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The Constitution Is No Reason to Love America
I think a lot of us on the right have it all wrong.
Vladimir Putin gave a speech last week that should have come from an American president. I wrote it about it on Friday.
I expected to catch some flack. I thought many readers would jump to the conclusion that I’d prefer living in Putin’s Russia to living in Biden’s America. Or that I believe Putin believes all he said in that speech.
Neither sentiment could be further from the truth.
Rather, I believe America is at risk because of both those who hate her and those who love her.
Those who hate America are obvious and open in their hostility. They hate the men who discovered her, explored her, built her cities, established her colonies, broke from her monarchical government, established her government, nurtured her culture, and made her a great nation in the eyes of the world. They hate America principally because she recognized her place beneath God. They hate her humility. They hate her free will. They hate her people and her history and her future. We call these people “Democrats.”
But those who love America are a divided lot. There are those who love America for the wrong reason. One of these wrong reasons to love America is her Constitution. And love of the Constitution does as much damage to America’s future as the hammers of the haters.
G.K. Chesterton wrote of this over 100 years ago, in his book Orthodoxy:
The man who is most likely to ruin the place he loves is exactly the man who loves it with a reason. The man who will improve the place is the man who loves it without a reason. If a man loves some feature of Pimlico (which seems unlikely), he may find himself defending that feature against Pimlico itself. But if he simply loves Pimlico itself, he may lay it waste and turn it into the New Jerusalem.1
I often hear from friends on the right that we must preserve (or, more accurately, restore) the Constitution. As if the Constitution were the thing Columbus discovered in 1492. This argument, though, smacks of disordered logic. It seems to believe that America became great because of the Constitution rather than viewing the Constitution as great because it was American made.
Chesterton explains further:
A man who loves England for being English will not mind how she arose. But a man who loves England for being Anglo-Saxon may go against all facts for his fancy. He may end (like Carlyle and Freeman) by maintaining that the Norman Conquest was a Saxon Conquest. He may end in utter unreason—because he has a reason.2
I pick on those who give the Constitution primacy, but we have the divided right many other misplaced reasons for loving America. Many of my friends love America for her military. Using Chesterton’s argument, these folks will demand constant war. We call them Neocons, and that is not a compliment. Bill Kristol and others have lost their minds by giving the military (and intelligence service) primacy. They have a reason to love America, and they will kill millions for their reason.
If I am not making sense to you, I’ll turn you over to the tutelage of Mr. Chesterton again:
A man who loves France for being military will palliate the army of 1870. But a man who loves France for being France will improve the army of 1870.3
In short, when we love an aspect of a thing, we become fanatics. When we love the thing itself, in the abstract, we seek its perfection.
For most of my life, I had good reasons to love America. I, too, loved the Constitution, the military, the operation of its politics, its economic growth, Wall Street, and the rest. I had very specific reasons for loving America—reasons I would go to war to protect.
To people like me, the idea of America without a super-powerful military was anathema. Or the idea that corporations could do evil. Or that the FBI trampled on human rights. “You don’t get it,” I would tell skeptics. “Without the FBI, the foundations of society would collapse.”
My reasons for loving America led me to support any atrocity committed by anything associated with the Land of the Free. Lieutenant Calley got a raw deal in that old head of mine. (I didn’t have the guts to say it out loud, of course, but I believed until recently that the My Lai Massacre was a KGB hoax happily reported by America’s leftwing media.)
The dangers posed by people like me were enormous and terrifying. Rather than burning down the CIA to save the American Ideal, I would eagerly destroy that ideal to save the CIA.
Which brings me to today’s patriotic heresy: the Constitution did not make America great; America produced a great Constitution.
Was America not great before 1788? For that matter, was she not great in 1775? Do we study the events leading to the Revolution only out of academic curiosity? The anti-federalists sought incremental improvements to the Articles of Confederation and opposed strong central government. Were they traitors? Would America be unlovable had the anti-federalists prevailed over Hamilton?
We were taught, of course, that the Articles of Confederation had to be replaced because they provided too little power to the central government. But we learned this lesson from the intellectual descendants of the Federalists. Having accepted defeat, the anti-federalists were relegated to resisting the worst impulses of a strong central government that sought, primarily, ever-increasing power. One could plausibly argue that the victory of the Federalists paved the way for My Lai.
Thus, I work every day to eliminate my reasons for loving America and learn to love America for no reason. True patriotism, it seems, must arise out of love for the thing itself, not the ornaments with which we festoon it. Or, as Chesterton said, a young man does not buy his girlfriend a necklace to hide her neck. He buys it out of love and a desire to make her happy. We devised the Constitution to make America better—not the other way around.
Would America be America with a weak military and a weak central government? I don’t know, but I do know America was lovable before 1788 just as my wife was lovable before she met me. I do not buy her jewelry to hide her flaws. I cannot claim credit for her virtues anymore than the Constitution can claim credit for American greatness.
Would a weak government lead to America’s conquest by a hostile power? Perhaps. But England was conquered in the 1066 and remains English even today. Spain was conquered by Mohammedans, yet she commissioned the Italian Christopher Columbus bring Christ to the world.
To truly love America, we must detach from the things we love about America. We must let go of our reason for loving America because reason is always in opposition to love. Again, from the wisdom of Chesterton:
Americans fables predate the Revolution and the Constitution, but they are what we love about America. We memorize the facts of the Revolution, but we live the myths. Young men go to war for what the images Norman Rockwell painted represent, not to boost the stock price of General Motors. We lose ourselves in Washington Irving’s legends, not the Statistical Abstract of the United States.
We cannot measure love anymore than we can mathematically prove heaven.
Vladimir Putin demonstrated a deeper understanding of this kind of patriotism than the likes of Evan McMullin and the Neocons who profess perfect love for the United States. Putin wants Russia to be the Russia of Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky and America to be the America of Washington Irving and Norman Rockwell. His speech all but begs the West to love the West and not its jewelry.
If we truly love America, we will love her without her jewelry and makeup. It took me 59 years to see this, but I thank God I’m finally starting to understand the words of Chesterton that I’ve been re-reading for almost 40 years. And I’m a bit saddened that it took a speech by a Russian dictator to open my mind to the errors of my ways.
G. K. Chesterton. Orthodoxy . E-Bookarama. Kindle Edition.