There Is No ‘Back Up’ America
Burn this country down, and the world has no "America" left.
Today I’d like to mark our beloved country’s birthday by criticizing the wrong sort of patriotism. A distorted and disordered idea of what America really is or ever was. A complex of false ideas that in fact threatens to destroy our nation, and with it religious freedom, and broad economic prosperity. This counterfeit Americanism can be found both on left and right, in certain factions. It’s an idea with consequences. Most of them are dangerous ones, which if unchecked can wreck America itself, leave it on the ash heap of history along with Nineveh and Tyre.
And that would be monstrous. The collapse or “fundamental transformation” of the United States would have tragic results for mankind. First and most importantly, for ourselves and our descendants. A vast and rich country which helped hundreds of millions to live freely. To climb out of millennia of poverty which had plagued all their ancestors. And to throng lively, faithful churches, without harassment by thugs from the government. To enjoy ordered liberty, such as few nations had in history. And to intervene decisively in the Second World War and Cold War, to keep different forms of totalitarian evil from enslaving the whole human race.
Following Numenor, to the Bottom of the Sea
To ruin that out of folly would be to mock God Himself. We wouldn’t be the first, and we won’t be the last. For us to squander the riches God offered us in this country would be an echo of the tragedy of Numenor in Tolkien’s Silmarillion. A “land of the gift” thrown back in the face of the Giver.
I love Dostoevsky’s novels. One thing I remember from The Brothers Karamazov was the fact that the characters saw America as the land of refuge. Whenever things seemed hopeless, they spoke of “fleeing to America.” Of the U.S. as a place of infinite possibilities, where a man could repent and reinvent himself. Where he wasn’t defined by his past, but could make a new future. And so many millions of legal immigrants, including my ancestors, did. They came to a nation hungry for their labor, without a welfare state, with no alphabet soup of agencies devoted to “serving immigrants.” They came to sink or swim, in a land where merit mattered more than your ancestors’ social class. Or your connections, bribes or flattery of greedy, tyrannical governments.
When I read that section in Dostoevsky, I remember thinking: “What if America ceased to be that kind of country? Where would people go if there were no America to flee to?”
America for Me
If we don’t change course for this country quickly and firmly, the world might face that question. There might be no place left on earth where a full, free life is possible. It has happened before, that there was no regime on earth where human dignity was fully respected. It can happen again. And it will happen again, if we fail in our task of stewardship, and squander this gift of Providence that is our beloved homeland.
To point this up, I’d like to cite a poem which the good Sister Alice made us memorize at Immaculate Conception School, in Donald Trump’s native Queens. It’s “America for Me,” by Rev. Henry van Dyke. I’ll be honest: I can’t recite it, because it always leaves me sobbing:
I know that Europe’s wonderful, yet something seems to lack:
The Past is too much with her, and the people looking back.
But the glory of the Present is to make the Future free,—
We love our land for what she is and what she is to be.
Oh, it’s home again, and home again, America for me!
I want a ship that’s westward bound to plough the rolling sea,
To the bléssed Land of Room Enough beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.
False Definitions Are Deadly
The false ideas that threaten us center on how we define the United States of America. Let’s agree that an error in definition can often have fatal consequences. If you think you’re driving a SmartCar, and take it on US 75 here in Dallas, and it turns out to be a golf cart… . You’re likely to get rear-ended at 80 mph. If you think that what you’re sprinkling on your spaghetti is Parmesan cheese, when in fact it’s Ajax Cleanser… . Say Hi to all the illegals down at the emergency room. If you even make it there.
And if you think America is an ideological construct, which was born of philosophical abstractions and only exists to serve them… . You’re going to wreck the actual country, and leave its people miserable.
Because no country can serve as the vehicle for a “pure” philosophical experiment for long. That’s true for many reasons. Some of them are pragmatic. We aren’t angels, abstractions, or figments of some Matrix. We’re concrete human beings, with bodies and souls, needs and limits. We need our government to protect us from each other and from foreigners. Not to waste all our resources chasing some ghost of global perfection.
America’s Not an Abstraction
More importantly though, no philosophical system is universally agreed upon as true. America wasn’t founded on some set of Enlightenment principles that a few geniuses figured out and laid out for all mankind. That’s a dangerous myth. But it’s one that intoxicates two powerful factions:
- The multiculturalist left, which sees America as a lab experiment in universal ideology, but one which has miserably failed. It deserves to be swept away by wave after wave of immigrants, and started again from scratch on socialist principles. This is the program of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, Kamala Harris, and most American university faculty.
- The neoconservative right. It sees the historic “United States” as just one instantiation of universal principles. It’s willing to exhaust and bankrupt our actual, concrete country in the effort to spread the experiment from Iraq to Afghanistan. In the same way, die-hard Jacobins were willing to wreck the actual France, and fanatical Bolsheviks to destroy the real nation of Russia. This faction too wants endless immigration, since every person on earth is a potential American, as long as he checks a few ideological boxes. This is the program of the pre-Trump GOP, and NeverTrump neocons like William Kristol and David French.
We must answer both factions: No. America is not an abstraction. It’s not a lab experiment. It’s not the unique place that’s so perfect and pure it doesn’t have the right to pursue its national interests, or choose immigrants carefully. We’re not the world’s police force, or its refugee camp.
America Is Incarnate, Like a Family
We’re a sprig plucked from the old British tree. We carry on the Anglo-Saxon liberties rooted in the Christian Middle Ages. Our culture is deeply Christian, and default Protestant. As Yoram Hazony demonstrates in a profound, two part essay you all need to read, up until almost 1960, even federal courts recognized this. We are not a project of Enlightenment reason, but Christian tradition. Nor do we offer, or pretend to offer, a one-size-fits all model for other nations with different cultures. We only started saying that about ourselves as part of our necessary Cold War propaganda against the Soviets. We hacked away at American identity to produce “Americanism for Export,” as I wrote in 2003.
We’re a country, like a family. A family cannot adopt hundreds of children. It doesn’t impose its mores on all its neighbors. It doesn’t pretend to have the answer for every question. And it lives much more by tradition and faith than abstract philosophical reason.
Real life families that shun such rational limits just fall apart, or morph into crime families.
Real world nations that drink the ideological Kool-Aid of universalism end up like the Spanish Empire, and the Soviet Empire. They end up dead. And the damage they inflict on themselves and the world is so extensive, that when they expire, people celebrate. They dance on top the rubble, as they did on the Berlin Wall’s.