Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

New International, July 1938


Bernard Wolfe

Premature Patriotism

From New International, Vol.4 No.7, July 1938, pp.221-222.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


I Like America
by Granville Hicks
216 pp. New York. Modern Age Books. 50c.

Professor Granville Hicks, that man who works his way through colleges selling the New Masses instead of the Red Book, is here again. He’s made a discovery. It hasn’t anything to do with great traditions or Jack Reed as a People’s Fronter. This time Mr. Hicks has found nothing less than the skeleton of a Mayflower ancestry in his family closet and an abiding affection for America in himself. Overwhelmed, naturally, with his discovery, as who wouldn’t be these days, he rushed into print with the sensational news.

Hence this book, in which the absorbing description of the life and times of a middle-class intellectual with a farm and a family and a fireside is interrupted from time to time with unpleasant references to the poor people who are, unlike Mr. Hicks, ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed. There, indeed, is Mr. Hicks’ point: for he likes America, really he does, and he’s a-feared that these under-privileged folk don’t share his affection.

The book may come as a surprise to some. Is this the man who was eased out of Rensselaer, ‘way back there, for believing in barricades and revolution and stuff? Is this the Vermonter who sold his Mayflower birthright for a mess of Third Period pottage? What’s become of that redder-than-Bill-Dunne’s-rosy-nose Marxist professor whose lectures on the class struggle used to lay ‘em in the aisles, back in the halcyon John Reed Club days?

Well, that was long ago, and it’s hardly fair for carping critics to recall that they-knew-him-when. The fact is that Mr. Hicks has become a very reasonable citizen, full of sweetness and light, as befits a man of his position and background. He’s right in there waving the flag with the best of them. The fact is that Mr. Hicks has gone and retrieved his birthright on a pretty shrewd deal – he only had to trade the complete works of Marx and Lenin for it, and they were pretty dusty anyhow. Here, if you’ve got four bits and a strong stomach, are 216 pages of proof thereof, bidding you, the underprivileged, to go and do likewise.

This book, as the blurb announces with commendable candor, is “merely a statement by a middle-class American”, and a middle middle-class American at that, drawn up out of professional hours. (Mr. Hicks, like Norman Thomas, is a busy man, what with his writing and the farm and everything; he is for Socialism in his Spare Time.) But the author piles into his conservative class confrères in no uncertain terms. “My thesis,” he informs them with quiet Vermont pugnacity, “is not that I am as good an American as you; that is too modest a claim; I maintain that I am a better American.”

Now, you may not like Mr. Hicks, but that is no rash statement. There’s no gainsaying it: he proves his claim to the hilt, and administers a sound thrashing to his stand-pat colleagues in the process. First of all, he points out to the boys that the old, outworn technique of warbling the Star-Spangled Banner and extracting oaths of allegiance just won’t go over any more. These are troublous times, and the underprivileged, even those of old American stock, mind you, are no longer taken in by those hackneyed ritualisms. New ideas, fresh slogans, a novel approach, that’s the thing. So Hicks puts it right up to his class brethren: “Your method,” he says accusingly, without mincing words, “has proven singularly unsuccessful ... I think they [the underprivileged] will become patriots if they understand my kind of patriotism.”

Well, God help Hicks, you may say, if they (the underprivileged) ever do understand his kind of patriotism; but that’s hardly the point. What Mr. Hicks is concerned with is to show that the Bolsheviks (of his stripe, which is yellow in color) have shaved off their beards, put on clean collars, and filled their bombs with Scotch-and-soda. That’s so the gentlemen farmers along the Hudson, who are also for progress, can invite them up to their estates for the week-end, just to talk things over and collect money for Spain, without being afraid that they’ll use the wrong fork. Mr. Hicks doesn’t put it quite that way, but you get the idea. His point is that you can belong to the communist party, and believe in socialism and justice and fair play, and still love the old stars-and-stripes, long may she wave. He proves it too. Nobody can set this book down without feeling that he’s proved it.

The underprivileged, who are sometimes downright intransigent, may consider that Mr. Hicks’ patriotism is a mite premature.

Some of them – the ill-clad, ill-fed, ill-housed – actually hate this America that has Mr. Hicks starry-eyed. Mr. Hicks says that everybody could have over 4,000 smackers per year, if things were fixed right; we’ve got all the natural resources, and besides, it’s a beautiful country, and that’s why he likes it. You might come across an underprivileged chap muttering to himself on a windy corner about how he hasn’t got the dough yet, and the natural resources aren’t greasing his pocket or even his gullet, and it isn’t his country yet so far’s he can see, so to hell with it. But Mr. Hicks can well answer that this book wasn’t written for that particular audience; what he wanted to do was to show the middle middle-class people, who already have their 4,000 iron man and maybe more socked away and who can afford to be tolerant, that it’s a swell country. And if you look at it that way, from the vantage point of your farm and fireside, you’ve got to admit he’s right. Just get yourself a fireside and try looking.

Some old-timers, who don’t keep up with things, were a little puzzled about Mr. Hicks’ being hired to teach up at Harvard. They didn’t know about this book, which was published coincidentally with the announcement of Mr. Hicks’ appointment. The book clears up that little matter too. Evidently, if Mr. Hicks’ protestations of patriotism are not all eyewash, and we know they aren’t, he has quite a job to do up Cambridge way. It’s going to take some doing to water the subversive Harvard Crimson into a decent red-white-and-blue. But Mr. Hicks will be equal to the task, if his book is any indication.

As for the old-timers, who wonder what’s becoming of the Modern Age, what with such books being turned out, we advise them to peek into Earl Browder’s The People’s Front, if they like their patriotism straight and without the literary trimmings. Browder can’t spell quite as well, but he gets the same ideas across more authoritatively and he’s got a pretty nifty ancestry too, if you care to look into it.

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 6.8.2006