Mark Richardson at Oz Conservative writes here about these matters from a traditionalist perspective:
Politicians therefore think it reasonable to make the most radical changes to national existence to serve what appear to be historically transient aims of trade or diplomacy.
A genuinely conservative view of nations differs considerably from this. The nation isn't assumed to be an instrument for the getting of some other aim or the spreading of some other value. It is justified, in itself, as an aspect of being, as constituting a part of who we are, of our self-identity.
A conservative is likely to value the national tradition he belongs to as providing him with a particularly close connection to his own culture, to the places he inhabits, and to generations past and future. He is likely to value it too as providing a larger, stable setting in which to make his commitments to family and to maintaining the standards of public life.
It makes little sense, in terms of this conservative view, to voluntary discontinue an existing national tradition. Even if a greater lever of state power became available, or if there were new claims of trade and diplomacy, this wouldn't be thought to justify overturning an ongoing tradition which is so significant in forming our identity and our deeper attachments.''
And Filmer at Conservative Heritage Times asks 'What Does it Mean to be an American?
Please read the discussion thread there on the question.
I found that I could not write a quick, twenty words or less summation of what it means to be an American. It seems to be harder to answer that question definitively today than it was even a little over a year ago when I began this blog. So I have been musing over the question anew since reading the thread at Conservative Heritage Times.
It is sometimes helpful to say what something isn't before we can say what something is. And what better way to say what an American isn't than to turn to the opposition viewpoint, the one being pushed by the liberal/neocon "proposition nation" cult, as summed up by Peter Ferrara in National Review, Sept. 25, 2001
An American is English…or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian or Greek. An American may also be African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Australian, Iranian, Asian, or Arab, or Pakistani, or Afghan.
An American is Christian, or he could be Jewish, or Buddhist, or Muslim. In fact, there are more Muslims in America than in Afghanistan. The only difference is that in America they are free to worship as each of them choose.
An American is also free to believe in no religion. For that he will answer only to God, not to the government, or to armed thugs claiming to speak for the government and for God.
An American is from the most prosperous land in the history of the world. The root of that prosperity can be found in the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes the God-given right of each man and woman to the pursuit of happiness.
Americans welcome people from all lands, all cultures, all religions, because they are not afraid. They are not afraid that their history, their religion, their beliefs, will be overrun, or forgotten. ''
I guess by Mr. Ferrara's ridiculously inclusive definition, I am not an American because I believe that my America CAN be overrun or forgotten or erased. Ferrara is eager to include everybody except traditional Americans, who definitely did not believe that everybody could be an American.
Americans welcome the best, but they also welcome the least. The nation symbol of America welcomes your tired and your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, the homeless, tempest tossed.
These in fact are the people who built America.
Here we go again...''immigrants built America'', presumably while old-stock Americans were sitting on the sidelines, or perhaps just sitting and counting that old WASP money while the noble immigrants built.
So you can try to kill an American if you must. Hitler did. So did General Tojo and Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung, and every bloodthirsty tyrant in the history of the world.
But in doing so you would just be killing yourself. Because Americans are not a particular people from a particular place. They are the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. Everyone who holds to that spirit, everywhere, is an American.
So look around you. You may find more Americans in your land than you thought were there.''
Well, he is telling a truth there: there are more 'Americans' by his very creative definition than I thought were there -- about 12 million more, would you say? Or is it 20 or 30 million more? Quite a population jump all of a sudden, but by Ferrara's thinking, the more the merrier, and so what if we all speak different languages, worship different deities, and hate each other: we are all Americans just by virtue of being in the same general geographic area. Magic.
And one odd thing about that essay: it has been passed around the internet since 2001, and e-mailed to countless people, and credited to some anonymous 'Australian dentist' and friend of America. How did this happen? The second odd, or perhaps not so odd thing about the essay is that it is quoted approvingly by leftist multicultists and 'conservatives' who embrace the teary-eyed 'proposition nation' inclusiveness. Just one more confirmation of the fact that the neocons and 'mainstream' Republicans who believe this stuff are liberals if they but knew it. Of course, the neocons consider 'liberals' their archenemy, despite their shared presuppositions where 'America as an idea' and a 'nation of immigrants' are concerned.
