Wednesday, December 01, 2004
It isn't just in religious matters that Americans are more likely to be believers: it's true in general. Americans, as a rule, believe. They believe in themselves, they believe in their ideals, they believe in their country. Or rather, they believe in their country because they believe in their ideals.
The American who salutes the flag, who tears up at the anthem, is not indulging in some cheap sentiment or mindless ritual. Rather, he is saluting "the republic for which it stands" -- not the state, as such, but the ideals it embodies: about the rights of the individual, about the prerogatives of society, about the relationship between the two. What is significant in this is not that he should invest so much of his ideals in the American state, but that he has so much in the way of ideals to invest. >
This unique capacity for belief obviously owes much to America's origins, both religious and revolutionary. But in larger part, I think, it inheres in a sense of responsibility. As citizens of the mightiest power on Earth, on which the very freedom of the world depends, they do not have the luxury of cynicism. An American president could challenge his citizens to "ask what you can do for your country," to "pay any price, bear any burden," and expect them to respond affirmatively. The thought would not occur to a Canadian prime minister
Perhaps that's why so many Americans voted against what people thought was their economic self-interest, and get angry over the part of America that sees America as the bad guy. Because, although we know we're not perfect, we, as a whole, don't believe we live in the world of Dr. Strangelove. We know we are the guys that wear the white hats, and we are willing to spill our blood to reach out and help out.
And that, I believe, that willingness to sacrifice for what is perceived as good, is something precious worth preserving. Europe, which is busy stepping on rights in the name of continental unity, and prefers nihilism to belief, and Canada, who is letting their government make hate crimes out of religious doctrine for Christians, but allowing Sharia law for Moslems, just can't carry that torch forward. And it's sad.