The latest disturbing slippage in the meaning of patriotism, at (where else?) The Corner. Peter Robinson:
ME: Henry Luce famously called the twentieth century “the American century.” Will the twenty-first century represent a second American century?
TOM WOLFE: I believe we’re on the edge of about 800 more years of American centuries. The biggest problem is all the people who see a problem. It’s very fashionable to think that the end is near.
Eight hundred more years. At that moment, I confess, I could have leaned over and planted a big wet smacker right in the middle of Tom Wolfe’s forehead, white suit or no.
Tom Wolfe, journalist, author—and patriot.
What can one say? Wolfe is plainly right that apocalypticism is always in fashion, or at least has been since real anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ was replaced by the voluptuous German Romantic anticipation that civilization was just about to reach the nadir of decay and ruin -- after which would follow the glorious rebirth of Man.
But what to make of the unnerving way in which Robinson transforms that bit of snobbish, contrarian, aristocratic conservatism into occasion for the sloppiest of dog kisses? It's no coincidence, I think, that this precipitous drop of Robinson's pairs an attitude with an ideology. The idea that someone who thinks the United States is sure to rule the world for another 800 years is definitionally a patriot strikes me as even more absurd than linking patriotism to belief in the Thousand Year Reich. At least patriotism can plausibly be associated with the hopeful conviction that one's patria will exist indefinitely. But that would require generation upon generation of good governance and proper statecraft, two qualities unlikely to appear among any people certain that the secret of sovereign durability is found in indefinitely protracting global hegemony.
At any rate, the real problem as I see it is that the same sort of people who mercilessly ridicule the left for seeking a 'holiday from history' actually fetishize an eschatology of their own -- the idea that permanent American world dominance is right around the corner, that if enough people say it, it will become true, because people who say it are patriots and patriots are infallible. This bargain-basement theory of the will to power -- this armchair Nietzscheanism -- not only makes a parody of actual 'master morality' but a farce of patriotism in the bargain. If the lone entrance exam for election into the People's Pantheon of Patriots asks of its would-be inductees nothing more than a nice, hearty chorus of "American Centuries Forever!" then our Pantheon of Patriots is sure to increasingly resemble that of North Korea.
Anyway, if massive race riots, gas rationing, runaway inflation, drug epidemics, divorce epidemics, Vietnam, the Great Society, and barely averted global thermonuclear war all add up to an American Century, I'd just as soon not the second, third, or eighth time around.