It makes little sense for the Right to chastise our countrys forebears. Americans used to commemorate, with near religious fervor, the first founding in America: the Puritan founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Only with great effort have liberals convinced us to remove it from our national consciousness. As Gordon Wood has pointed out, in the early republic John Winthrop and William Penn were considered founders Washington, Madison, and Jefferson werent on the scene yet.
Americans used to venerate those austere and hardy passengers of the Mayflower and the Arbella. Plymouth and Boston, along with Jamestown in the Southin truth, Virginia was always more low-church and Puritan than most realizeused to be sites of reverence worthy of civic pilgrimage. There was the beginning of America, not as pure economic enterprise, but as politically self-conscious and Christian enterprises, the seed of a Christian Sparta. And this impulse transcended class; it was a source of strength for national leadership and imagination.
Henry Cabot Lodge, perhaps the most learned senator ever to grace the halls of Congress, time and again employed his pen in defense of this Puritan heritage. He wrote not simply for the sake of historical record, but to bolster national inspiration and self-confidence. He recognized a universal social need for, and duty to, filial piety.
In The Puritans, Lodge recounted the disestablishment of Shintoism (ancestor worship) in Japan. Anglo-Americans had long before discarded such practices, but the sentiment remains. Even in Western, formally classless societies, ancestors and their stories provide arguments for mental and moral improvement. A modest society may not sing its own contemporary praises, but it may do justice to ancestral deeds and virtue, and thereby shine with the mild refulgence of a reflected light.
Dishonest, sensational history is not mandated by this exercise. But strength is derived from it, nevertheless. In a civilization that in many ways departed so markedly from the Old World, the virtue, piety, and purpose of its first settlers matters no less than that of Virgils Rome. Ancestral veneration is, perhaps, more essential to the American way of life than it is on the far side of the pond, where origin is wrapped up in impenetrable Norman and Saxon mythan amorphous ethnogenesis. Lodge remarked:
[The Puritan] stands out in history as distinctly as a Greek temple on a hilltop against the brightness of the clear twilight sky. It is a stern figure enough, lacking many of the ordinary graces, but it is a manly figure withal, full of strength and force and purpose. He had grave faults, but they were the faults of a strong and not a weak nature, and his virtues were those of a robust man of lofty aims
. We would not barter our descent from him for the pedigree of kings.
Who talks about the Puritans like this anymore? Who talks about America like this anymore? More devastating still, what confident nation doesnt remember its prime movers this way? That we dont is an indictment of us.
What if we started doing it again?
At points, when necessary, we have returned to this memory. The last time America faced a Marxian threat and unprecedented domestic unrest, historian Perry Miller embarked on a life-long quest to tell the countrys story. He began with New England, never progressing much further. Millers scholarly contribution was a clear-headed, earnest approach to the Puritans. Though himself an atheist alcoholic, he took the Puritans seriously. His polemical mark was made with the insertion of the city on a hill metaphor for American history, purpose, and destiny into the national psyche.
The same maneuver is again warranted.
The Left and, to our chagrin, often the Right alike peddle impious caricatures of our national ancestors to score cheap, ahistorical rhetorical pointspoints only valuable within a liberal-progressive frame.
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