Rethinking the Pledge of Allegiance

and the Nation (Hiding) Behind It


David Gordon White


For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ... He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

John 3: 16, 18

As for the Disbelievers, Whether thou warn them or thou warn them not it is all one for them; they believe not. Allah hath sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom.

Al-Baqarah 6, 7

Bob and Ahmed, both native-born Americans and staunch patriots, have been acquaintances for years. Bob often dines at Ahmed's restaurant, and Ahmed buys his insurance from Bob. At this year's annual chamber of commerce luncheon, they happen to be seated next to each other, and after some cordial conversation, they rise as the meeting is called to order. Placing their hands over their hearts, and mindful of a recent court ruling, they join the rest of the gathering in putting special emphasis on two of the 31 words they recite, then return to their seats, albeit uncomfortably.

They do so because they both know, though they are loath to acknowledge it, that according to the teachings of their respective religions, which each wholeheartedly believes, they are going to their own heaven and to the other's hell. After their brief stay here on Earth, each of these patriots will depart for two diametrically opposed places, where they will reside for all eternity. Confronted with the absurdity of this prospect, Bob and Ahmed could of course relent, granting that since the mystery of life remains just that, perhaps the situation is not as stark as they've been led to believe and that theological accommodation is therefore in order.

The two men will make no such accommodation, however, for to do so would be to undermine the claim of each of their religions that it alone possesses The Truth and that the other religion is accordingly false. Accommodation, in other words, would mean the dreaded syncretism-the blending of religious doctrines in order to reach a unified vision of reality-that must be avoided lest the sense of security afforded by one religion be compromised by the other and the deeper teachings of each laid bare.

Given this religious stalemate-which is played out in real life, in one way or another, countless millions of times every day in this country-one has to wonder what it means to pledge that ours is "one nation, under God." And one has to wonder which should be of greater concern: that a court has ruled a national oath of divinely sanctioned indivisibility unconstitutional or that a citizenry is already so divided in its heart of hearts as to render the oath meaningless.

The answer is obvious to anyone for whom patriotism is fundamentally linked, as it surely is in this country, to the brotherhood of all mankind. (1) For a nation founded on the premise "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"-that nation is by definition universal in its beliefs, no matter that it is only obliged to uphold them within the confines of its own borders.

That it can uphold these beliefs without reference to any particular Creator is guaranteed in our nation's Constitution. Further, that it can do so without reference to, or indeed authority from, any Creator is also guaranteed, for the simple reason that no Creator, no God of any kind, is mentioned in the Constitution, which is nonetheless the supreme law of the land. We do well to remind ourselves, then, that the Pledge of Allegiance - written, ironically, by a died-in-the-wool socialist and hardcore central planner (2)-did not become government-sponsored until 1942, fully 166 years after our nation's founding. For the great majority of its history, in other words, our nation got along without an official oath of allegiance and for an even greater majority (178 years) without an oath of allegiance "under God."

Granted, the lack of an oath of allegiance did not prevent our nation from violating both its founding and governing documents-and thus the unalienable rights these documents were intended to safeguard-or of doing so in the name of God. But as the violation of unalienable rights in the name of God constitutes much, in not most, of the history of the world, we also do well to confront that history, the better to understand our place in it and come to terms with who we really are as a people. Perhaps we will then better understand what it is we are engaging in when we recite the Pledge of Allegiance and reconsider the matter accordingly.

Though they can surely be found in earlier times, examples of the violation of unalienable rights in the name of God are perhaps most vividly recounted in the Old Testament, from which two passages should suffice to make the point:

These are the statutes and ordinances which you shall be careful to do in the land, which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live upon the earth. You must completely destroy all the places where the nations you dispossess have served their gods, on high mountains, on hills, under any spreading tree; you must tear down their altars, smash their pillars, cut down their sacred poles, set fire to the carved images of their gods and wipe out their name from that place. (3)

So Joshua massacred the population of the whole region-the hill country, the Negeb, the Shepelah, the watersheds-and all their kings. He left no survivor, destroying everything that drew breath, as the Lord the God of Israel had commanded. (4)

Fast-forward a few millennia, and from the Old World to the New, and although the violations are only implied, we know them to be true (the historical record being unequivocal in this regard), just as we know that the rationale behind the violations remains the same:

