Army Special Forces soldiers, as my U.S. News colleague Linda Robinson writes in her riveting book, "Masters of Chaos," are very much aware of "the tradition of their military history."
On the eve of a difficult mission, "more than one soldier went to sleep hoping that the next days would prove him a worthy member of that lineage." That's one reason the military maintains old units, so that soldiers will be motivated to match the deeds of those who came before and prove worthy to those who come after.
Similarly, one of the comforting aspects of attending religious services is the knowledge that you are doing what others have done before you and others will do after. Even nonbelievers often feel a twinge of awe when they attend Christian or Jewish weddings or funerals and witness liturgies with centuries-old roots.
And then there's the flag. Most Americans feel a shiver when they hear "The Star-Spangled Banner" played and reflect on the triumphs and tragedies that those serving under that flag have won and suffered over more than 200 years. You're part of something larger than yourself.
But not all of us cherish ties to past traditions. "America's business, professional, intellectual and academic elites," writes Samuel Huntington in his 2004 book, "Who Are We?" have "attitudes and behavior (that) contrast with the overwhelming patriotism and nationalistic identification with their country of the American public. ... They abandon commitment to their nation and their fellow citizens, and argue the moral superiority of identifying with humanity at large."
He believes this gap between transnational elites and the patriotic public is growing. Huntington knows whereof he speaks: He's been at Harvard for more than half a century.
This gap is something new in our history. Franklin Roosevelt spoke fluent French and German and worked to create the United Nations, but no one doubted that his allegiance was to America above all. Most Harvard professors in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s felt a responsibility to help the United States prevail against its totalitarian enemies.