So I have wondered how I might answer the following question were it ever posed by an individual who is not a U.S. national: how is it that the rules of symbolic speech in the United States can incorporate the national anthem of late Tsarist Russia as part of the climax of the national independence day celebrations, but erase other symbols whose origins might be equally problematic.
God Save the Tsar!, in Russian
Боже, Царя храни!Сильный, державный,Царствуй на славу, на славу нам! Царствуй на страх врагам,Царь православный!Боже, Царя храни!
Transliteration Bozhe, Tsarya khrani!Sil'niy, derzhavniy,Tsarstvuy na 'slavu, Na 'slavu nam! Tsarstvuy na strakh vragam,Tsar pravoslavniy.Bozhe, Tsarya khrani! English translation
And these great discourses on and through symbol in the matter of race in the United States stand in stark contrast to the obliviousness of the symbolic discourse produced by an insistence of playing parts of the Imperial Russian national Anthem to the greater glory of Russian autocracy at the climactic moment of celebrations of American independence from the usurpations of the Crown in Parliament. These differences suggest some insights.
4. But concepts, too, can be transformed into symbol, and thus objectified, compress the ideas they now supplant. Thus transformed, they serve as the fetish object, a vessel whose meaning can be constructed, compressed and contested. One no longer speaks through concepts, one speaks through objects that contain concepts that give the object-symbol power, the way that Nkisi are built within traditional African religious societies.
Consider both the objectification and the talismanic quality of the state of marriage, of the object containing the legislative power. In these two recent Supreme Court cases American ideology is exposed for the way in which marriage and legislature are transformed from verb (action) to noun (thing) within which rests conceptual structure, power and taboo, the symbolic interpretation of which were central to the determination of their legal consequences.
5. But not just legal consequences. Control of symbol and its meaning--of the object as compressed meaning--affects social space indirectly through its management of meaning in legal space. Justice Alito, dissenting in Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, No. 14–556 (Argued April 28, 2015—Decided June 26, 2015) noted
Perhaps recognizing how its reasoning may be used, the majority attempts, toward the end of its opinion, to reassure those who oppose same-sex marriage that their rights of conscience will be protected. Ante, at 26–27. We will soon see whether this proves to be true. I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools. (Alito, J., dissenting slip op, at p. 7)
9. If we speak through symbols, and if symbols are compressed discourse, and if this compressed discourse has powerful social, cultural and political consequences, then the way in which communities make meaning through symbols--through objects that are signs invested with meaning--becomes a critical means for understanding modern American politics, society, and law. Each now speaks through symbol, and the control of the meaning of symbol now serves as the basis for politics, and the foundation of law in the United States. The mechanics of American ideology operates through symbol, but so does its meaning. Symbol, thus is not just object, but means to object (process) as well.
10. One sees this most clearly in some recent cases of the American Supreme Court in its construction of symbols of legislative power, marriage, and of the reading of legislation? In each of these cases complex argument was reduced to and legitimated through the management of the symbolic meaning of the critical object around which a legal decision was constructed--the "legislature", "marriage", and ironically in King v. Burwell (the Affordable Care Act case) the statute as symbol. Indeed this last case might in the long run be more important for the way in which the statute was constructed and applied as object than for its specific holding about the meaning of the act at issue. Legislature, marriage, a statute, reconstructed as an object could be, when infused with meaning, then applied to answer the specific question posed. It is this form of discourse that will become both the basis of legal reasoning and the basis of political mobilization in the coming years.Symbol, technique, concept, object now form a self-reinforcing network of meaning at the foundation of the ideology of the American republic.