A People of God settled in those which were once the Devil's Territories; and it may easily be supposed that the Devil was exceedingly disturbed, when he perceived such a People here accomplishing the Promise of old made unto our Blessed Jesus, That He should have the Utmost parts of the Earth for his Possession. (5)

Possession indeed. First of soul then of soil, in a process as seemingly natural as breathing, as if to inhale the Lord were to exhale the Land, never mind whose, that it might condense and congeal beneath our feet. Thus could journalist John O'Sullivan subsequently coin a phrase that would inspire ensuing generations of Americans to continue taking by might what only a crude jingoism could claim by right:

Away, away with all these cobweb tissues of rights ... The American claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federative self-government entrusted to us. (6)

And in due course our great experiment in liberty would liberate lands from sea to shining sea, having already cultivated many of those lands with the help of millions of partial-people (7) liberated from lands an ocean away. Today, we look at the map of the United States as if to say, but of course; it was all ours from the beginning, not wanting to admit that it was simply ours for the taking. "We stole it, fair and square," quipped Ronald Reagan about Panama, though he could just as well have been talking about Massachusetts, Texas, or California.

Was Proudhon right? Is all property theft? A good case can be made that it is, that the primeval squatters on that first plot of land, while they could rightfully claim the use of it for their survival, as a corollary of their right to life, could not thereby claim outright ownership. (8) But there is no need to argue a point that is now entirely academic. For if there is no natural right of ownership of the land, the fact is that the land today is owned, and disputes are not about whether it is owned but who owns it, be they disputes between nations, individuals, or entities in between.

Our concern being with nations, specifically with our own nation and who we are in the owning of it, let us go a step further and ask if we do indeed own the land by might and not by right (no matter that this be true for all the peoples of the world), are we Americans at least making amends by living in accordance with our Constitution, protecting the lives and liberties of the existing population in keeping with its provisions? And if so, can those who believe in the divine basis of our founding document at least say, with some degree of honesty, that our previous transgressions aside, we are now making the most of the Creator's most generous endowment ?

Alas, we must answer both questions in the negative. For while we fail to recognize it (which is telling in its own right), we have now strayed so far from our founding principles that we are but a pale reflection of what our nation set out to be. Indeed, we remain one nation today only because, in denying the first principle of the democratic ideal- government by the consent of the governed-we refused to allow eleven states to do what the original thirteen did, secede. And we compounded that error with a series of decisions that have since proved equally destructive of our democracy and of the life and liberty that lie at the heart of it.

Many, of course, will be aghast at the notion that the War Between the States (9) was destructive of our democracy, insisting on the contrary that the war's whole purpose was to preserve it. But as a wealth of historical evidence sheds long-overdue light on the Lincoln Myth (10), we are finally beginning to see what Lincoln's biographers have heretofore refused to let us see. And as aghast as we are that the truth could have been kept from us so long, we are grateful nonetheless to finally possess it.

While we will of course never know what might have been had the South actually seceded (though we do know that the War Between the States was not fought over slavery (11) and that, in any case, slavery was already a dying institution (12)), we can only wonder how many of the "tangling alliances" that Washington wisely warned the nation against might have been avoided and how many wars along with them-including the present "War on Terror."

For today's "monster states"(13) are the product of the 19th century's "hundred years' war against smaller polities of all kinds in favor of unification, centralization, and consolidation," for which the 20th century was "an eighty years' war between the giants created in the nineteenth."(14) And no president fostered the growth of the American giant more than Lincoln, who, in implementing the perversely named "American System," (15) sewed the seeds that would turn a small, federative government into the centralized monstrosity that now dominates our lives. Indeed, it was Lincoln who succeeded in bursting the "chains of the Constitution" that Jefferson had hoped would protect the nation from the evils that such "confidence men" would inflict on the nation:

"It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights. ... Confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism. Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence. It is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power. ... Our Constitution has accordingly fixed the limits to which, and no further, our confidence may go. ... In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."(16)

