In Our Time

One Nation Divided

Since 1892, when the original text was composed, the Pledge of Allegiance has been revised three times.  Viewed chronologically, the alterations appear to have aimed at a greater specificity, but also a wider and deeper self-assurance.  The current text, dating from 1954, capitalizes “Nation” and adds “under God,” as if the editors (a committee, no doubt) suspected that American citizens needed to have their sense of nationhood, and of their security under the special protection of the Deity, reinforced for them.  Today, when 1954 seems as distant as 1054, it is tempting to discern in the history of this small document an anxiety, unconscious perhaps, regarding America’s future that was not only justified but prescient, almost prophetic.  At the end of the second decade of the 21st century the dissolution of the United States is as obvious as her fundamentally changed political form; no longer a republic, nor “one Nation under God, indivisible,” nor a country “with liberty and justice for all,” but a decaying empire with one law for its rulers and their allies and another for its subjects, one form of logic for the governing class and its specially protected clients and another and parallel one for the common majority.  From the vantage of the present moment it seems that the United States, far from being the “exceptional nation,” is, rather, quite an...

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