1. Once again sick for much of this week. My cold went down, but a painful sinus headache remained, finally obliging me to go into urgent care to get an antibiotic prescription. So far it seems to be helping, so hopefully it’ll be gone before much longer.
2. Every Fourth of July finds me more conflicted over the celebration than the last. I really can’t condone the revolution in retrospect: I was never comfortable with the justifications for it, and now that I no longer feel obliged to defend it, I’m not going to (since I don’t think the legitimacy or value of the country rests on the justice of its founding). But at the same time I do love my country and wish the best for it.
In describing my feelings in this regard, I like to use this analogy: Say I discovered that my house has a rotten foundation so that it will almost certainly collapse if left as it is. My first move would be to try to shore up what is already there to hold as long as possible, and my second to try to find a way to fix or replace the foundation.
In any case, I would still be pretty annoyed at anyone trying to burn it down.
3. I’ve heard a number of analogies for America’s place among the nations. Personally, I see us as more or less the rebellious punk teenager of the Anglosphere; the one that had a fight with Dad and ran away from home (with help from Uncle Spain and Uncle France), and who deliberately dresses down, puts his hair up in spikes, and generally tries his best to deny his relationship to his father and siblings, but unconsciously betrays his family connections time and again.
Because at the end of the day, America is part of the Anglosphere and fundamentally English in culture. We can’t help it. Our founders were English and the most dominant cultural element for most of our history has been the English descendants (of course with a mixture of other peoples, like the Dutch and later the Irish, but the English strain set the standard). More importantly, we have the same language, which means we read the same books and inculcate the same values and thus form part of the same culture.
Heck, even our rebelling against England showed the connection, since it followed on from England rebelling against first the Church and then the King (don’t forget that good King George was himself the product of a revolution).
Think of it as England siring America, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, all of which are essentially branches of English culture. We’re just the black sheep of the family: the prodigal son of the prodigal son of Christendom.
4. Ironically enough, it’s arguably in the black sheep that the old English character runs most true, in that we’ve shown ourselves the least willing to give up our historical rights and liberties (I mean, we still do give up most of them, but not as many as the others and we make more of a fuss about it).
The reason for this, as I understand it, is as follows. Liberalism in all its forms is couched in the narrative of a newly enlightened humanity tearing down or escaping “the dark of ages past” to build a new and better world of free and equal supermen. This never works out as planned, so the liberal has to continually find more and more elements of the past (that is, of reality) to reject and naturally grows more and more radical as time goes on.
Now, the US was the first nation founded on liberalism, back when the idea was that monarchy, aristocracy, and the established church were the main things to be gotten rid of for freedom and equality to flourish among the enlightened citizens of the new republic. In the process, they set the then-current mode of it in stone, as it were, via the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Since the Constitution is almost the only concrete foundation for the American national identity (note that soldiers swear to defend the Constitution), it would be almost impossible to abolish or seriously alter it without undermining the country as a whole.
The result is that liberalism can run its natural course and completely corrode almost every nation on Earth except the one that unleashed it. It can (and logically must) run rampant here, but it has a harder time fully corruption the country owing to our having something of a natural immunity to its effects simply because our national identity is based on an earlier, saner version of it.
5. Of course, the downside to that is that we don’t really have any ability to reject liberalism either. England, France, Spain, and so on could theoretically cast liberalism off entirely and re-adopt a traditional social structure and their national identities would remain intact (probably be stronger). But America really doesn’t have a national identity apart from liberalism. Which, I think, is a great danger, since it means that as belief in the old liberalism becomes more and more untenable, our national identity will become weaker and weaker.
6. This is why it bothers me when I hear people saying things like “America is not a country, it’s a creed” as if that were a good thing. This is precisely the problem; our national identity is grounded almost wholly in a set of beliefs that fewer and fewer people believe and which never stood up well to scrutiny in the first place.
And to be frank, a creed developed by rich 18th-century intellectuals is nothing to boast about.