The net effect of Lincoln's mischief-forced union on the one hand and massive centralization on the other-has been to make a mockery of self-government as authorized by the Declaration of Independence and of state sovereignty as guaranteed by the 10th Amendment of the Constitution. Which makes it all the more ironic that as the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance is suddenly the subject of enormous public debate, We the People are all but silent about the constitutionality of "entitlements" that preempt the very rights to which we are most fundamentally entitled as human beings; about the huge, metastasizing bureaucracies that, in administering these pseudo-rights, are rapidly bankrupting us; and about the politicians who will promise a docile, dumbed-down, and dependent public whatever it takes to get reelected, never mind that what used to merely require robbing Peter to pay Paul, now requires robbing Peter, Paul, Mary, Bob, Carol, Ted, Alice, Ward, June, Wally, Beaver, all of their friends, and all of their progeny for generations to come.

The even greater irony is that for all the transgressions of our central government, and no matter how egregious these transgressions become, We the People are now so blind to our predicament that we will actually pledge allegiance not only to "one nation, under God" but to "one nation, under God, indivisible." We will swear to God, in other words, that even though our nation was founded on the divine right of the divisibility of governments-applying that principle with respect to our former government-that right is now forfeit with respect to our present government. No matter that the United States of America is well on its way to becoming the Unlimited State of America, We the People cannot "dissolve the political bands which have connected [us] with another and ... assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle [us]."

At least we cannot do so without sufficient military might, as Lincoln himself made clear:

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right-a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. (17)

Lest there be any doubt that by power, Lincoln meant military might not moral right, a modern-day Lincoln apologist sets the record straight:

In other words, Lincoln agrees that any people have the right to TRY to shake off a government they do not like, and can succeed if THEY HAVE THE POWER. The South tried to do so, but did not have sufficient power, at least not the power that Lincoln had, to resist the attempt at secession. This is why Lincoln is admired. (18)

On the contrary, this is why Lincoln has long been reviled by so many-and should be by all-namely, for preserving the Union at the expense of the ideal upon which it was founded. For it was at this juncture in the nation's history that our "great experiment in liberty" came to an abrupt end.

Or was the experiment doomed from the beginning? Was the War Between the States the inevitable outcome of a nation so conflicted at the outset that it could not but turn on itself at some point? It was Jefferson himself who said that "no Constitution was ever before so well calculated as ours for extensive empire and self-government," (19) failing to understand that the former requires a strong central government while the latter precludes it. Even so, this guilt-ridden owner of slaves and admirer of the equally oppressed Indian (20) was also to say, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just," believing as well that "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Acknowledging that we would ultimately have to pay the price for our national sins, Jefferson fully expected that once that price was paid, freedom would yet ring in our land. He would never have believed that, instead, the tyrants would prevail and that a doltish, compliant people would stand by and let the tree of liberty be hacked to pieces.

Whatever else it is, Jefferson's trembling is a poignant reminder that divine sanction is a two-edged sword, the owner of which continues to bedevil us by not stepping forward and claiming it to the certain knowledge of us all. No wonder, then, that Jefferson would also urge us to "Question with boldness even the existence of a God," preferring rational doubt to a "blindfolded fear," the flip side of which is a similarly blindfolded faith that, as history has gone out of its way to prove, can shroud in darkness the worst offenses of which mankind is capable. (21)

However flawed (22), the Constitution shines a light into that darkness, and would we but open our eyes, we would see that the Pledge of Allegiance should be reexamined accordingly. We would then see that for a free society-especially one that is rapidly surrendering its freedoms-to claim to be under the dominion of any God is a dangerous contradiction and that when a society that obviously believes in many Gods and no God feigns unity under some unspecified God, it only compounds the error. For just as the sum of all possible numbers, positive and negative, is zero, so does this hollow notion of the holy add up to nothing, leaving the most dangerous demagogue of all to fill the void.

As Hegel famously proclaimed, "The march of God in the world, that is the state." (23) And to confront this horrifying dictum is to come face to face with the rough beast of "unification, centralization, and consolidation" that slouches daily out of our nation's capital, only to show up, like the vagrant that it is, uninvited at our door. Cloaked in the flag, it sweet-talks its way into the house and eases over to the dinner table where, blessing the meal with an oath of divine benediction, it helps itself until both table and cupboard are bare, upon which it excuses itself and shuffles out the back door, but not, we discover later, before snatching our purse.

