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  Book Review: A Different Patriotism

The Intellectuals and the Flag
By Todd Gitlin
Columbia University Press, 2006, 167 pages

Reviewed by Stewart Nusbaumer

Todd Gitlin explores the meaning of patriotism and advocates a new liberal patriotism.

Intellectuals and the Flag
For many Americans, the shock and horror of 9/11 dissipated within months, driven into the subconscious, replaced by the old trench thinking and its accompanying political combat. Some even enlisted the atrocity as a bogus rational for waging a senseless, immoral war in Iraq. Todd Gitlin, a former 1960s radical and president of Students for Democratic Society, today an esteemed professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, put the horror to better use.

Living just north of the World Trade Center, inhaling the acrid air containing the remains of the fallen buildings -- New Yorkers would eventually realize that the foul air also contained human remains -- Gitlin set about to rethink his political ideas and reassess how to revitalize the left. That is what tragedies should do: overwhelming grief should lead to serious rethinking. Instead of simply escaping the pain or worse exploiting the horror, Gitlin challenged the orthodoxies. What being patriotic means? What patriotism means for liberals? Is U.S. military intervention always bad? What is good about America? The result is his engaging, and courageous The Intellectuals and the Flag.

"This might," the 1960s icon writes in the introduction, "be a healthy time for an intellectual renaissance. The nation is deeply troubled, and for all cant about optimism and faith, much of the nation knows it is troubled."�

An intellectual renaissance on the left is not going to be easy, Gitlin makes clear. The political left is essentially bankrupt; Marxism and postmodernism are exhausted. A right-wing coalition of plutocrats and fundamentalist Christians has controlled the politics of the nation for three decades.

In a previous book, Letters to a Young Activist (2003), Gitlin laid out what practical efforts liberals needed to undertake to regain political superiority. The Intellectuals and the Flag places an intellectual foundation under those practical efforts. The objective of the book, the author writes, is "to contribute to a new start for intellectual life on the left."�

In this timely and lucidly written book, the professor begins with a survey of three intellectuals who when growing up in the 1950s were his models: David Riesman, C. Wright Mills, and Irving Howe. Then he examines the negative effects of postmodern thinking, the anti-political of Cultural Studies, and the values of media, citizenship, and higher education. The final section, the title essay, "The Flag and the Flag," is where Gitlin explores what most readers are most interested in: how did we get into this political mess?

"The tragedy of the left is that, having achieved an unprecedented victory in helping stop an appalling war, it then proceeded to commit suicide."�

The left played a major role in ending the Vietnam War, but it also paid a heavy price. Immersed in the horror of Vietnam, day after day, year after year, too many of us developed an unbalanced, lopsided view of our country. We acquired an overly negative evaluation of America.

"But the hatred of a bad war, in what was evidently a pattern of bad wars -- though none so bad as Vietnam -- turned us inside out. It inflamed our hearts. You can hate your country in such a way that the hatred becomes fundamental."�

In the wake of the Vietnam War, political leftists tended to immerse themselves in either radical individualism -- often devoid of politics -- or cosmopolitanism with a global perspective. This, it seems to me, left an opening on the national level that the right-wing, beginning during the era of Ronald Reagan, exploited successfully.

To return to political prominence, Gitlin stresses the left must end its knee-jerk slamming of America. It must stop being a mirror opposite of the right-wing, which views America as righteous regardless of what it does. We need a patriotic left that "stands between Cheney and Chomsky," he quotes Michael Tomasky. We need to love our country, but love it for what we value. We need a liberal patriotism, not the right's patriotism of closed-minded obedience, not their patriotism of only symbolism, but patriotism that is open-minded and action oriented. And that means we need to be open to what in the past we automatically rejected.

"Post-Vietnam liberals have an opening now, freed of our sixties flag anxiety and our automatic rejection of the use of force. To live out a democratic pride, not a slavish surrogate, we badly need liberal patriotism, robust and uncowed."�

Now is the time for liberals to reconnect with their nation, to celebrate its ideals while continuing to criticize its shortcomings, a liberal patriotism that says we will make sacrifices for our country because we love what is good about America.

"It is time for the patriotism of mutual aid, not just symbolic displays, not catechisms or self-congratulations. It is time to diminish the gap between the nation we love and the justice we also love. It is time for the real America to stand up."�

And so Todd Gitlin, a major antiwar voice during the Vietnam War, an insightful and broadminded writer during Bush's Iraq War, calls upon the American left to embrace their country to make it the reality that we want America to be. If you are tired of a left politics assigned to the political margin, if you are tired of the status quo that paved the wave for George Bush and the Iraq War, buy this book. And then get to work.

Click here to buy the book:
Intellectuals and the FlagIntellectuals and the Flag

Stewart Nusbaumer is editor of Intervention Magazine. You can email him at

Posted Thursday, January 5, 2005


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  Live from Kabul

By Stewart Nusbaumer

On the Road to Kabul
Is Afghanistan progressing and becoming more stable -- or slipping back into civil war?

The Morning the Apple Exploded
An inside view of an Afghanistan beginning to explode, one apple at a time.

The Kabul Rumble
There are many dangers in Afghanistan, but one is seldom mentioned.

"Every Missile Was a Painkiller"
Afghanistan is an enigma wrapped in pain with a future that is anyone’s guess.

Kabul Erupts in Gunfire
A spark becomes a riot and Stewart is surrounded by gunfire.

Bombed in Afghanistan
With reality confusing and fear rising, illusions are manufactured as fast as drinks can be consumed.

Unfinished Business
Defeat in Iraq would be a humiliation, defeat in Afghanistan could be a real threat.

A Diffferent Fireworks
On the 4th of July in Kabul there was a different type of fireworks.

Where Did The Dough Go?
Billions have been donated for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, so where did the money go?

On The Edge
It's simple why we're not winning the hearts and minds of Afghans and nation-building is a diaster.


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Book Reviews




  Live from China

By Stewart Nusbaumer


Astounded in China
China’s development is stunning and its power is growing quickly; will America become a lapdog for the Asian dragon?

Bombed in Beijing
Yes China’s development is stunning, but not as stunning as the Goddess of Tiananmen Square.

Enigma or Bomb?
It's a weird world with weird Americans making it hard to tell what is really real.

Tongue-Tied & Stomach Pumped
While their language tells us about Chinese society, their cuisine tells us about a very dirty political secret.

Drinking & Driving
Driving in China teaches you to appreciate airplanes; drinking the booze will probably turn you into a tea drinker.

Sexpots Galore
When sex merges with politics, the Big Dog authorities never win.




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