Last week I outlined the arguments against Homeland. Let me add two more. First, the essence of American patriotism is a felt and spoken love for and fidelity to the ideas and ideals our country represents and was invented to advance–freedom, equality, pluralism. “We hold these truths . . .” The word Homeland suggests another kind of patriotism–a vaguely European sort. “We have the best Alps, the most elegant language; we make the best cheese, had the bravest generals.” It summons images of men in spiked helmets lobbing pitchers of beer at outsiders during Oktoberfest.

When you say you love America, you’re not saying our mud is better than the other guy’s mud. And the name of the newest and most important agency in recent history, charged with the crucial task of thwarting terrorism and protecting our nation from weapons of mass destruction be they chemical, biological or nuclear, should reflect this. ~Peggy Noonan

Via Chris Roach

It is worth noting that using the word “homeland” to refer to America entered everyday parlance and news reporting only after September 11, and there was admittedly something distinctly odd about this usage.  With the name of homeland given to the Department of Homeland Security, it was a fairly blatant admission that heretofore the government had not been terribly concerned with defense of our own country and had been spending most of its energy protecting Kuwait and Kosovo.  The problem with this terminology is not that calling America “the homeland” expresses some terrible and particularly European way of thinking about patriotism (i.e., the normal kind of patriotism, where your loyalty is to your country, including the soil and, yes, the mud, not to a list of propositions or “ideals”), but that its usage has become necessary because so much else of the empire is outside of and separate from “the homeland” that we had need to remind ourselves that the country itself needed protection.

The worst thing Ms. Noonan thinks she can say, whether she is being intentionally ironic or not, is that the word is “vaguely Teutonic.”  Teutonophobia never goes out of style.  She prefers “Department of Heartland Security,” as if heartland and homeland convey different messages.  If anything, referring to the entire country as the heartland is both imprecise (how can the entire country be at the heart of the country?) and even more odd when uttered by government officials.  Surely “Department of National Security” would hit the right note and actually convey what the department is supposedly trying to advance. 

In any event, Ms. Noonan’s objections to “homeland” are based in the same strange thinking that defines the nation and the country according to professed political ideals.  Evidently, if America were not dedicated to certain propositions it would not be worth defending.  You can call that many things, but patriotism is not one of them.  Yet almost no other people on earth thinks of patriotism in this peculiar way that Ms. Noonan embraces. 

Patriotism is love of country, which rather obviously refers, as I have noted before, to the soil, the place and the people who live in it.  Chris Roach, in the post linked to above, makes short work of the presumption that this view is somehow less-than-American by citing several well-known patriotic songs that focus an inordinate amount of attention on the physical land of our country, which has always been an extraordinary, grand and defining feature of who we are as a people.  Leave it to Ms. Noonan to reduce the purple mountain majesties to ”mud.”  But I fail to see how describing American soil as “mud” tracks with the correct sense of outrage against those who attacked us on “our own soil.”  After all, if love of the patria is just love of mud, why be so incensed when the mud, and the people on it, are blown up?  Is it the case that some Americans can only work up outrage against an act of aggression if they conceive of it as an assault on “values” and “ideals”?  What a strange, airy, inconsequential outrage it would be!  

Patriotism in terms of love of the country, the land, the soil, is only less-than-American for those who have already categorically rejected thinking of land, soil and, yes, homeland (patria) as goods worthy of love and devotion, not because they are the best (do you love your mother because she is objectively “the best,” or because she is your mother?) but because they are ours, because this hallowed mud is our home.  If every patriot had to justify his love of country on the grounds that the actual physical earth of his country was superior in some quality or other, or that his nation was better than every other, entire peoples would abandon patriotism en masse because of the sheer impossibility of their lands excelling in this way. 

Real patriots do not love their countries because they are “the best,” but love them for what they are even if they are, by all other accounts, by far the worst.  Ideals and regimes will come and go, and countries with more than a few centuries of experience behind them embrace the long sweep of their history and the many changes that have occurred, but the country will, God willing, remain.  Surely a department charged with the physical protection of the country and its people can have a name that reflects the country in all its physicality and refers to the reality of this country as our home.  If there is anything wrong with the DHS, it is not its “vaguely Teutonic” name, but it is the existence of such a gargantuan federal department that conentrates far too much power in Washington and so far has done a famously bad job of coordinating emergency response and relief efforts.  Conservatives would do well to take aim at the excessive consolidation of power in Washington rather than at a name on the grounds that it reflects natural patriotism too much.  

Cross-posted at Enchiridion Militis