All we have of freedom --
All we use or know --
This our fathers bought for us
Long and long ago.
- Rudyard Kipling, The Old Issue
All we use or know --
This our fathers bought for us
Long and long ago.
- Rudyard Kipling, The Old Issue
On this Fourth of July, as always, my thoughts turn to the blessing of freedom, which our forefathers won and claimed for us, their posterity, some 232 years ago. Our feelings of gratitude for the liberties which are enshrined in our founding documents are wrapped up in the sentiment we call patriotism.
And living in this strange age when there are powerful forces seeking to render nations obsolete by opening borders and making citizenship irrelevant, there is a sense of the fragility of our country and our way of life, of the very things we celebrate and honor today.
Every now and then, the subject of patriotism and nationality is discussed, and it seems that nowadays, Americans are divided between those who think that we Americans are a nation by virtue of our accepting a certain set of beliefs. This idea seems to have caught on among the right-liberals as well as the left-liberals. The only holdouts against this idea, the concept of America as a 'proposition nation' are traditionalists and paleo-conservatives, who hold to the time-honored association of nation with kinship and soil. America, or any other nation, is not merely a set of ideas, although we do make much of the ideas in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, these ideas alone are not the sum of what it means to be an American. Millions, perhaps billions of people around the world might give intellectual assent to the ideas in our Founding documents. Few people on earth would disagree with ideas such as 'all men are created equal' or the 'right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' But would an assent to those ideas qualify the believer to be an American? The liberals would probably answer 'yes.'
We are a nation of many races... (and) many points of origin. But our one shared faith is the belief that a nation conceived in an idea will prove stronger, more enduring, and better than any nation... made from a common race or culture."The above words are the words of John McCain, obviously a believer in the 'proposition nation.'
But are ideas a stronger basis on which to found and preserve a nation? I know of no successful nation which has endured for very long based on a notion, or an idea, without strong ties of kinship and cultural heritage. The defunct and failed Soviet Union was based on an idea or an ideology, and we saw how people who deviated from the official ideology were made non-persons, imprisoned or committed for psychiatric treatment. If a nation is based on an official belief system, then in order to be a member in good standing of that nation, one has to subscribe to the belief system. It sounds very much like a cult, rather than a nation, and where is freedom of conscience or freedom of thought and opinion in such a 'nation'? Some might think it far-fetched that our country could become as ideological and intolerant as the old Communist countries, but as our country, like all Western countries, becomes more multicultural, full of dozens or hundreds of different and sometimes mutually hostile peoples, the ideological glue that will have to hold us together will need to be very strong. Multicultural societies have to become very authoritarian in order to manage the conflicts and the inevitable frictions between the disparate groups of people.
The very word 'nation' comes from the Latin word for 'birth', and the word patriot comes from the Latin for 'father'. Nation has traditionally been a synonym for 'people', and not merely a random assortment of people, but a related group, who share a common place of origin, blood ties, and cultural/religious ties. Much of the loyalty we feel for our country is based on these common threads.
The words we use so often when we celebrate our independence, words like 'liberty' and 'freedom', are words that almost everyone on earth regards favorably. Yet we know that Moslems, for example, interpret 'freedom' or 'liberty' much differently than we do. Andrew Bostom has written on this subject:
Hurriyya (Arabic for “freedom”) and the uniquely Western concept of freedom are completely at odds.
Hurriyya “freedom” is – as Ibn Arabi (d. 1240) the lionized “Greatest Sufi Master”, expressed it - “being perfect slavery.” And this conception is not merely confined to the Sufis’ perhaps metaphorical understanding of the relationship between Allah the “master” and his human “slaves.”
The late American scholar of Islam, Franz Rosenthal (d. 2003) analyzed the larger context of hurriyya in Muslim society. He notes the historical absence of hurriyya as “…a fundamental political concept that could have served as a rallying cry for great causes”. An individual Muslim
“…was expected to consider subordination of his own freedom to the beliefs, morality and customs of the group as the only proper course of behavior…”.
Thus politically, Rosenthal concludes,
“…the individual was not expected to exercise any free choice as to how he wished to be governed…In general, …governmental authority admitted of no participation of the individual as such, who therefore did not possess any real freedom vis-à-vis it.”
Theodore Dalrymple has also written on this subject:
There is enough truth in the devout Muslim’s criticism of the less attractive aspects of Western secular culture to lend plausibility to his call for a return to purity as the answer to the Muslim world’s woes. He sees in the West’s freedom nothing but promiscuity and licence, which is certainly there; but he does not see freedom, especially freedom of inquiry, a spiritual virtue as well as an ultimate source of strength.''
