What American freedom has meant
have become so understandably peeved at America’s dominant liberal ideology and the excessive hype of American exceptionalism that they seem at times to deny any special value to America at all, or even any sense of personal allegiance to it. It is as though the perversions of freedom we are now witnessing in much of our culture make them doubt the worth of American freedom itself. It is important, in troubled times like these, to remind ourselves what that freedom has meant to countless men and women over the centuries.
Take the story of Henry M. Stanley, the 19th century journalist and African explorer. Born illegitimate in Wales in 1841 and named John Rowlands, he was confined to a workhouse at age six, where the treatment was harsh and brutal. After nine years he could take it no more and ran away from the workhouse, but none of his relatives would take him in for long. At age 17 he shipped out as cabin boy to New Orleans. On the ship he was again treated roughly, and deserted when the ship reached New Orleans. Then his luck changed.
A wealthy British cotton broker, Henry M. Stanley, took to the boy and helped find him a job as a clerk in a warehouse. The pay and job were good, and John was able to start living decently. For the first time in his life, a biographer writes, “he was free of harsh authority, daily humilation, and poverty.” Stanley writes of this period in his memoirs:
Throughout America, my treatment from men would solely depend upon my individual character, without regard to family or pedigree. These were proud thoughts…. My shoulders rose considerably, my back straightened, my strides became longer, as my mind comprehended this new feeling of independence.
Reading this, let us remember that America has indeed embodied something new and fine in human history, that has expanded the lives of millions of people and offered an environment where happiness, in the true sense of a life lived according to virtue, could be pursued. Let us remember that freedom is not, as liberals now say, the freedom to do whatever we feel like; and that freedom is not, as the neoconservatives would have it, a soulless ideology to transform the world and dissolve all particularities, especially our own. Freedom is the freedom to realize worthy ambitions and high goals, the freedom to live one’s own life, the freedom to be a man.
As traditionalists, we have grounds to be critical of a society that increasingly refuses to value background at all, if that background is that of the historic majority people of America, even as it simultaneously grants special privileges to non-white minorities; a society that progressively unleashes human energy from all cultural and moral constraints, to the point where the identity and existence of the society itself is threatened. Those destructive tendencies may be built into our democratic ideology, as Toqueville himself was suggesting around the time Henry Stanley was born. But let us not also forget, along with its faults, the true and unique value that America has represented to the world.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 05, 2003 12:39 PM | Send
The political “right” and “left” are needed in a capitalist society. You have to please followers of both sides at some point. The pendulum swings to the left..a democrat is president…the pendulum swings to the right..a republican is president.The elite are happy because their interests stay unaffected while the masses are also appeased for they now have hope that a change in administration will also bring change.
“Throughout America, my treatment from men would solely depend upon my individual character, without regard to family or pedigree. These were proud thoughts.Ö My shoulders rose considerably, my back straightened, my strides became longer, as my mind comprehended this new feeling of independence.”
That was then; this is now. And that quote looks more out of place than a white heterosexual conservative male applying for a job in literary studies at your local college. Personally, I feel extremely alienated from the United States and most of its *current* values. I’ll bet there are many, many people out there just like me. Being an American citizen is but a step from having all the value you find with a prize inside a box of Crackerjacks. Our politicians pass it out freely. Mohammadan, aggrieved Third Worlder, sub-Saharan refugee. They all have more rights than I do today. Why should any white male traditionalist lift a finger to fight and preserve a country (it’s no longer a nation) that sees him as nothing more than a tax cow?
Even if the quote is only a reminder of what America once was, it is good to be reminded of that. It helps provide a standard by which we can judge and resist the present.
While I do not deny that America is marginally freer and less decadent than most of Europe and still much better than the Third World (which it may soon become part of if we keep it up), I don’t see why this means we must harp on about how America is the greatest nation on earth. Knowing that this was once a great country years before I was born does not make me much more patriotic. Certainly most right wingers are so obsessed with American exceptionialism that it makes it hard to actually make any changes. Usually such exceptionalists find America’s greatness from its weaknesses rather than its stregnths. Last year, I heard Dinesh D’Souza speak about how America was so great because of McDonalds, Brittney Spears, Dennis Rodman, feminism, and our immigration policy (I’m not exaggerating).
I’m still proud to be an American, but there is less and less to be proud of. Whatever great values that was once exceptional to our country seem to be fading. If anything we seem to exceptional in that we are always a few years behind Europe in whatever multicultural scheme they come with it.
As Burke said, to love your country it must be lovely. True patriots I think would focus more of their attention on making this country more lovely rather than beating their chests and making crude jokes about the French.
(PS, I am not suggesting that Mr. Auster supports the stupidity of the D’Souza brand patriotism, I just wanted to point out how truly absurd neocon exceptionalism is.)
American freedom is indeed something we should be thankful for. It would be a mistake, however, to divorce America’s unique brand of freedom from its roots. Our revolution was quite different from the French revolution which promoted a new equality unfettered by the bonds of tradition. The Constitution and the ideals of our founding fathers are quite different. They are an expression — a better expression than had existed before, certainly — of individual reliance and local social order that had existed in Europe for a long period of time. They are an affirmation of a tradition.
The “soulless ideology” of the neocons that you describe is very much in the French style, and as you say, opposed to “the freedom to realize worthy ambitions and high goals, the freedom to live oneís own life, the freedom to be a man.”
“Last year, I heard Dinesh DíSouza speak about how America was so great because of McDonalds, Brittney Spears, Dennis Rodman, feminism, and our immigration policy (Iím not exaggerating).”
As I read this, it occurred to me what the D’Souza/Frum brand of conservatism actually means: the left and the moral libertarians destroy America, and these “conservatives” put a patriotic, all-American sheen on what the left and the moral libertarians have done. Whatever the left does, the neocons will find a way of defining it as a realization of conservative values.
In other words, it is not just that the neocons are courtiers and time-servers to the leftist regime; rather, their specific function is to _legitimize_ the leftist regime in the eyes of the conservative masses.
See my article:
The Neocons Go Left