The Patriot.02 – Love Of Country
I do not, nor will I ever, pledge my allegiance to my nation’s government, nor to any political leader or party. Such blind allegiances breed tyranny, and of that I want no part. To do so would be a blow to liberty in general, and to my personal liberty in particular.
I do however, love my country.
“What is meant by ‘my country?’” you ask. I prefer the definition tendered by the French Enlightenment-era philosopher, Voltaire. He wrote, “Our country is that spot to which our heart is bound.” I will expand upon this statement below.
Meanwhile, American novelist, Russell Banks, a contributor to Ken Burns’ PBS film, Mark Twain, made these astute observations about Twain’s perhaps unintentional characterizing of America’s unique experience among the nations. Banks’ words held me captive as I listened to them.
“I think that Huckleberry Finn is our “Homeric” epic. It stands to our literature, I think, as The Iliad and The Odyssey stand to Greek and European literature in some sense. We are as a people, radically different, despite our common threads of history, from Europeans. And the elements that make us different, I think, are essentially two: race and space (emphasis mine). And Twain’s work, more than any other writer before him, and probably more than any other writer since, embrace those two facts, and makes possible an American literature, which otherwise, was not possible.”
I like how Banks’ two words—space and race—seem to sum up in some ways, the American experience. They do capture a significant essence of our country. But I wish to add two more words to Banks’ list. They are “place” and “grace.” My list thus looks like this:
Each of these four words speak to me of a unique quality of the country we call America, my country, your country, the country that we love. Allow me to briefly elucidate.
Place: What is place? Is it merely a physical, geographic location, a point on a map? That definition alone surely sets America apart from other countries. Bounded east and west by two vast oceans, nestled squarely in the center—the most temperate zone—of the North American continent, and rich in a vast and pleasant variety of natural features, our “spot,” that place to which our heart is bound, more than serves us, it blesses us beyond measure. But let us think also of our country as a “place” in time—a unique moment in world history when Providence, it would seem, directed people and events into an extraordinary and wonderful crucible from which the best expression of political liberty ever known to man, emerged.
Grace: Grace, I believe, is the word most essential in understanding our love of country. For generations, and even to this present day, America has not been a place to escape from, but rather, a place where millions have escaped to. And why? It is because God’s grace has presided over this land. And here, grace has prevailed perhaps more so than any other place in time. I cannot explain it now, in this post, nor can I explain it well. But in future posts, particularly in my upcoming series AN AMERICAN JEREMIAD, I will attempt to provide some explanation. Without grace—God’s grace to be specific (and what other grace is there, really?)—our country would have never been. Today, as we seek to expunge him from our public square, from our public discourse, his grace dissipates ever so slowly. We watch in grief, helpless it would seem, to stay its seemingly inevitable vanishment.
Space: “Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.” So proclaimed Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, a newspaper which he founded in 1841. Greeley’s admonition captures the “space” element of our countrymen’s westward press, a clear signifier of the American idea, even from our earliest colonial days. Space has been one of America’s greatest features, a component that I easily associate with the “grace” on this “place” we call home. Even today, in 21st century America, vast empty spaces characterize our country, large, empty masses of land, still uninhabited, or once inhabited and now uninhabited again. We love this land, this vast “space” of real estate that we call America, this home, this “spot” to which our hearts remain attached.
Race: From the outset, this “place,” this country of ours, has played host to many a clash and challenge borne by racial and ethnic tensions. From the Puritans’ difficulties with the Pequot, to the auction blocks of the slave traders, to the Freedom Riders of the 1960′s, to Hollywood’s portrayals of the Wild West, to our very-immediate struggles over illegal immigration, race has been an ever-present and ongoing factor in American life. Try as we might, we Americans cannot escape the test that racial and ethnic diversity provide. It is as if God, in his grace, placed us all together in this American cauldron, stirred us up, and gave us the opportunity to get along. This is America, this is our country, warts and all, and whether we admit it or not, the continued scuffles and skirmishes are very much a part of what makes us Americans. Race, like the other three elements of place, grace and space, are what have historically separated and distinguished us from the rest of the world.
America! Don’t you love her?
Up Monday … The Authentic Patriot.
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