Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Independence Day

[posted by Callimachus]

Probably the most obvious thing about America is the most overlooked: That it aspires to be the most free nation on earth (and in its early years was) does not contradict the fact that is also is most concerned with its morality and its virtues -- with the principles that make a patriot as well as a good citizen. The Europeans think we're prudes or Nazis or both. Yet the two tendencies depend on each other: A free people has to be vigilant of its virtues; slaves never do. I remember being struck forcibly by this realization as a young teen, reading Prescott's "Conquest of Peru":

"Where there is no free agency, there can be no morality. Where there is no temptation, there can be little claim to virtue. Where the routine is rigorously proscribed by law, the law, and not the man, must have the credit of the conduct."

He was describing the Inca Empire, which had many accomplishments we could not then match, but which would not suit a free American of 1847. He wrote within a nation that was actively grappling with the question of empire and conquest.

What he wrote then could as easily apply to the fiends who attacked Britain this past week. They and those who came before them ultimately look to a society and government -- in their homelands if not in the entire world -- where the law, and not the man, will determine every detail of conduct.

Nor should we neglect to look within, as many Americans were doing in 1847, and remember who we are, who we set out to be, and measure how far we may have drifted off that course. We have nor lineage nor language in common; our liberties make us a nation.