An End to Allegiance


The Pledge of Allegiance is in the news again, but as usual, the only part that is regarded as controversial is the reference to God. In fact the entire Pledge is a repellent statist credo (as befits its author, 'Christian Socialist' Francis Bellamy, brother of the Edward Bellamy who wrote the tiresome utopian-collectivist science-fiction novels Looking Backward and Equality). Hence it seems appropriate to reprint a letter I wrote to the Daily Tar Heel (UNC Chapel Hill's campus newspaper) back on 21 June 1995. (This also gives me a chance to correct the Tar Heel's typos!)

To the Editor: Will Leonard said he can't understand why anyone would object to laws mandating the Pledge of Allegiance in our schools. Let me suggest a few reasons. The Pledge of Allegiance is basically a loyalty oath. Compulsory loyalty oaths to the State are an authoritarian imposition we rightly associate with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and McCarthy. They have no place in a free country. Requiring such loyalty oaths of children, who are in no position to comprehend the obligations they are supposedly undertaking, is even more objectionable. The whole notion of swearing 'allegiance' to the republic and its flag is profoundly un-American. This sort of reverence for the State, together with the prostration of the people before the symbols and tokens of its authority, belongs among the trappings of the old-world ancien r'gime mentality that this nation's founders decisively rejected. As the founders conceived it, the American republic was an administrative arrangement set up for the convenience and security of its citizens; those citizens were to be the masters of the republic, not its subjects. As American citizens, we owe no 'allegiance' to the political apparatus; on the contrary, the political apparatus is our servant, and owes allegiance and obedience to us. This is the ideal for which our forebears died at Lexington and Concord. The Pledge of Allegiance, a declaration of political idolatry first introduced in 1892, at a time when this country had begun to turn away from its founding principles in favor of a militantly nationalist ideology, was a profound betrayal of the spirit of the American Revolution. Imposing this loyalty oath through the medium of government-run, tax-funded schools creates still further problems. A truly democratic government must represent all its citizens, not just a favored elite; hence our government has no business using tax funds to shove controversial ideas down the throats of children whose taxpaying parents object to these ideas. Thomas Jefferson wrote: 'To compel a man to furnish contributions for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.' Yet the Pledge of Allegiance is full of opinions that many parents and taxpayers 'disbelieve and abhor.' The phrase 'under God' (incidentally not added to the pledge until 1954, making hash of its grammar in the process) requires schoolchildren to profess a belief in God, even if their parents are atheists. The phrase 'indivisible' requires those same schoolchildren to take a stand on the complex legal, ethical, and historical question of whether the American Union is in fact indissoluble, and whether the delegation of authority by the several states to the federal government is indeed irrevocable ' propositions of which I, at least, am unconvinced. The phrase 'with liberty and justice for all,' if it means anything, must mean that schoolchildren are required to assent to the dubious proposition that the American political system in fact provides liberty and justice to all. Mr. Leonard to the contrary notwithstanding, all this sounds more like political and religious propaganda than like any sort of 'moral education.' We can pledge allegiance to the principles of freedom and equality that inspired those who first bore our flag. Or we can pledge allegiance to the flag. We can't do both. Sincerely yours, Roderick T. Long

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Roderick T. Long is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Auburn University; President of the Molinari Institute; Editor of the Libertarian Nation Foundation newsletter Formulations; and an Adjunct Scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.  He received his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1992.  His last book was Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand; his next book will be Wittgenstein, Austrian Economics, and the Logic of Action.  He maintains a blog on his website,