On America (the first, I hope, of many parts)

A few of you know that I’ve been rather absorbed in reflections on patriotism of late–not patriotism in general, but American patriotism, and what love of our country should really look like in our lives. A longer post on that will follow at some point, once I’ve been able to wrap some of my hazier thoughts in words.

For today, I present two questions that have been revolving in my mind for quite some time, both of which spring from patriotism, but are more centered on the issue of the American project itself.

First, I think about our nation’s origins, about the ideals on which she was built; how compatible are those ideals with our Catholic faith? Perhaps I hesitate to embrace them wholeheartedly in part from an in-built bias against the religious (or irreligious) beliefs and philosophical underpinnings of many of the Founders themselves. And perhaps that isn’t fair.

Second, and this question springs from the first, looking at the American project today and the manifold ways in which it seems to be unraveling, I wonder if it is necessary to return, as so many conservatives urge, to “the ideals of the Founders,” or if we should instead seek to go back farther than that, to the good principles on which those ideals were built, but perhaps cutting out certain aspects. In particular, the social contract ideal gives me huge pause, as does the staunchly individualistic approach to government. But I admit, I don’t really know what I’m talking about here, so this is largely feeling about in the dark for me.

Give me another two years to ponder, and I may be able to come up with some concrete things to say on this matter. But for now, perhaps it’s enough to lay the questions out there and hear the thoughts of others…

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3 thoughts on “On America (the first, I hope, of many parts)

  1. Good questions. Here is my response:

    1) The ideals upon which our country was built are not contrary to our faith, at least the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the preamble of the Constitution. I believe a society and a nation exists to enact justice, promote prosperity, and allow for common defense. I believe a good society/nation should be founded on liberty, equality (in some sorts anyway), and that all power in such a society/nation is derived from the CONSENT of the governed.
    The biggest thing missing from the foundations of our nation is any mention of divine truth. This is due to the mishmash of religion in our society since the beginning. I believe that there is such a thing as divine truth as do other Catholics and most religious people. There is no conflict, in principle, between the founding of our nation/society and divine truth, but it is a pretty big, gaping, obvious hole.

    2) Returning to the ideals of our Founding Fathers, or further back, is a necessary exercise, but should not be held up as a standard on which to base future success. What we must do is examine the best of our history, the most successful lessons learned along with the failures. Pick only the best foundational truthes and start ANEW. It is how our Father started our faith as we understand it, taking truth from our history, and starting anew.
    I believe our Founding Fathers had A LOT right, but their foundation wasn’t complete. I don’t know that we, as imperfect beings, will every have all the pieces. We can never build a true heaven on earth, but we can get closer with each new attempt. It is our obligation to continue to improve and identify the missing pieces. I’m sure governmental historians can tell you what pieces NOT to include in future attempts (i.e. slavery, birthrights, state mandated religion, true economic socialism, consolidated power, etc.)

    Anyway, those are my thoughts in 20 minutes or less 😉

  2. Ah, the issue.

    The reason Catholics say that we can be for the ideals of the Founding Fathers seems to me to be that they think government can be religiously, morally neutral–neutral in respect of which comprehensive worldviews it favors. But if government cannot be neutral as regards comprehensive worldviews, then evacuating things “traditionally” recognized as such from government merely allows other competing worldviews to be that in accord with which the law is passed. These function as religions, save that they are not called such. Thus, a libertarian Objectivist (one comprehensive worldview, i.e., religion) can pass laws based on his ideals; a Catholic (who has another comprehensive worldview) cannot. Furthermore, because the argument offered by the Objectivist will be seen as valid in the public sphere, while the arguments of the Catholic will not, Catholic concerns will be subordinated to Objectivist concerns (or, as is more likely, secular humanist concerns.) This is obviously unacceptable.

    Of course, I have not shown that government cannot be religiously/morally neutral–but see Milbank, Blond, Schindler, et alia, to see many good arguments for this. See. . . their books.

    Hm, the futile feeling of arguing in a combox. So I’ll throw out something random about another problem with the individualism in the US–this article, which is principally metaphysical, but in the last section (IV) applies the metaphysics to the situation of the US and dear John Courtney Murray.

    http://communio-icr.com/articles/PDF/schindler20-3.pdf

    (The journal uploaded this article itself, so the copyright is cool, for anyone who might be unusually aware of copyright laws.)

  3. Good questions!

    My thoughts are a bit muddled, but here they come:

    Our founding values left some things to be desired. In particular, we have never had a sufficient love for *peace*. Let me be clear: I find no fault with our conduct of the revolutionary war, but I think we’ve had many presidents who’ve taken the wrong lessons from it, and none who’ve really lived up to Washington’s warrior gentleman spirit.

    We’ve had presidents like Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Wilson who each in their own way embraced war and violence in ways I’d find fault with. I still haven’t even made my peace with Lincoln’s prosecution of the Civil War! And worst of all, we still haven’t found it within ourselves to admit that our bombing raids against civilians during WW2 were immoral.

    The complex effects of this militarism in our culture are very present, I think, but not always easy to see.

    I don’t necessarily have thoughts on the individualism question. I don’t yet understand how far the Church’s teaching on solidarity really ought to extend in government/the public sphere, it’s a confusing and controverted area.

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