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America, Seen from the Eyes of a Child
July 4, 2023
When I was a seven-year-old boy, I read a book that changed my life. It told the kind of story that fires the imagination of young boys: it was filled with larger-than-life heroes who fought tyranny to defend their way of life, not because it was their way of life but because it was the best way of life. The brave heroes of the story—men that I would later spend my adult life studying, teaching and writing about—unilaterally declared to a candid world the causes which impelled them to embark on a deadly war for their survival as a free nation.
My story would not be uncommon for many American children but for the fact that I was not American. I was born and raised in Canada, but it was the How and Why Wonder Book of the American Revolution that made me an American. The principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence were my principles. They spoke to me across centuries and across borders. The country of my birth, a good and decent place, could never be my country. From the time I was a boy, I knew my future was in America. Shortly after I graduated from high school, I left Canada to become an American.
For the last 42 years I’ve resided in America’s universities, first as a student and now as a professor. Shortly after my arrival I discovered, first to my amazement and then to my disgust, that serious people no longer think true the principles that brought me to this country. Those ideas—individual rights, limited government, capitalism, and the pursuit of individual happiness—were, I was told by my professors, old fashioned and irrelevant at best and the source of much evil at their worst.
For almost 100 years America's intellectuals have waged a war of attrition against the core values of American civilization. College professors regularly teach that reality is unknowable, that truth and intellectual certainty are a mirage, that there are no moral absolutes, and that all cultures and ways of life are of equal worth.
Since becoming a professor, I have seen firsthand the damage that our college professors have done to American culture. The reigning moral orthodoxy of America’s schools, from elementary to secondary and post-secondary is the doctrine of moral relativism.
It should come as no surprise, then, that many of today’s young people are not merely confused about what is right and wrong, but also that they have no sense that any real difference exists between the two. The one sure thing that a college professor can expect from new students is that they do not believe in moral absolutes—not even the Christian students!
So entrenched in our culture is this view that even a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States could assure the American people that, “Nothing is more certain in modern society than the principle that there are no absolutes, that a name, a phrase, a standard has meaning only when associated with the considerations which gave birth to the nomenclature. . . . To those who would paralyze our Government in the face of impending threat by encasing it in a semantic straight jacket we must reply that all concepts are relative (Dennis v. United States, 1951).”
The United States was founded on the self-evident truth “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” As a consequence of putting into practice and living by these principles the United States has become the freest, most just, most prosperous and most powerful nation in the history of the world.
But “[t]hese are the times that try men’s souls,” as Thomas Paine noted in 1776. The question that now confronts us this: Do Americans still believe these principles to be true, and will they fight to defend them. What America needs most right now is a new moral clarity.
We desperately need a philosophical statement to a candid world from our political and intellectual leaders that America has a moral right to defend itself from enemies domestic and foreign. The terms of that right must be philosophically demonstrated. It is no longer sufficient to rely on filiopieties, flattering slogans, or folksy speeches of doughface conservatives. Philosophically rearmed, we will then be able to defeat the searing cynicism of those nattering nabobs who have been morally disarming America for several generations.
On this, the 4th of July, I think of the young Americans in the years ahead who will enlist and go to war to defend America and the principles on which it was founded. Before they go, it would be good for them to hear from their professors why their cause is good and just.
Someday my grandchildren will read The How and Why Wonder Book of the American Revolution, and hopefully they will come to know why their grandfather came to this country and why he continues to defend it against unprincipled conservatism and immoral liberalism.
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!
AS I ANNOUNCED TWO WEEKS AGO, I HAVE STARTED A NEW PRESS—LOCO-FOCO PRESS—WHICH HAS JUST PUBLISHED ITS FIRST BOOK BY YOURS TRULY. CHECK IT OUT HERE: What America Is. Please consider purchasing a copy.
*The essay that you’ve just read is taken from Chapter 5 of What America Is.
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