Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

American character

Bill McClay reflects, rather "optimistically" (see also today’s NRO’s The Corner thread begun by Mona Charen here), on the unpredictable response of American character (or Americans’ characters) to the challenges we face today. Here’s his conclusion:

The lesson for Americans is clear. There may be today, just as George Kennan famously observed 60 years ago of the Cold War, a certain providential quality to the challenges that have been placed before us at this time. Certainly the challenges presented by Islamist terrorism are ones that confront us (and even more profoundly confront Europe) in the very places where we are confused and irresolute, and force us to see that we have fallen into ways of thinking and living that we cannot and should not sustain. They represent a mortal threat—but they are also an opportunity. By forcing us to defend ourselves, they force us to take to heart the question of what kind of civilization we are willing, and able, to defend. Not merely as an academic question, but a question of life and death.

Read the whole, very rich essay, which was commissioned for
the 2007 Hudson Institute Bradley Symposium.

Richard John Neuhaus’ contribution is also interesting, offering, for example, this:

Both contract and covenant are integral to American identity. We are a nation under law by constitutional contract—a contract presupposing covenantal accountability. To say that we are a nation “under God” is to speak of promise, but it is, at least as importantly, to speak of a nation under judgment. Thus is contract tied to covenantal aspiration and covenantal aspiration restrained by contractual agreement.


This dialectic, if you will, between contract and covenant is the distinctly American way of joining the particular and the universal. Contemporary multiculturalisms that would embrace every culture but our own dissolve the dialectic, reaching for an inclusiveness that, were they to have their way, would result in the exclusion of American identity. Like Esperanto, the supposedly universal language spoken only by a small band of sectaries, multiculturalism as conventionally promoted rejects the particular for the sake of the universal and ends up betraying both. Multiculturalism, like Esperanto, ends up as the monoculturalism of a very small culture.

John McWhorter is much more downbeat.

The transcript of the ensuing discussion should be available on the Hudson site within about a week.

Discussions - 4 Comments

We all know

"the lord make it like that of New England: for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us;"

but forget

"soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going"

Prophetic I dare say.

These essays were an attempt to address the question of "Who We Are Today". I have to say none of them were very successful at pulling it off. McWhorter's was the most interesting because he attempted to analyze the reasons why the question is proving so difficult to answer. This is in the tradition of the original neoconservatives, who were not afraid to follow the social science data where it led them.

McWhorter's essay is dead-on. America is no longer an "in-group," there is no tribe here, only a temporary sense of identity when (occasionally) we are under threat. For the idealists who dominate NLT, I would hope you would listen to this message...McWhorter, a black man, surely is no "neo-Conferate" or "paleo-conservative," and yet his assessment of our future is very similar.

Our immigration policies must be radically overhauled, and we must admit NO ONE who sees America as anything less than a new homeland. Right now, for millions of legal and illegal immigrants, America is a corpse on which to feed. Pitiful.

Optimism is a much misused word in GOP circles. There are many who regard any acknowledgement that problems exist or may arise as being "not optimistic".

I think a more accurate understanding of the term would be that it is optimistic to frankly acknowledge the serious challenges before us but to believe that they can be overcome with enough effort.

The progressive wing of the GOP regards such a mindset as being pessemistic.

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