How the War of 1812 Eroded U.S. Liberalism

In 1918, having watched in horror as his Progressive friends gleefully jumped onto Woodrow Wilson’s war wagon,

War of 1812Randolph Bourne penned the immortal words: “War is the health of the state.” As he explained it,

The republican State has almost no trappings to appeal to the common man’s emotions. What it has are of military origin, and in an unmilitary era such as we have passed through since the Civil War, even military trappings have been scarcely seen. In such an era the sense of the State almost fades out of the consciousness of men.

With the shock of war, however, the State comes into its own again,…

[I]n general, the nation in wartime attains a uniformity of feeling, a hierarchy of values culminating at the undisputed apex of the State ideal, which could not possibly be produced through any other agency than war. Loyalty—or mystic devotion to the State—becomes the major imagined human value.

An earlier group of Americans would have agreed, although they would not have shared Bourne’s horror. These are the men who sought war with England in 1812.

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