On nationalism and pledging allegiance

[There is] an impulse that can be dated back to the beginnings of the modern era and the rise of the state. Before the latter’s ascent, memberships in various social settings were overlapping and varied, ranging from families, neighborhoods, townships, boroughs, regions, guilds, Church (parish and Catholic), nation, even empire.

The state undermined competing allegiances by demanding primary allegiance to itself alone, and only secondarily and ‘voluntarily’ to these preexisting institutions. Such memberships became less and less ‘constitutive.’ Rather, such associations and memberships came to be viewed as secondary to our primary allegiance to a State that reserves the right to control, oversee, and define any other institution….

The only liberty that could be recognized was the liberty of individuals to ‘pursue his or her own ends.’ The ancient rights, privileges, immunities and liberties of institutions—the Church, universities, guilds, localities—were redescribed as forms of oppression. The increased power, even intrusiveness, of the state, was justified not as a form of oppression, but rather in the name of liberation of the individual….

During the bloody twentieth century, the Church stood against the totalitarian ambitions of Fascism and Communism. A third ideology is clearly flexing its muscles today—threatening to make those victories of the last century merely Pyrrhic. The totalitarian impulse today is embedded in the very logic of liberalism, which seeks to expand its dominion into every aspect of life and against every competitor to its demand for the exclusive allegiance of individuals. We need to keep firmly in mind the picture that adorns the Leviathan, and resist our absorption as individuals into the body of the state by retaining deep, abiding, and even primary allegiance to family, locality, and Church.

Patrick J. Deneen, “President Obama’s Campaign For Leviathin” (First Things blog, October 3, 2012).