And for a feel of the kind of multicult drivel that is fed to college students, see this course description
What is an American?
Notice the heavy emphasis on non-white, leftist viewpoints.
'Conservative' viewpoints on the subject are hard to find. Michael Ledeen says
How does it happen that in the United States, where the inhabitants have only recently immigrated...where they met one another for the first time with no previous acquaintance; where, in short, the instinctive love of country can scarcely exist; how does it happen that everyone takes as zealous an interest in the affairs of the whole state...as if they were his own?
It is because we feel ourselves part of a common enterprise-the advance of freedom — and we spontaneously organize ourselves to achieve that enterprise.''
Again, we are back to the proposition nation. Ledeen says that 'we' Americans are radical egalitarians who don't believe that human beings can be intrinsically bad or inclined to evil. Oh really? Then we have done a complete 180 degree turn from the early colonists who, as Christians, believed in the Biblical statement that 'the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.'' Ledeen seems to think we are all egalitarian liberals; again, gainsaying traditional viewpoints in favor of liberal nostrums.
This writer, in looking for something which can be said to unify a disparate collection of people who are loosely called 'Americans' seizes on the comic spirit, based in a democratic belief system, which acted to bond people together. He quotes a book by Constance Rourke, called 'American Humor':
Whichever of its aspects one considers, American humor had a single, all-important function: “[It] created … a sense of unity among a people who were not yet a nation and who were seldom joined in stable communities.” Our tall tales and theatricals, said Rourke, “served the ends of communication among a people unacquainted with themselves, strange to the land, unshaped as a nation.” What Rourke tried to convey was nothing less than the collective, half-unconscious effort with which America willed itself into being.''
Ultimately, she seems to have concluded that the American character is in constant flux, continually being shaped and reshaped. If this is so, and if our elites have embraced that as the preferred state of things, it's no wonder many of us are uneasy these days. The idea that a culture is an ongoing project of no fixed qualities, and that the character of a people is ever-changing, is a chaotic one, and one which offers no anchor to people who need stability and tradition and roots to give their individual lives context and meaning and a sense of continuity with our ancestors and our progeny.
When I've talked with acquaintances from other countries, it's clear that they think there is such a thing as a distinctive American character and personality. And like most such perceptions, it's broad and somewhat stereotypical, in some part derived from the Hollywood movies and simple-minded TV programs that many people around the world have seen throughout their lives. I've encountered people who told me that I wasn't a 'typical' American because I didn't speak with the New York accent they associated with Americans, via watching many movies with New York settings and characters. And then many people describe Americans in very negative terms: 'loud, badly dressed, graceless, arrogant, provincial', the usual 'ugly American' stereotype. The person describing this picture would then often hastily add : 'Oh but you're not a typical American.'' They didn't understand my disappointment at being told I was not a 'real' or 'typical' American; they considered it a compliment to tell me that, while I considered it a slight.
But even though the stereotypes based on movies are broadly-drawn, there is always some grain of truth in most stereotypes. There certainly are Americans who are brash, loud, demanding and so on; however, that is just the negative side to the better American traits of confidence, self-assurance, and a healthy rejection of social snobbery and deference. The flaws may be good American traits carried to excess or expressed inappropriately.
Americans, though I cringe when I agree in any way with the neocons, are basically a democratic, freedom-loving people. But does that mean that all people everywhere who claim a love of 'democracy' or 'freedom' and equality are automatically Americans? Does believing in some lowest-common-denominator credo make one an American with all the rights that appertain thereto?
Of course it doesn't. An American, like it or not, is a particular kind of human being, descended from European settlers of the North American continent. And like it or not, the particular fondness for liberty and freedom which some claim to be the quintessence of Americanism, derive from our Anglo-Saxon forebears.
I keep returning to Edmund Burke's speech 'On Conciliation With the Colonies', which dates to the Revolutionary War era. At that time, speaking specifically of the American-born English colonists, he said:
In the character of the Americans a love of freedom is the predominating feature which marks and distinguishes the whole: and as an ardent is always a jealous affection, whenever they see the least attempt to wrest from them by force, or shuffle from them, by chicane, what they think the only advantage worth living for. This spirit of liberty is stronger in the English colonies, probably, than in any other people of the earth..
