Mark Twain On Patriotism (repost)

Shirley and I are off to a 4th of July party so I decided to repost this from a couple of years ago.


A few select quotations presented without comment or context. Well, without much comment or context.

Man is the only Patriot. He sets himself apart in his own country, under his own flag, and sneers at the other nations, and keeps multitudinous uniformed assassins on hand at heavy expense to grab slices of other peoples countries, and keep them from grabbing slices of his. And in the intervals between campaigns, he washes the blood off his hands and works for the universal brotherhood of man, with his mouth. [“The Lowest Animal,” published posthumously in 1938, likely written between 1905 and1909]

We teach them to take their patriotism at second-hand; to shout with the largest crowd without examining into the right or wrong of the matter — exactly as boys under monarchies are taught and have always been taught. We teach them to regard as traitors, and hold in aversion and contempt, such as do not shout with the crowd, and so here in our democracy we are cheering a thing which of all things is most foreign to it and out of place — the delivery of our political conscience into somebody else’s keeping. This is patriotism on the Russian plan. – from Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain, a Biography, 1118]

Remember this, take it to heart, live by it, die for it if necessary: that our patriotism is medieval, outworn, obsolete; that the modern patriotism, the true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation ALL the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it. [“The Czar’s Soliloquy,” The North American Review, February 2, 1905].

I haven’t got up yet. It is an hour or two to breakfast. But I hate sluggards. I prefer to devote those precious hours to reading & study which some parties i waste in repose. All the bummers in town are busting fire-crackers & otherwise glorifying G Him to whom, above all others, we owe this precious Washington’s Birth-Day. And so I couldn’t sleep if I were to try. [Letter to, Mary Mason Fairbanks (he calles her mother), July 5, 1869, Elmira, N.Y.]

Because the July 4, 1869 was a Sunday, the major celebration was on the 5th. And yes, he did say Washington’s Birthday. I wonder if the “G” before “Him” indicates that he started to write George Washington. Of course, it is perhaps more likely the he started to write “God.” Twain was not above the intentional use of ambiguity. While Twain was a religious minimalist to put it politely, he would defer to Fairbanks’ piety out of respect of her if not for her god. Also, notice the small “i” before “waste in repose.”
Finally, from Annie Fields’ Diary, “Visit to the Clemenses, Hartford, 27–29 April 1876.”

He is so unhappy and discontented with our government that he says he is not conscious of the least emotion of patriotism in himself. He is overwhelmed with shame and confusion and wishes he were not an American. He thinks seriously of going to England to live for a while, at least, and I think it not unlikely he may discover away from home a love of his country which is still waiting to be unfolded. I believe hope must dawn for us, that so much earnest endeavor of our statesmen and patriots cannot come to naught; and perhaps the very idea he has dropped, never believing that it can bring forth fruit, will be adopted in the end for our salvation. Certainly women’s suffrage and such a change as he proposes should be tried, since we cannot keep the untenable ground of the present. . . .

Mark Twain was forty at the time Fields made this visit.
(Emphasis as in the original publications)
To my friends here in the United States have a happy and safe Forth of July. To everyone else, have a happy and safe day.