In our American tradition, whether today's Americans like to acknowledge it or not, the idea of Christian liberty
played a big part in forming the ideas of liberty which the Founding Fathers asserted.
Here is a great essay from the Dow Blog on the subject of who we Americans are from a Christian perspective.
In David Hackett Fischer's book, Albion's Seed, about the original British colonists who established the basis for this country, on pages 199ff, he writes about the Puritan settlers' own distinctive ideas on liberty, the idea of 'publick liberty' for example. I doubt very much that the average modern American can quite comprehend the notion of liberty as understood by the Puritan New Englanders. I can't honestly say that I can fully grasp it, and these people were my direct ancestors. No, even in the same country, ideas of liberty and freedom change considerably over time, and much more so, they differ from one culture to another.
But it's clear that the Puritans' ideas of liberty sprang from the English people and culture; they did not come out of nowhere. Fischer writes about the other British colonists who settled America, and although they differed from the Puritans in many ways, they still came from a common cultural matrix, English Christendom, and thus they agreed on many things, and the Southern colonies were able to unite and make common cause with the New England colonies, so that today we can celebrate their establishing an independent and free America.
From that union, of the thirteen original colonies, came the expression 'E pluribus unum', out of many, one. However, even that phrase and idea has been perverted by the globalists and multiculturalists to mean that America is supposed to become a 'universal nation', absorbing everybody. Here we see an example of such twisting of the meaning.
Thus we can see how any of the abstract ideas which our nation embraced can be subtly perverted into something else. We have seen how the 'patriotic' poem on the Statue of Liberty is now used to promote open borders and unchecked mass immigration. The Statue of Liberty herself, who was meant merely to be a shining light to inspire the world from afar, is now pressed into service to usher the whole world into our country. And among the many new immigrants which the promiscuous Lady Liberty now beckons are those who hold a different faith, which calls for violence and subjugation of the rest of us.
The Mohammedans see our ideas of liberty, which have in our day tended towards libertinism and the casting off of restraint, as licentiousness -- and to some extent they are right. However the licentiousness which they see and despise is a perversion or an abuse of the liberty we have. Liberty without responsibility (and morality) is not necessarily good; our Founding Fathers knew that, and warned that our system of government was intended only for a 'moral and religious people', being inadequate to the governing of any other kind of people.
So mere assenting to words and abstract ideas and ideals, however good they may sound in principle, is not enough to bind disparate peoples together, when those unrelated peoples have very different interpretations and understandings of the meaning of the words. What was it that George Bernard Shaw said about Americans and British people being 'divided by a common tongue?' We and the many different groups of people who are coming to live among us are divided by our common language of 'freedom and liberty.' We may speak the same words, all the while believing differently.
Sometimes when the subject of the War Between the States comes up, those of Northern origin always say 'how could your ancestors fight and die for slavery?' The answer is they didn't fight for that cause. State's rights was part of the cause for which they fought, but reading through letters written by several Confederate soldiers, I see that the common theme was protection of their homes (their individual homes, and their state), their kin and loved ones, and their way of life. Honor played a part in it, but mostly, the reasons they were willing to suffer the incredible hardships and dangers of war was for home, soil, and kin. I have seen a picture of a flag carried by one of the Texas units, and it is emblazoned with the words, 'Strike for your altars and your homes.'
When I weigh abstract ideals of liberty and freedom against my love for my family, my extended kin, including fellow Americans, and my native soil, I think if forced to choose I would choose the real, tangible, familiar things: home and family and extended kin, rather than a cold abstract ideal any day. If I had absolute freedom yet was condemned to live in a place bereft of kindred, home, and way of life -- and of course my faith -- I would not be happy. If I was exiled to a country with people who did not or could not speak my language, and who were either indifferent or hostile to me, I could never be happy, regardless of the political system.
Maybe this is why the idea of turning our country into a rescue mission for the entire world is so troubling to me: in the America the globalists and open-borders fanatics are working to inflict on us, I and many of us would feel strangers and exiles in the land of our birth. In a real sense, we would no longer have a home, a place that is known and familiar and a place which bears our mark. It is as if your beloved ancestral home, which has been in your family for many generations, has been seized by the government and turned into a shelter or a hotel --- and you are not allowed to object. You are expected to simply share your home with many strangers, and to do so without a murmur of complaint.
So on this Fourth of July, I think of the preciousness not just of liberty and freedom, but of home and kin and the dear, familiar things that make life worth living.
That's what the struggle is about, ultimately. Altar and home.