Wednesday, January 26, 2011

America's Heart

     I sat in with some of my 8th graders in their history class, and I discovered this gem from the past in their history textbook: 
Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her [America's] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
John Quincy Adams Fourth of July Oration 1821
     Is Mr. Adams right?  Did America become the dictatress of the world, at the loss of ruling her own spirit?

1 comment:

  1. Do you have a year on that particular gem? Because if it's anywhere in the 20th century, someone was clearly not paying attention.

    I read an interesting book recently that claims that all wars are fought in pursuance of Hegelian recognition; that is, recognition of the willingness of one person/country to risk its life in pursuit of a higher cause, and the pursuivant recognition of said person/country as a higher level of human than the other, who has submitted to preserve his/her/its life. Were this true (and I don't know if it is or isn't), then America would be one big bloated ego, seeking recognition as the superior of any available opponent. In a way, this is the attitude our government adopts: we impose capitalism and liberal democracy on any country in which we are involved. That isn't necessarily a good or a bad thing, but it is a good indicator of the incredible superiority complex we have as a nation, justified or not.

    Then again, were the US to stay uninvolved, she would be accused of arrogance in another sense, as Switzerland is frequently accused of being isolated and unconcerned with the problems of its fellow European citizens. The US has the power to do quite a lot, and weaker countries might see size and power as connoting a responsibility, as any advantage or freedom connotes a responsibility to use it wisely. The question of the wise course is the one debated.

    I don't know whether any American spirit persists, at least in the general sense. Many people are disillusioned with the government (and its bloatedness and corruption), with society and its evils (like reality shows and gun violence), and even with the world in general and its slow grind toward homogenization. Certainly Americans don't have a unifying love of country like, say, the French.

    I don't think we can say that America is the dictatress of the world, particularly given the current slump, but I'm pretty sure we have lost the spirit as well.