Tonight, PBS pays tribute to Emma Goldman, one of my personal heroines. And, given the political climate over at PBS these days, I’m thrilled that a woman who told the U.S. government that it was morally bankrupt is having her story told.
In 1917, Emma was arrested for speaking out against the draft of young men into World War I. On July 9, 1917, she was convicted and sent to prison for two years. One of the most memorable lines from her address to the jury was the following: “We say that if America has entered the war to make the world safe for democracy, she must first make democracy safe in America.” Gives me the deja vu heebie-jeebies every time I contemplate that statement in our current political climate.
Emma’s papers have been collected at Berkeley and can be accessed here.
One thing that needs to be corrected is this: Emma is currently not in the Women’s National Hall of Fame. When I visited the Hall and asked why she was not among these women, I was told that it was because Emma had not been a citizen. What many do not realize is that Emma was a citizen–until the US government, in its successful campaign to deport her, stripped her of her citizenship. I would like to put pressure on the Hall to add Emma to its pantheon.
Given the events of recent months, Emma’s thoughts on Puritanism and Patriotism seem especially apt. I leave you with these:
Puritanism has made life itself impossible. More than art, more than estheticism, life represents beauty in a thousand variations; it is, indeed, a gigantic panorama of eternal change. Puritanism, on the other hand, rests on a fixed and immovable conception of life; it is based on the Calvinistic idea that life is a curse, imposed upon man by the wrath of God. In order to redeem himself man must do constant penance, must repudiate every natural and healthy impulse, and turn his back on joy and beauty.
“The Hypocrisy of Puritanism” Anarchism and Other Essays
Gustave Hervé, another great anti-patriot, justly calls patriotism a superstition–one far more injurious, brutal, and inhumane than religion. The superstition of religion originated in man’s inability to explain natural phenomena. That is, when primitive man heard thunder or saw the lightning, he could not account for either, and therefore concluded that back of them must be a force greater than himself. Similarly he saw a supernatural force in the rain, and in the various other changes in nature. Patriotism, on the other hand, is a superstition artificially created and maintained through a network of lies and falsehoods; a superstition that robs man of his self-respect and dignity, and increases his arrogance and conceit.
Indeed, conceit, arrogance, and egotism are the essentials of patriotism. Let me illustrate. Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.
“Patriotism: A Menace to Liberty” Anarchism and Other Essays