What Lincoln Believed

America has always been the problem. Too ideological. Too independent. Too sure of itself.

The trouble started early. The rebellion which became the United States claimed for itself “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them”. Well! To the modern mind, that’s getting off on the wrong foot, and a pitiful foundation upon which to build a nation. As we teach our children, nature has no purpose, no law, and no God.

And how radical those early Americans were! Consider this: “And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.” You would think that JFK, who was far from a religious prude, would have outgrown the idea that men “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights”, but he had not, for the good reason that — having endured the tragedies of world wars and witnessed the insatiable lust and inhumanity of communism — he and his audience understood what governments do. They gather power, and power corrupts.

The distinctiveness of America is rooted in its view of nature and nature’s God. It is an optimistic view of our value as humans and a pessimistic view of our trustworthiness. It is the curious idea that, as C. S. Lewis wrote, “Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit-immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
We find ourselves in a new place, we Americans. There is a new orthodoxy forming in our culture, as dogmatic and intolerant and violent as any crusade, and it’s sure about this: The old Americans were wrong; Washington and Lincoln and Truman and Kennedy and the rest, and anyone else who still believes in nature’s law and nature’s God. The crusaders claim America as if they had made it themselves and fiercely reject the humble genius of those who did make it.

Lincoln said, quoting Jesus, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”, and our house is divided, the new orthodoxy against the old. The crusaders grow impatient because the old Americans are stubborn in their ways and still too numerous to ignore. Thus, the current debate on borders.
Legal immigration makes new Americans, people who promise to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America”, people who “take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.” Legal immigration strengthens America.

Illegal immigration, or unenforced borders, reduces America to a location, and not a nation. It accomplishes through transportation the same thing crusaders accomplish (much more slowly and at greater expense) through education: the severing of reverence for the idea of America. It is politics by other means.

The world has been blessed by America, a nation too ideological, independent and confident for the modern mind. But the truths we once held are no longer self-evident. We reject the idea of a creator who makes men equal or gives them inalienable rights. We are surrounded by howls of rage from those who hate what we have been and believed. Well, let them hate. What Washington and Lincoln and Truman and Kennedy and all the rest believed, I believe.

Image: Emptiness of the Soul
Albert György – Ginevra

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