Let us then be clear: Every encroachment of religion upon the state is a victory for the state, which, the more it is identified with divine purpose, becomes the more despotic. (24) The Pledge of Allegiance facilitates this encroachment-a mickey, as it were, slipped into Bob's and Ahmed's table water. Better that they bring their own drink and tilt their glasses accordingly, that they might confront each other not as the ephemera of a vacant nationalism but as sojourners of the eternal, the elixir of freedom coursing through their veins, flooding their hearts, and opening their minds, there to explore what truly unites them:

And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them..

- Luke 6:31

Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.

- an-Nawawi 13



Raised in the Land of Lincoln, Mr. White is an entrepreneur and free-market environmentalist who lives and writes on Lookout Mountain in northwest Georgia.




(1) "[I]t is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own." - Benjamin Franklin

(2) "Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), a Baptist minister, wrote the original Pledge in August 1892. He was a Christian Socialist. ... [H]is sermons and lectures ... detail how the middle class could create a planned economy with political, social and economic equality for all. The government would run a peace time economy similar to our present military industrial complex." Dr. John W. Baer, "The Pledge of Allegiance: A Short History," 1992.

(3) Deut. 12:1-3.

(4) Josh. 10:40.

(5) Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana; or the Ecclesiastical History of New England, 1702.

(6) Josh. 10:40.

(7) According to Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution (since amended), the legal status of a slave was three-fifths that of a free person.

(8) Even the late great libertarian scholar Robert Nozick, in his classic Anarchy, State, and Utopia, could not make this case. Instead, he replies to Locke's view that property rights originate through the mixing of one's labor with the land by asking, "Why should one's entitlement extend to the whole object rather than just to the added value one's labor has produced?" concluding that "it is not only persons favoring private property who need a theory of how property rights legitimately originate. Those believing in collective property, for example those believing that a group of persons living in an area jointly own the territory, or its mineral resources, also must provide a theory of how such property rights arise" (author's emphasis). Thus, even when previously unclaimed land is subsequently claimed, the right by which it can be removed from the commons must be established, without which it must be presumed to be unjustly appropriated.

Hoppe (Democracy: The God that Failed, 2002) follows Rothbard in arguing in favor of the "original appropriation principle'-i.e., "first-use-first-own"-not by answering Nozick's question but by refuting the alternatives on ethical and practical grounds, respectively: Either (1) some subsequent user owns the "standing room" and thus the means of survival of the first user, which results in slavery or (2) all property is co-owned by everyone, in which case "no one at any time or place would be allowed to do anything unless he had previously secured everyone else's consent to do so," which is impractical to the point of absurdity. While original appropriation does then seem to be justifiable in theory, it fails to answer the question of what is to be done when the commons has been entirely claimed, either by private individuals or a public (but not universal) collective, to the exclusion of some remaining segment of the population. As this is precisely the situation that exists throughout the world today, justice would seem to require a means by which every person could be assured sufficient "standing room" for survival, especially in the private property, private law system of governance that Hoppe espouses:

In conjunction with the privatization of all assets according to the principles outlined, the government should adopt a private property constitution and declare it to be the immutable basic law of the entire country. This constitution should be extremely brief and lay down the following principles in terms as unambiguous as possible: Every person, apart from being the sole owner of his physical body, ahs the right to employ his private property in any way he sees fit so long as in so doing, he does not univitedly change the physical integrity of another person's body or property. All interpersonal exchanges and all exchanges of property titles between private owners are to be voluntary (contractual). These rights of a person are absolute. (pp. 130-31)

(9) To its defenders, of course, it is called the Civil War. This a misnomer, however, not just because there was nothing civil about it (over 600,000 Americans needlessly lost their lives), but because civil wars are understood to be attempts to overthrow governments, whereas the South was merely attempting-peacefully-to secede from one.

(10) See When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession by Charles Adams and The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War by Thomas J. DiLorenzo. See also "Secession and the Modern State" by Donald W. Livingston and his forthcoming article in the Journal of Libertarian Studies, "Is the Confederacy Morally Available to Libertarians?"