7. This is what I think is the most important point; we need to find something other than this creed to ground our national identity in; something objective and real, not just a set of dubious philosophical points and a messianic self-image.
Honestly, I think we’re at the point where just our shared history and heritage, the fact that it is our country should be enough. It is for me at least.
Hm, that all turned out a little more negative than I meant. Not that my opinion really matters that much, but I hope it’s clear that it’s offered in concern, not contempt. Like I say, I want the best for our country, and I hope its best days are still ahead of it. I just think that’s going to require some serious soul-searching and reconsideration of our identity and place in the world.
In any case, above all else, we need Conversion. It’s what we’ve needed from the beginning.
May God bless America and bring her to the True Faith.
3 thoughts on “Friday Flotsam: Mostly Thoughts About America”
At the risk of sounding like Jefferson Davis, would it help to think in terms of, “Yes, the Union may be a mere creed, but Michigan is a proper country?” Because I do think that’s really been the secret all along.
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Dang! I have to admit I was not expecting this from you. You and I seem to agree on a lot of things, and I love to read your work.
I particularly take issue with these parts:
“Our national identity is grounded almost wholly in a set of beliefs that fewer and fewer people believe and which never stood up well to scrutiny in the first place.”
“[We need] something objective and real, not just a set of dubious philosophical points and a messianic self-image.”
Beliefs that never stood up well to scrutiny in the first place? Dubious philosophical points? Did you not know that the founders based their beliefs about government on Biblical principles and sound reason? You mean beliefs like that all men are created equal in worth? That it’s not a government’s proper role to muzzle its citizens or force them to believe a certain thing upon pain of punishment or even death? That it’s every person’s right to defend themselves and their property against attackers? That a government doesn’t have the right to seize your property? That people have a God-given right to their life, liberty, and property? The republic we started out as could only be maintained by a moral people. Obviously we have become an increasingly wicked country, the founding principles are constantly ignored, and our rights are increasingly trampled. But you seem to take issue with the idea of people making a fuss over their (actual) rights being taken away? You don’t think it’s justified for a people to rebel against a tyrannical government? Do you believe the founders should have just meekly gone along with everything Britain decreed for them just to preserve tradition? I don’t see that as a good thing.
“And to be frank, a creed developed by rich 18th-century intellectuals is nothing to boast about.”
Really? Just because they lived in the 1700s and some of them were wealthy (meaning they were able to get good educations, leading to their understanding of governments and history, and meaning they had a lot to lose in the fight for independence), we should automatically be ashamed of them? That’s sounding an awful lot like the “dead, rich, old white male” chant the leftists use to discredit great authors and thinkers, etc. Didn’t think I’d see it from you.
Maybe I’m misunderstanding you? I don’t mean this comment to “bash” you. I know you come to your views thoughtfully. But have you actually read since of the founders’ writings and do you know the basis for their beliefs? When I have read those things, I am always amazed by their wisdom. I do believe God inspired them.
Hey MC. Yeah, I know it’s not a pleasant read for a lot of people. I used to feel the same way, so I’m not offended at all by your objecting to it.
There’s a lot to go over there in your comment, kind of too much to tackle in a comment. Sooner or later I mean to do a full post going over the American creed and why I no longer believe in it, so when I get to that I’ll address the points of equality and established religion and the purported wisdom of the founders and such.
One point: I’m not saying we should necessarily be *ashamed* of the founders, just that we shouldn’t treat them as inspired prophets or hold to their ideas as if it were holy writ. The problem is in treating the American political ideas a pseudo-religion, as expressed in the “not a nation but a creed” trope (as far as religions are concerned, rich intellectuals are not promising founders). But the problem is, we almost have to because that’s the main feature of our national identity, which, as I say, I think is a dangerous situation.
The other point (since it’s on my mind at the moment): How were the British being tyrannical, exactly? They imposed taxes on commodities; that’s an ordinary act of government.