Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

The Pledge of Allegiance, Francis Bellamy, and national socialism

Jerry Stratton, July 4, 2018

A friend of mine recently wrote about his surprise at discovering that Francis Bellamy, who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance was a socialist.

Here’s a fun fact I bet you didn’t know: The pledge of allegiance was written by a socialist. I’m not quite sure what Francis Bellamy was thinking; although he imagined all the people of the world pledging to their various flags, the result of the exercise is inevitably nationalistic.

His surprise is that, how could a socialist write something nationalistic? In fact, it isn’t unlikely that, pre-World War II, a socialist might also be a nationalist. Many were. They wanted to remake civil society along military lines with the national leader at the top, and that would probably be considered nationalist today.

I’ve been reading a lot of Chesterton lately, and he was especially disdainful of socialists who argued in favor of what we would today call a nationalist approach to solving the world’s problems, an approach he called “the scientific state”. It put the state—that is to say, officials of the state—in control of everyday life, deciding who works where and for how much, among other things. His objection, in Eugenics and Other Evils was that you cannot trust such a powerful government.

The objection to a cataract is not that it is deafening or dangerous or even destructive; it is that it cannot stop… The State has suddenly and quietly gone mad. It is talking nonsense; and it can’t stop.

I was just reading a pre-World War II science fiction novel, Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker. Stapledon appears to be a socialist in the H.G. Wells style, and Star Maker is an appeal to both a cosmic communism and to a more nationalist socialism that would implement it.

For instance, in the loosest possible sense, all were communistic; for in all of them the means of production were communally owned, and no individual could control the labour of others for private profit. Again, in a sense all these world-orders were democratic, since the final sanction of policy was world-opinion. But in many cases there was no democratic machinery, no legal channel for the expression of world-opinion. Instead, a highly specialized bureaucracy, or even a world-dictator, might carry out the business of organizing the world’s activity with legally absolute power, but under constant supervision by popular will expressed through the radio.

In this happy phase, then, which might last for a few centuries or for many thousands of years, the whole energy of the world would be devoted to perfecting the world-community and raising the caliber of the race by cultural and by eugenical means.

Even the Nazis themselves, the modern exemplar of what we mean by nationalist in all its worst ways, were very socialist. The fascists in both Italy and Germany grew out of the socialist movements in those countries. You can see remnants of their origins in the list of demands of the Nazi Party—as well as its full name: the National Socialist German Worker’s Party. Their epochal program included not just things like “only Germans can be Germans” (only slightly paraphrased) but also demanded “all unearned income should be abolished”, “profit-sharing in large industries”, and “the abolishment of all personal profit arising from war”.

Some progressives of the time lionized the national socialists in Europe. I have an old collection of Chicago Daily News interviews by Edward Price Bell which includes the following about Mussolini (this would be about 1925):

Mussolini… has become a portent and a promise in the civilization of the world.

They call him dictator. To the unpatriotic, to the anti-social and anti-civilized, to the lawless, to the bolshevists, he is dictator. To Italy—full of sterling human worth—to Italy, in my judgement, Mussolini is liberator.

Bellamy was an adherent of this style of government. Stapleton and Wells weren’t the only science fiction writers promoting socialism:

Bellamy was devoted to the ideas of his more-famous cousin Edward Bellamy, author of the 1888 utopian novel Looking Backward. Looking Backward describes the future United States as a regimented worker’s paradise where everyone has equal incomes, and men are drafted into the country’s “industrial army” at the age of 21, serving in the jobs assigned them by the state.

This is not to say that Bellamy (or even Bell) was a Nazi, only that he would not have been out of the ordinary combining both socialist and nationalist sentiments. Some socialists believed that socialism was best served through nationalism; some that socialism was best served by having a strong man at the top of the political structure to enforce socialism; and some combined both those ideas. Bellamy was one of them.

Does this mean, as the libertarian Cato Institute argues, that the Pledge is inherently flawed, and should be scrapped? Of course not. Bellamy’s Pledge struck a chord in a lot of Americans, and as it does with many things America took it and made it its own. We modified it to mean the kind of Republic that our flag of one star per state and one stripe per founding state stands for. We modified it to include the essential (as Dennis Prager argues in Still the Best Hope) reference to under God. This is essential, and essentially American, because it says that there is an outside force, God, not man, nor men in the form of the state, who is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong.

The one element that was fascist, the regimented, military-style salute that Bellamy designed for the Pledge, was removed and replaced with a hand over the heart. Bellamy chose a salute that resembled the later Nazi salute probably because he had similar aims: a show of combined strength and a military-style mobilization of the people as one whole. Americans said, that isn’t us. America isn’t about a strength that comes from unity, but a unity that comes from pluralism. So the regimented outward-extended palm that virtually requires a military synchrony, became an inward-facing palm symbolic of the source of America’s power, the heart of each individual.

America isn’t the state enforcing a regimented equality from the top down. America is each of us pursuing our own success in the manner each of us chooses. We changed the Pledge’s salute from a ritual symbolizing the protection of the government from the people, into one that symbolizes the primacy of the people over the government.

That is worth pledging.

E Pluribus Unum, with its rejection of tribal, familial, ethnic, and blood origins, made possible the essential American value—the individual. — Dennis Prager (Still the Best Hope)

In response to 2018 in Photos: For photos, memes, and perhaps other quick notes sent from my mobile device or written on the fly during 2018.

  1. <- Eye of the insulter
  2. Franklin D. Trump ->