(11) As Lincoln fully admitted, his real reason for waging war on the South was to preserve not so much the Union as a tariff system that enriched the North at the expense of the South, a decidedly unfair advantage that would be lost were the South allowed to secede: "When asked, as President of the United States, 'why not let the South go?" his simple, direct and honest answer [was] 'Let the South go! ...'where, then, shall we get the revenue?'" (When in the Course of Human Events, pages 188-189)

(12) As DiLorenzo writes: "Slavery was already in sharp decline in the border states [of the South], which made it less costly for runaway slaves to escape (they didn't have far to go). The underground railroad was thriving and would have gained more and more support. These things were all increasing the costs of owning slaves, which is another way of saying slavery was becoming less profitable and was on its way out."

(13) Donald W. Livingston, "Dismantling Leviathan," Harper's Magazine, May 2002.

(14) Ibid.

(15) Thomas J. DiLorenzo, The Real Nixon: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, Prima Publishing, 2002: "[T]o understand the real Lincoln one must realize that during his twenty-eight years in politics before becoming president, he was almost single-mindedly devoted to an economic agenda that Henry Clay labeled 'the American System.' From the very first day in 1832 when he announced that he was running for the state legislature in Illinois, Lincoln expressed his devotion to the cause of protectionist tariffs, taxpayer subsidies for railroads and other corporations ('internal improvements') and the nationalization of the money supply to help pay for the subsidies. ... Lincoln thought of himself as the heir to the Hamiltonian political tradition, which sought a much more centralized governmental system, one that would plan economic development with corporate subsidies financed by protectionist tariffs and the printing of money by the central government. This agenda achieved little political success during the first seventy years of the nation's existence, but was fully implemented in the first two years of the Lincoln administration. It was Lincoln's real agenda." (pp. 2, 3)

(16) Draft of the Kentucky Resolutions, 1798.

(17) See Jude Wanniski's "Lincoln on the Fourth of July, 1861" online at:

(18) Wanniski adds here that might makes right is "an idea with which I basically agree. All of history is testimony to that axiom, which is that the stronger defeat the weaker. It was Lincoln himself who said that 'right makes might,' in his 1860 Cooper Union speech, which makes the argument seem circular. But both the North and the South believed they were in the right on the issue of secession, yet it was the Union that had the might."

(19) In a letter, no less, to his protégé and "Father of the Constitution" James Madison.

(20) As Alfred J. Nock writes in his classic Our Enemy the State, Jefferson "remarked that the hunting tribes of Indians, with which he had a good deal to do in the his early days, had a highly organized and admirable social order, but were 'without government.' Commenting on this, he wrote Madison that 'it is a problem not clear in my mind that [this] condition is not the best,' but he suspected that it was 'inconsistent with any great degree of population.'" Interestingly, given our cultural superiority complex as it relates to the Indians, we have it on good authority that for those who experienced it firsthand and at a young enough age, Indian life was deemed to be superior to our own. As none other than Benjamin Franklin wrote, "[W]hen white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and have lived a while among them, tho' ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again in the Woods, from when there is no reclaiming them." (Frederick Turner, Beyond Geography: The Western Spirit Against the Wilderness, Viking ,1980.)

(21) And surely the War Between the States was such an offense. On September 30, 1862, Lincoln wrote: "I am almost ready to say that this is probably true; that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power on the minds of the now contestants, he could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest [i.e., war]. Yet the contest began. And having begun, he could give final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds." As Charles Adams comments, "This Calvinistic fatalism becomes a doctrine to justify the cruelty of the war, the slaughter of 630,000 young men"-a slaughter that in truth didn't need God to be avoided, just a president who would abide by the basic principle upon which his nation was founded.

(22) If for no other reason than that it failed to make a provision for orderly secession. On the other hand, while the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, the Declaration of Independence is preeminent in that it is our founding document, without which there would be no nation and no Constitution to support it. Since the Declaration is essentially a document of secession, it accordingly establishes that right.

(23) Georg Wilhem Friedrich Hegel, The Philosophy of Right, 1821. Hegel considered the state the supreme embodiment of freedom and deified it accordingly. It was a tragic error that fuels the fires of totalitarianism to this day.

(24) "Godless" Communism merely deifies the proletariat, the effect of which is the same.