For Love of Country

To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” – Edmund Burke

In his most recent book Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society, R.R. Reno makes the argument that Western culture, particularly in America, lacks solidarity; that inherent to the atomized and materialized nature of Western society is a cultural fragmentation. Yuval Levin echoes and expounds upon this sentiment in his recently released The Fractured Republic, and it is difficult to argue to the contrary. Go to any public space, however scared or perverse, and one will find shockingly similar behavior – men, women, and children all gazing down at their various mobile masters, ignoring the wide world around them. Even in church, a not-so-keen eye may spy members of the body reveling in the purely temporal to the neglect of the eternal. The world out there, in all of its splendor and joy, in its sublime beauty, cannot compete for the modern mind with the vacuous and vacant pleasures of a cell phone.

Solidarity, the notion that there is in some intangible way a common thread that binds a society together, is dying a neglected death. Rather than being on life support, it wastes away in the cold night of an uncultured winter. In our epicurean world, where there is neither truth nor meaning, which is nihilism defined; all that matters is the here and now. When nothing means anything, the governing principle is individual pleasure; when individual pleasure is the highest striving of the human soul, the human soul has lost all notion of higher things and is a blind, deaf, and dumb non-entity groping for a source of light in a dark forgotten room. In a nihilistic world, nothing means anything, and therefore everything is replaceable.

In such a society, there is no place for beauty. One non-truth is just as good as the next, so one may transition from one to the next without noticing the lack of the former or the folly of the latter. If the latter does not fit as advertised, it may be either discarded for the former, or else replaced once more for a still newer version. After all, nothing means anything. All that matters is this, here, this moment somehow independent from the past and lacking influence on the future. It was Machiavelli who famously wrote, “A prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent.” It seems that in our Machiavellian age, we have come to embody the wrong Machiavellian ideal.

This epicurean ideal directly informs the lack of concern for embracing one’s culture, or tradition, be it national, ethnic, or religious in nature. This has left many to wonder how much longer the West, not just America but indeed all of Western society can last if loyalty to the things of the past upon which our culture is built is nonexistent. Just as a ship without a rudder is dead in the water, a people without is a people without a future. Enter the political class. Always the last in the room to get the message, these men and women profess to believe that what the human soul needs is still greater levels of individual freedom, that the cure to society’s drift into oblivion is the continued atomization of society. This, of course, is precisely the cause of the drift, as it is all but natural that man fall away from God, the opposite direction of Whom is sin and death. His unquenchable thirst for freedom is the very essence of the phrase, “Give him enough rope to hang himself with.”

How does this relate to Burke’s sentiments on the loveliness of one’s country? Simply this. If a lack of solidarity is the problem, then presumably solidarity is the answer, and for solidarity to occur, the West – be that America or Western culture traditionally drawn – must have some common thing or things around which to gather. Not just anything, though. The West has been gathering around the dark, gaping maw of secularism for decades, which has led to this moment. No, in order for solidarity to be true, it must gather around truth. What might that be? There are many acceptable answers – family, faith, service, honor, virtue… These would all of them be fine choices. However, so doing might remind the West that there is something good about the West, even if this good thing is buried very deeply in the ash heap. The Phoenix burns away, but it rises again. In much the same way, the good may be temporarily lost, but never permanently. The only permanent quality of good things is their goodness. That which is truly good, much like gold, does not rust. It may be dirtied, but it can be buffed away.

It is our shared traditions that bind us together, and it is to those traditions we must look for our revitalization. Remembering that there is something good about the world that was will lead us to remember that there is more goodness to remember. This is not some misguided return to the past, nor is it a dichotomous suggestion that past and present may not co-exist, but rather a conservation of the good things of the past. If one remembers the lovely qualities and traditions of ones heritage, one will labor to bring those qualities back to the fore. There is no passive servant to permanence; if one is not captivated totally, one is not captivated at all. No army has ever taken a prisoner of war, “sort of.” Either he is in chains or he is free. If the West remembers the truths of the past, the truths of its own past, so rich a vein of tradition and beauty, all will be much the freer, and his country will once again be lovely.

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