I just finished reading an as-yet unpublished paper by Ken Zagacki that approaches the rhetoric surrounding a controversial Navy project in North Carolina, using the ideas of Kenneth Burke. One of the sidelines in Zagacki's treatment highlights something I've often (mostly privately) noted: how War on Terror rhetoric frequently directs American citizens to sacrifice or compromise core American values in the name of expediency ("security") -- and how infrequently the irony seems to be noticed.
It calls to my mind the old saw (usually attributed to Ben Franklin) that a people who too easily give up freedom in the name of security deserve neither. (The counterargument to this, often expressed as "the Constitution is not a suicide pact," doesn't wash with me; I prefer Patrick Henry's "give me liberty or give me death" as a more quintessentially American sentiment).
But on to the empirical question: How does a society that values "liberty" persuade its citizens to give it up in order to preserve it? Are more universal (or more basic) values evoked, such as self-preservation? And if so, how is self-preservation shown to be a distinctive right of one social group (nation, people, culture) over another? What if self-defense requires sacrificing what makes something worth defending -- i.e., the assumed special place of America as beacon of liberty and prosperity? How is that worked out in the language and symbolic acts?
Ken's paper suggests that agrarianism -- perhaps as central a component of the American myth as "freedom" -- can be used by opponents of government actions who wish to remain perceived as patriotic and not "tree huggers". For those with a different agenda, is there a corresponding cultural component that allows sacrificing freedom yet remains both distinctly (ideally, uniquely) American and is as "noble" as Liberty -- i.e., not mere selfish self-preservation? What is that component?
No doubt there's already an entire literature on this. . . .
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