One of William F. Buckley's later books was titled simply "Gratitude," which is, when you think about it, one of the cardinal conservative virtues. The spirit of gratitude was amply on display this past week at a symposium jointly sponsored by the Bradley Foundation and the Hudson Institute titled "True Americanism: What It Is and Why It Matters." Spoiler alert: It matters.
Panelists took as their starting point an indispensable new book by Leon and Amy Kass and Diana Schaub called "What So Proudly We Hail," a selection of stories, songs, and speeches about "the American soul" which should become "The Book of Virtues" for patriots. From the Mayflower Compact to Flannery O'Connor, and from Ralph Ellison to George S. Patton Jr., this collection ranges across American history lighting upon the words that have shaped and reflected us.
Whether we continue to cherish the uniqueness of America was one of the questions tackled by the panel, which included Charles Krauthammer; Prof. Robert George of Princeton; Daniel Henninger of The Wall Street Journal; and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., among others.
Though there were disputes on some points, the panelists were agreed that what makes America exceptional is our dedication to enduring principles, our willingness to confront and overcome failings and sins, and the great blessing of having been founded by a collection of political geniuses unequaled in human history.
Liberals always worry that a celebration of American greatness will descend into chauvinism, triumphalism, and/or denial of the mistakes and crimes of American history. Juan Williams, another panelist, mounted just such an objection.
The danger, at the moment, seems quite the reverse. Our national embrace of multiculturalism, grievance mongering, and internationalism, along with a distorted and biased version of our national story (such as can be found in nearly every textbook in America) threatens to blind us to the sources of our strength. We don't need a sanitized edition of American history in order to be proud of our heritage -- we can handle the truth. But we do threaten the survival of liberty if we fail to instill in those lucky enough to have been born here a deep reverence for what is unique about this country.
On that subject, it's worth quoting at length from one of the essays in "What So Proudly We Hail," by one of America's most thoughtful philosophers of government -- Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge was president when the nation celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and delivered a speech to mark the occasion.