First, the people of the colonies are descendants of Englishmen. England, sir, is a nation which still, I hope, respects, and formerly adored, her freedom. The colonists emigrated from you when this part of your character was predominant, and they took this bias and direction the moment they parted from your hands.
They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but liberty according to English ideas and on English principles. Abstract liberty, like other mere abstractions, is not to be found. Liberty inheres in some sensible object, and every nation has formed itself to some favorite point, which by way of eminence becomes the criterion of their happiness.''
Burke says, notably, that 'abstract liberty, like other mere abstractions, is not to be found. Liberty inheres in some sensible object'', that is, some real object which can be perceived by the senses: in this case, liberty inheres in the people who honor it and uphold it, in this case, the people being 'descendants of Englishmen' as Burke notes. We are the children of our forefathers, and despite modern twaddle about everybody being absolutely unique, even our talents and personality traits are in part inherited, not self-bestowed.
Many Americans who claim more Scots-Irish blood have historical grievances against the English, and will assert that the Scots are greater champions of 'freedom' than the English. Be that as it may, they both have strong traditions of devotion to freedom, and each people should cherish those traditions and cultivate them without squabbling over who is greater. But as these old founding stocks of America dwindle away at the expense of tens of millions of strangers, we can expect to see freedom and liberty dwindle away with us. The idea that freedom depends on us, the old-stock Americans, is anathema to the liberals and neocons, the proposition nation cultists. They prefer to believe that people are interchangeable, and that you can shuffle whole populations and nations around and have a persistent culture and an enduring country. This is a totally new idea; in the past, every change of population resulted in the submersion or complete destruction of the culture and way of life of the displaced or extinct people.
America is Americans, plain and simple. It's the unique result of the interaction between the land, the physical environment and the innate qualities and potentials unique to the people who occupied and shaped the land. Remove or displace those who shaped the country and the culture, and you will have something different in its stead.
Right after 9/11, there were TV 'public service messages' from those unknown folks called The Ad Council, whose purpose seems to be to push very liberal ideas. They ran a series of spots with the repeated phrase: "I am an American." The spots were memorable in a grotesque way, as we were presented with a series of very exotic and foreign people, some in varied native garb, saying in heavily accented English, "I am an American." Get it? Anybody, everybody, from anywhere on the face of the planet, by virtue of being here, can say they are American. And, as if by magic, it becomes so. Take that, you xenophobes and Islamophobes and nativists: Mohammed here is just as American as you are and so are all these other diverse and vibrant people. Deal with it; this is your future. That was the Orwellian message I took from those 'public service messages.'
And with each day that goes by, it seems as though the Ad Council's viewpoint becomes the dominant one; it's the same message pushed by our leftist college professors and media people and politicians, both Republican and Democrat. More and more, it looks as though they are right: an American is simply somebody who is here on United States soil, legally or not, English-speaking or not, whether they hate us or love us, they are now here in our midst. They are now being declared rightful heirs of our fathers. Thus, all that our forefathers strenuously fought for and bled and sweated and died for, to give to us, is now being given away, or sold from under us. We all know who is doing the selling: our supposed 'representatives', our supposed 'leaders' and our wealthy captains of industry and our cosmopolitan intelligentsia. So it seems that the once-cherished and coveted title of 'American' has been rendered nearly meaningless, if it can describe virtually anybody from anywhere. It is then essentially an empty, hollow label.
Maybe we will have to invent some new name for ourselves, otherwise we will be named by those who are trampling our heritage at the same time as they are laying claim to it. We will be labeled 'gringos' or whiteys or 'Pilgrims' as the Latino marchers contemptuously call us. If we lose, we lose the right to name ourselves and to write the history our children and our children's children will read.
Unless we reclaim the land and the culture and the history and the heritage which was established by our forebears, we have essentially lost the country and the name that is associated with it. The "America" that is being put in its place, like a changeling child in place of the rightful heir, is a counterfeit. It may be fooling a lot of people at this moment in time, but I can only trust that in time, people will begin to recognize that a massive theft and fraud has taken place, and restore our country and our way of life and our place within it.