The following musing is the result of rereading a very old speech while listening to current events on the radio:

George Washington’s Farewell Address is concerned with national unity: “The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.” Being an American should matter more than being a Virginian.  Washington tries to persuade the people of this by making both classical and modern arguments.  His first argument is all Americans share “the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles.”  This cultural appeal is classical because he sees things in terms of the ancient notion of regime or society’s character and way of life.

Washington’s modern argument is an appeal to the people’s self-interest: national unity ensures productivity and security.  It will facilitate trade between the different regions and the states are better off defensively when they back each other up-“Join or Die” as the Ben Franklin’s political cartoon said.

People today claim GW’s modern arguments are more substantive because they are grounded in something concrete.  Cultural Unity, rooted in patriotism, piety, or just speaking the same language, is too soft a soil for a nation to be planted in.  Lockean Productivity and Hobbesian security are considered the sure and stable foundation for a nation’s future due to their reliance on materialist motives.

Yet the current crisis in the European Union clearly shows the hollowness of this claim.  The basis of the European Union is a common currency and trade zone, but that has not strengthened bonds between Europeans.  As the financial crisis worsens national discriminations will exalt the just pride of patriotism more than the name European ever could.

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Articles by Jason Joseph

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