The toast of Stephen Decatur

Our country, in her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right, and always successful, right or wrong.
    ==The toast of Stephen Decatur (authentic version)

Our country, may she always be in the right!
But right or wrong, our country!
    ==The toast of Stephen Decatur (commonly quoted version)

My country, right or wrong!
If right, to be kept right.
If wrong, to be set right
`    ==Carl Schurz

“My country, right or wrong” is a thing no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case.  It is like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.”
    ==G.K. Chesterton

Stephen Decatur

Stephen Decatur

Until I looked it up, I thought the toast of Stephen Decatur was, “Our country, may it always be in the right, but right or wrong—our country!”

I could raise a glass to that toast.   My country, right or wrong, is still my country.  This doesn’t mean I have to go along when my country is in the wrong.  It does mean that whatever America’s crimes and follies, I am part of it, and it is part of me.

But “always successful” in war and diplomacy?  That is impossible, either for an individual or a nation, and, furthermore, some kinds of success are not good, either for a nation or for an individual.

Love of country should be like love of family.  Too many people think love of country is like love of God.

I do not think that, in the total scheme of things, the Ebersole family or the Doub family are different from or better than other families in any important way.  But they are my families, and I care more about them than I do about strangers.  And I also recognize that whatever I am is a product of those families and their history.

I do not think that the United States of America is the greatest nation that ever existed or ever will exist, although there is much in our tradition worth cherishing.

But the USA is my country, and I care more about Americans than I do about distant peoples.  And whatever I am is a product of this nation and its history.

I reject the idea criticizing American leaders or institutions, or comparing the USA adversely to other nations is a form of blasphemy.  I reject the idea that patriotism requires me to believe that the United States is always right, never wrong.

Neither, as far as that goes, do I think the United States is the one evil nation in a world of holy and pure nations.  We Americans are one nation among others—although with more destructive power at this moment in our history than is good for us.

Only God, if God exists, is always in the right and never in the wrong.  Only God, if God exists, is entitled to unconditional loyalty and obedience.   For Americans (or any other people) to give that kind of loyalty to a nation, a collection of fallible human beings, is a way of worshiping ourselves.

Which is blasphemy.

Whether you believe in a God or not.

Illustration via History Spin.

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