Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Dr. Pat on Chesterton

Here’s some of Deneen’s analysis of G.K.’s neglected classic WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA in light of his defense of ORTHODOXY. Pat and G.K. remind us that it’s love--and not just manliness--that points us in the direction of the irreducibility of personality and personal significance. It might be the case that in his noble and timely effort to defend love and patriotism against cosmopolitan personal indifference Dr. Pat slights the American political universalism that Chesterton identifies and admires. We’re a "home for the homeless" because we’re "a nation with the soul of a church." Those cast out from their political homes someone else can find a home in our country as long they accept our egalitarian dogma of personal significance guaranteed by the God who is the center of the universe’s significance. The foundation of our "romance" of citizenship isn’t a civil theology, but a deeper and ultimately true dogma about the equal transcendence--or, in a way, homelessness--of every particular human person. There’s a complex, Christian interplay between being at home with your homelessness and being at home in your particular places in the world.

Discussions - 9 Comments

This is a beautiful piece.

Thanks, Peter, for the thoughtful comments. I want to assure you that I don't slight Chesterton's admiration for American universalism as articulated in the Declaration, a creed that led Chesterton to conclude that "America is a nation with the soul of a Church." Yet, Chesterton is also aware not only of the dangers of such universalism (as the exerpt of my essay points out), but that such universalism can only be relevant to lived human life when it's contained and animated within a definite structure. Chesterton writes in "What I Saw in America," “the experiment of a democracy of diverse races … has been compared to a melting pot. But even that metaphor implies that the pot itself is of a certain shape and a certain substance; a pretty solid substance. The melting pot must not melt….. America invites all men to become citizens; but it implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship." Elsewhere in the essay he writes that the creed in practice "is not internationalism; on the contrary, it is decidedly nationalism." To put a finer point on it: if ours is the nation with the soul of a church, we need to recognize that a church has a definite form and structure; it is a communion of particular people, even as its members aspire to know the universal, above all, the divine.

In short, in the full essay I don't stint on Chesterton's admiration for America's univeral creed, but in our cosmopolitan age especially (no less during his own time, combatting such cosmopolitan liberals as H.G. Wells and G.B. Shaw), it is important to point out that even such a universalistic creed itself is in need of a home.

Yes, very nice Patrick (and Peter).
How to hold together the insights that our equal dignity transcends any political community, and at the same time that it is and must be expressed in a particular political community? -- as Peter suggests, we are aliens and at home: our transcendence somehow leaves traces in institutions and practices tied up with very particular necessities and interests.
Pierre Manent (somewhere in Tocqueville and the Nature of Democracy) make the extremely fertile observation (as a reading of Tocqueville) that American democrats have assumed for themselves the function of Aristocratic reserve or esotericism regarding the theoretical limitations of practically useful beliefs -- thus collapsing Aristocratic sophistication and democratic simplicity of belief into one general phenomenon: Do Americans believe their civil religion? -- no simple answer is possible. In a way, what's truest about our investing of the public square with sacred meaning is that we don't believe this investing to be fully adequate or final -- and this reserve is what makes it expressive of a very deep truth about the necessity and limits of political transcendence.
If you see what I mean....

"Those cast out from their political homes someone else can find a home in our country as long they accept our egalitarian dogma of personal significance guaranteed by the God who is the center of the universe’s significance." YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING? Perhaps you should rename your site: No Right Turns. This is pure left-wing nonsense.

My father came to this country in 1950, my mother in 1956. They aren't Anglo-Saxons or Protestants, but America promised them something they couldn't get in the old country. They couldn't have used Peter's language, but would have said opportunity, which distinguished America from the closed class-based societies they left behind. What they meant wasn't just economic.

And, by the way, my father proudly spent twenty years in the U.S. Army. I'll put his conservatism and Americanism up against "Real Conservative's" any time.

Joe, hopefully your dad was still of good European stock. That's what's important. And what you say still does not change the fact that this post is pure left-wing nonsense, as is much of the neoliberal rant on this site.

But as Russell Kirk said of neocons - "they "mistook Tel Aviv for the Capital of the United States" - I imagine that both your and your father's primary loyalty is to a country other than the U.S., and I think we both know what country that is.

"Real Conservative" is impervious to reality and an anti-semitic bigot to boot. Did he notice that the commentators on this thread(beginning with Dr. Pat himself) were quoting CHESTERTON and criticizing cosmopolitans--one worlders in his lingo--for not understanding the need to ground the univeral in a concrete "form and structure"--a national home that gives universalism real life and expression.




Some who come to America, of whatever stock (which would include some of my cousins, by the way--think of the one-time reach of the Dutch empire) are "born American, but in the wrong place."

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