Posted by Christopher Johnson | Sunday, September 12th, 2010 | Uncategorized | 15 Comments
What’s that, Edgar? A European who understands the United States:
That [the Terry Jones] absurdity became the immediately accepted received wisdom suggests that the world (and not just the Muslim parts of it) must be very eager indeed to find a plausible excuse for casting America as a cartoon country whose heartland is dominated by bigoted know-nothings. Never mind that this is the same America which, only two years ago, was being hailed by ecstatic European liberals for having elected a black president, whose father and stepfather had been Muslims. I remember saying at the time that the victory of Barack Obama would provide only the most fleeting respite from the dominant anti-American mythology which is so essential to European self-regard.
The British, particularly – who feel that, for historical reasons, they should be in a better position to understand America than anyone else – find it almost impossible to believe that ordinary, not particularly well-educated, US citizens could be genuinely concerned about fidelity to an abstract notion of freedom embodied in a document that underpins their concept of government. (And no, Magna Carta is not the same thing: that was a deal between a king and a posse of feudal barons, not a legally binding social contract between a nation and all of its people.) But other countries – France, for example – have 18th‑century republican models of government, too, and their peoples do not seem to have elevated their constitutional nature to such sacred status.
What is unique about the US – and indispensable to the understanding of it – is that it is a country of the displaced and dispossessed: a nation which invented itself for the very purpose of permitting people to reinvent themselves, to take their fate into their own hands, to be liberated from the persecution and the paternalism of the old cultures they had left behind. Almost every American either is himself, or is descended from, someone who made a conscious decision to pull up his roots and take his chances in a land he had almost certainly never seen and which, until quite recently, offered no protection or security if the gamble failed.
Needless to say, read the whole thing.
Europeans, particularly the British, need to understand something. The Ones That Got Away no longer consist of Englishmen who couldn’t make it in decent society. Granted, far too many Americans view Washington’s victory at Yorktown as one of the greatest tragedies in human history but that does not change one basic fact.
The United States is not Europe.
Why? Janet Daley, the author of this fine column, points out that our ancestors crossed the pond for a variety of reasons. Some were religious, others political and others financial. Towns like New York City and St. Louis were established for one reason. As business ventures.
But they came for another reason that might encompass all three of the above. It’s summed up in three words that really are a far better national motto than E Pluribus Unum could ever hope to be.
Leave me alone.
At the end of the day, what does a man really want? He wants the chance to farm his spread or run his business, feed his family, bring up his kids and worship his God however he understands Him. And that’s pretty much it. As Micah puts it:
But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.
A phrase with which George Washington was intimately familiar as his celebrated and still moving letter to Touro Synagogue indicates.
So letting people alone to enjoy the fruits of their labors is not too much to ask. Actually, it was too much to ask if you were a Protestant in a Catholic country, a Catholic in a Protestant country or a Jew pretty much anywhere in Europe.
Hence the United States. And I think that once people got over here and got themselves going, they had no particular desire to look back east to where they had come from. They began literally and figuratively to look west to what was ahead.
What was possible.
Although this country has been part of the Scots-Irish Empire for a long time, that’s why things like Orangeism never took hold here. To your average back-country Scots-Irishman, a Roman Catholic might as well have been a Hindu. Besides, my ancestors crossed an ocean to get clear of that crap.
Throw in all the Indians we fought and/or slept with(if your family goes back far enough in the Southeastern United States, you’ll know what I mean). Add the various Africans or Mexicans our ancestors were attracted to(either culturally or sexually) and you eventually come up with the American.
That’s why “cowboy” is an insult in the rest of the world and the highest compliment here. That’s also why the document that made all this possible, the one thing that beat back absolutism and the one thing all Americans have in common whether they were born here or not, the United States Constitution, is as revered as highly as it is.