Originally published by Salon on July 10, 2000.
Anti-Americanism runs amok, again, and the left shows that nihilism is all that remains of its agenda.
The intersection of the Fourth of July weekend and the release of Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” provided a perfect opportunity to reflect on the way America’s heritage is under continuous assault by the determined legions of the political left.
This attack has been mounted by an intellectual class based in the media and in America’s politically correct educational institutions, whose inspiration is a set of discredited 19th-century dogmas masquerading as “progressive” nostrums. Not even the collapse of communism has been able to reconcile their alienated psyches to the American cause.
Elsewhere around the world, the patria consists of common bonds of blood, language and soil, not a set of abstract principles and ideas. But the singular American identity has been forged through a conscious commitment to what until recently was still referred to as an “American way of life” — beginning with the declaration of a new nation dedicated to the proposition that all human beings are created equal, and are endowed with a natural right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. To be anti-American is not only to reject the heritage of this past, but a future that is “American” as well.
One measure of how widely this anti-American sentiment has spread is the negative critical reaction to the release of “The Patriot,” a film that reassembles the elements of the national myth into a powerful homage to liberty and to the American colonists who gave their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to its cause. The film has been roundly faulted for its alleged anachronisms — in particular its projections of contemporary attitudes towards slavery and race into 18th century South Carolina.
Professor David Hackett Fisher, a distinguished Brandeis historian, put it this way in a New York Times op-ed piece, which appeared two days after the film’s opening: “Mr. Gibson plays a reluctant hero named Benjamin Martin, a widower with seven perfect children, a ‘Gone With The Wind’ plantation and a work force of free and happy Black Folk who toil in his fields as volunteers.” Fischer then dismisses “Patriot” as being “to history as ‘Godzilla’ was to biology.”
But it is a historical fact that there were free blacks in the antebellum South. Their presence in the film is not an oversight but a calculation. “The Patriot” forcefully embraces the idea that the American revolution and black freedom is one continuum. In the story, a black slave signs up with the rebel force because he is promised freedom after 12 months’ service. But after the 12 months are up, he decides to continue with the rebels of his own free will because he understands (as these critics apparently do not) that in the conception of a new nation based on the proposition that all men are created equal lies the possibility of freedom not only for himself but for all.
Is this historically far-fetched?