American Meditations: The American Cause
June 1, 2002
I observed in my last (and first) meditation that since 1776, Americans of every generation have mutually pledged to one another “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,” that we do this to secure for ourselves and our posterity the “blessings of liberty,” and that to understand the source and the cause of these blessings there is no better place to begin than with that most distinctively American document, the Declaration of Independence.
I have since been reminded that there are some “Americans” (the quotation marks would be theirs, not mine) who—though they share abundantly in the blessings of American liberty—profess no allegiance to the country from which these blessings flow. Ward Connerly, a patriot who has given and sacrificed much in the battle to end racial preferences in America, writes in the most recent Claremont Review of Books about a member of the Chicago City Council who refused a couple of years ago to join in the Pledge of Allegiance because “African-Americans owed no allegiance” to America. Connerly tells another story about a black professor at the University of Maryland who urged her black American students not to identify themselves as “African-Americans” but to consider themselves strictly as “Africans,” because they were not Americans in any sense of the word. In connection with America’s current war, Connerly recounts the sentiments of presidential candidate and race professional Al Sharpton, who informed his constituents following the attacks of September 11 that “This is not our fight.”
These attitudes raise interesting and delicate questions. To take a delicate one first: How are we to regard these “Americans,” and what is the relation between them and those Americans who, in this war we are in, offer and give “the last full measure of devotion” in defense of our country and its cause?
The generous answer is “We should regard them with charity and forbearance, so long as we can, and appeal to the better angels of their nature in the meantime.” We must immediately recognize, of course, that in human history it is a rare luxury for a people to be able to spill blood and treasure on behalf of those among them who profess neutrality or even hostility to the cause being defended. Luxuries must be dispensed with when the wolf of necessity is at the door.
In the words of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: “The body-politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: It is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people…” The American body-politic is a social compact in which each is pledged to the defense of all and all to the defense of each for the sake of the ends proclaimed in the American Declaration of Independence and elaborated in the United States Constitution. Those who do not join in this compact place themselves by definition outside the American political community. It is humor of a self-mocking kind when we elect such “Americans” to city councils or appoint them in our public universities. The joke reaches cosmic proportions when they seek office as America’s commander-in-chief.
A less delicate but nonetheless interesting question is Where do such attitudes and ideas come from? It happens that the examples Mr. Connerly cites are all black “Americans.” But Mr. Connerly himself is a black American, and he does not share these ideas; and of course there are “Americans” of various colors and descriptions who do. Everybody knows, or should know, that such ideas do not come in some magical way from the skin color or the ancestry of those who profess them—any more than they might arise from “gender” or “sexual orientation,” though they are typically presented under such auspices. They come, in fact, from the orthodox doctrines of the liberalism that has dominated the American Academy and consequently the American media, American culture, and the Democratic Party since the 1960s. This is the liberalism that worships at the altar of “multiculturalism” and has for forty years waged ideological war against America as the most powerful representative of a supposedly racist, sexist, oppressive Western Civilization.
The American cause does indeed arise from three thousand years of Western Civilization, though it is essentially timeless and universal in character. It is, in Lincoln’s phrases, a “philosophical cause,” based on abstract principles applicable to all men of all times—notably the ideas of human equality, human rights, and human freedom, so memorably proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. It has seldom been more clear than it has been since September 11 that this American cause is the cause of Civilization itself.
Christopher Flannery is a Member of the Board of Advisors at the Ashbrook Center and a Professor of Political Science at Azusa Pacific University.