a free people…”

    Isn’t this kind of caesarism what the New Right’s pseudo-conservatism has been all about, ever since it was “remade” in the 1950s? There aren’t many people still around who can remember the “dark days before Pearl Harbor,” when conservatism didn’t mean worship of the National Security State and its perpetual wars.

  27. We should be teaching little children to question everything not to memorize oaths of allegiance. And any kid who questions why it’s all “under god” instead of, say, the easter bunny or the tooth fairy, or other non-existent figures, is a kid I like.

  28. Gene, I would’t make Karenga’s bio the sum total of my critique, as CATO did in this column.

  29. Let me put it this way, rst. My first day of school, the first minute of my school life was to recite this thing. I’d never heard it before, I was the first in my family to attend public school.

    You might say it was not required of me to say it, but how many 5 year old kids know their rights and are willing to tell their new surrogate mother/father (teacher) that they refuse to say it? Gentle or not, coercion is coercion.

  30. Sidestepping the “under god” debate for the moment:

    It seems wrong to even ask people under 18 to pledge allegiance. Compared to adults, they’re not free. Heck, they’re not even free compared to youth in other countries.

    America oppresses its youth far more then any other western (or even most non-western) nations.

    Kind of kooky to ask them to pledge allegiance to a nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all when they can be arrested in many cities just for being outside of school during school hours or past 11:00p in most cities.

    As far being indivisible, how is labeling everything “adults only” not divisive?

    Justice is out of reach for them, the juvenile justice system doesn’t provide them with the protections that adults get, but they usually get sentences like adults. The adult court gives them protections but, nearly always, longer sentences than adults.

    A pledge is a lot like a verbal contract. Since people under 18 can’t be held to contracts, any pledge they give, under duress or not, is null and void anyhow. So with or without the “under god” part, the pledge as uttered by people under 18 is irrelevant.

  31. EMAIL: pamela_woodlake@yahoo.com
    URL: http://www.ognivo.com
    DATE: 01/20/2004 01:14:28
    Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.

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