Ian Marcus Corbin celebrated Independence Day in Boston and struggled to feel much of anything about the experience. In what I think of as a sort of public confession or meditation on America, he shares some truly great reflections on America and our cultural diversity:
I believe we should shamelessly embrace our cultural balkanization, or to put it more gently, our cultural federalism. It is nowhere written that a person ought to feel equally at home in every nook and cranny of the state she calls home. If there is a deep sense of patriotism available to us Americans, it will have to be based in local soil.
Edmund Burke, the 18th-century British statesman and philosophical father of modern conservatism, defended a sort of micro-patriotism by arguing that loyalty to our “little platoons”—things like family, region, religion, class—is in fact the “germ” of wider public affections, which ought gradually to grow to embrace our entire nation, and then all of mankind. According to Burke, these smaller loyalties come relatively easily. Love for things like nation and humanity do not. They must be cultivated over time.
Maybe he’s right, and local patriotisms are defensible chiefly as rungs on the ladder of patriotic ascent. I suspect they’re defensible in their own right, but either way, I’d add that the thinness of American identity means becoming a nation-level patriot here is not so different from learning to love all of humanity: a herculean task, a life’s work, while surely one worth pursuing. If we follow Burke, we have our climbing orders, and they are steep.
I really like the idea of cultural federalism.