Sometimes you are handed a book at some panel and think: Well, here is another one to give to the neighborhood bookstore. But not the astonishingly good “What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song,an anthology compiled by Amy and Leon Kass and Diana Schaub and introduced earlier this week at an event sponsored by the Bradley Foundation and the Hudson Institute.
First of all, there’s a lot in it that is just good reading. I enjoyed rereading Stephen Crane’s short story “The Open Boar,” and I was blown away by Michael Shaara’s chapter on Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the Bowdoin professor who fought in the Civil War (a paragon of virtue, even if he may have shot at my relatives!). But good reading isn’t the only point to this anthology.
In introducing the panel, Ms. Kass noted that she had recently taught a class in which the students all described themselves as hyphenated Americans-except the last who was just an American. Nothing special there. Except that it is special to be an American, whether your parents came yesterday or hundreds of years ago. Fewer and fewer of our fellow Americans, hyphenated or not, have given much thought to what being an American means or why it matters.
For some reason I wasn’t smart enough to take notes and tell you about this important panel. Never mind-Mona Charen ws there and she has written a terrific column on it:
Although there were disputes on some points, the panelists were agreed that what makes America exceptional is its dedication to enduring principles, its 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, 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.