Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Upgrading the Pledge of Allegiance

Back in 2005, I criticized the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance and offered an improved alternative. My version of aimed to correct "the odiously unconditional" demands of the present pledge and thus better honor the ideals that gave rise to the U.S. in the first place. Field testing and theoretical musing convinced me, however, that I needed to have another go at debugging the Pledge of Allegiance. I here offer an upgrade for 2008:
I pledge allegiance to the laws of the United States of America, on condition that it respect my rights, natural, constitutional, and statuory, with liberty and justice for all.

Why upgrade to Pledge v. 2008? For one thing, it matches the cadences of the currently popular pledge—which history suggests we might call "v. 1954"—more closely than my earlier alternative did. It proves especially helpful, when you're saying this latest version in a crowd, that it starts and ends with the same words that everybody else says. It also follows the same cadences as v. 1954; consider the following parallels:

Pledge v. 1954Pledge v. 2008
I pledge allegianceI pledge allegiance
to the flagto the laws
of the United States of America,of the United States of America,
and to the Republicon condition that
for which it stands,it respect my rights,
one Nationnatural,
under God,constitutional,
indivisible,and statutory,
with liberty and justice for all.with liberty and justice for all.

I also tweaked the content of this latest version of the pledge to make it still more palatable to friends of liberty. Note, for instance, that it now has you pledge allegiance not to the flag, nor even to the political institution for which that flag stands, but rather to "the laws of the United States of America." After all, a republic that breaks its own laws does not deserve your allegiance.

Note, too, that v. 2008 conditions your allegiance on the U.S. respecting three kinds of rights you can claim—natural, constitutional, and statutory. This upgraded pledge thus offers powerful protections for your liberty. Indeed, you might well wonder whether, given those strict conditions, Pledge v. 2008 commits you to anything at all! I leave the answer to that question, however, to the dictates of your conscience.


Ran said...

In pronouncing the Pledge, one declares that the U.S. flag represents a republic that is one nation, under G-d, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all (thereby rendering an opinion about what the flag represents), and pledges allegiance to the U.S. flag and aforementioned republic.

Personally, I prefer to take the republic in question to be the U.S. as it ought to be; but even if you take it to be the U.S. as it is (and I imagine that that was probably the writer's intent), it still seems that one's pledge loses force once the U.S. no longer meets these criteria. That is to say, either you're pledging allegiance to the U.S. as it should be, or you're pledging allegiance to the U.S. as it currently is, but I certainly don't think you're pledging allegiance to the U.S. as it ever will be.

(Of course, if you're not satisfied with or willing to pledge allegiance to the U.S. at its current levels of unity, nationality, indivisibility, metaphorical coordinates relative to G-d, universality of liberty, and universality of justice, then you won't say the current pledge under the "U.S. as it is" interpretation; but if that's the case, it seems a bit disingenuous to pledge a conditional allegiance where the conditions make it false.)

Tom W. Bell said...

Ran: I agree that Pledge v. 1954 admits to your interpretation, but I don't think that's how most people understand it. Rather, I think they take the Pledge to both commit them to a particular relation to the U.S. *and* to affirm that the U.S. embodies certain properties. Query what those folks think would obtain if the U.S. failed to embody those properties. I doubt they think it possible! But, at any rate, I think it best to clarify matters by making the conditionality of allegiance explicit.

Anonymous said...

depends on what your definition of rights is. that is vague. please see recent same sex marriage issue.

Anonymous said...

I guess Im just confused as to why we have to change everything. I mean, why take out the God part? Im not so much a religious person myself, but it dosent bother me that "God" is in our pledge. Why does it bother sooo many people when the word "God" comes in play? GET OVER IT people. Seriously. (Im not saying any of you 3 that have already posted, so dont take it personally)

Last time I checked... the United States of America, our country was founded by men who loved God. America has come as far as it has because of that.

Ran said...

@most recent Anonymous: Funnily enough, I do believe in G-d, and I don't like that "under G-d" is in the pledge. I'm O.K. with "in G-d we trust" because it was religion-neutral for its time (as in, it wasn't "in Jesus we trust" or something), and at that point I think Separation of Church and State had to do with not favoring one religion over another, not interfering with the internal workings of a religious group, and so on. There was no thought of people who simply rejected religion entirely. But "under G-d" was added to the pledge specifically as an "in-your-face" to people who don't believe in G-d. It's obnoxious.

Anonymous said...

My grammar sense is tingling -- the object of the first clause is "the laws of the United States of America", which is plural, but the next bit is "on condition that it respect my rights". I think "it" should be "they", or possibly that "respect" should be "respects" (and I think the latter is probably wrong too), but it can't be right the way it is.

Ran said...

@asg: No, it's quite grammatical as written. The antecedent to the "it" is "the United States of America," which is usually taken as a singular noun. It's true that the phrase "the laws of the United States of America" also appears in the previous clause, but as that's not the "it"'s antecedent, it's not relevant.

As for "respect" vs. "respects," Dr. Bell is following the traditional rule, whereby "on condition that" introduces a clause that uses the present tense of the subjunctive mood ("it respect"), rather than that of the indicative mood ("it respects"). Nowadays the subjunctive mood is in decline, such that many speakers would say either "on condition that it will respect" (future indicative) or "on condition that it respects" (present indicative) or "on condition that it should respect" ( as an analytic/multi-word subjunctive); but Dr. Bell's formulation is still quite standard in formal English, and IANAL, but my impression is that the alternatives are not yet standard in U.S. legalese.

Anonymous said...

"depends on what your definition of rights is. that is vague."

Actually, it's not vague at all, but rather very simple:

The Bill of Rights.

Anonymous said...

Great post, however you will be pleased/disturbed to learn much more about the Pledge's putrid past. The Pledge was the origin of the salute adopted later by the National Socialist German Workers Party. It was also the origin of "military socialism" as promoted by Francis Bellamy (of the Youth's Companion), Edward Bellamy (author of Looking Backward), and other American socialists in the nationalism movement as exposed here by Dr. Rex Curry. It was not an ancient Roman salute (that is a debunked myth).

Anonymous said...

F the pledge!

I'll recite the same pledge the founders did. That is to say, none.