The past months have witnessed a rebirth of American patriotism. Many of us had been taking the United States almost for granted. It had been to us something like a club in which we were members by right of birth — a club in which we paid our dues as a matter of course, on behalf of which we accepted our casual slight responsibilities more or less grudgingly, and to which we paid comparatively little attention: the purpose of the club was something so vague to us that in the pressure of our other interests and occupa-tions we lost sight of it entirely. But now, suddenly, the fact has come home to us that we are greatly responsible to our nation, and that this responsibility cannot be evaded.
Our sentimental affection for the flag takes new hold of us. Everywhere up and down the streets we see it shaking in the wind; since February 3 “every day has looked like Wash-ington’s Birthday.” We hear our national anthem played after performances at the thea-tre, as the English have always been wont to play “God Save the King” — but with the fervor of novelty. We feel a tingle down our spines when “America” is sung in church and at concerts. Perhaps we hitherto have held nationalism to be something artificial, the by-product of monarchical and imperial ambition; a useful but dangerous force des-tined to give inevitable precedence to a saner internationalism. Yet in the face of war clearly the first great need is for union and loyalty. And it is not strange that each of us asks himself what this loyalty should be, how it should be manifested, and exactly what it is to which he must be loyal. Americans must stand together — that is clear; but where? They must work together; but for what? Now more than ever, if we are to fulfil our national promise, we ought to take stock of ourselves as a nation and inquire what America means to us and in what direction our loyalty should lead us.
What, then, is the American tradition? Our national shortcomings have been advertised only too loudly since the beginning of the European war. We know only too well that our democratic philosophy has had a way of proceeding sentimentally from the hypothesis that one man is as good as the next — “and probably better” — to the lazy conclusion that vulgarity and incompetence are normal, that special intellectual equipment may be discounted, that second-rate work is as good as first-rate work. America lavishes as much praise on the man who “gets away with it” as on the man who knows his subject. Americans have too often sacrificed the finer things of life to their fetich of getting along. We have been a self-willed, thick-skinned, provincial people; our ears have been too full of the noise of our self-praise to hear the advice of others; our eyes have been too fixed upon the present to look back at the lessons of history and the accumulated wisdom of the past. We must admit that we are undisciplined, careless of law, too ready to disre-spect authority and upset orders. In great measure our democracy has been ineffectual, and our blind optimism has allowed us to surrender too easily to the irresponsible com-mercialism which has grown up around it.