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.