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How About More Love in and for America?


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How About More Love in and for America?

Four books to help reset a humble, confident mission.

Kathryn Jean Lopez

January 6, 2020

It’s a presidential-election year, as you no doubt can’t escape. The anger and conviction can be quite overwhelming. Even the words “presidential election year” seem heavy weights.

Speaking of overwhelmed, my office tends to be, with books. New books and old books. I’ve purged many times — we’ve had at least two moves in my twentysome years here. For some reason, two oldies rose to the top of a pile on the first day back in the new year. What’s Wrong with the World, by G. K. Chesterton, and My Love Affair with America, by Norman Podhoretz. They clearly have something to offer us overwhelmed ones.

Chesterton writes:

Quote

This is the arresting and dominant fact about modern social discussion; that the quarrel is not merely about the difficulties, but about the aim. We agree about evil; it is about the good that we should tear each other’s eyes out. . . . The social case is exactly the opposite of the medical case. We do not disagree, like doctors, about the precise nature of the illness, while agreeing about the nature of health. . . . We forget that, while we agree about the abuses of things, we should differ very much about the uses of them.

He goes on in his diagnosis of 1910 England: “We all disapprove of prostitution; but we do not all approve of purity.” Well, now I feel overwhelmed, because while the latter is true today, the former certainly is not. Attempts to make it legal in more than Nevada are afoot, and pornography seems ubiquitous. And yet, his prescription seems to stand the test of time:

(Snip)

In his ode to America, Norman Podhoretz celebrates the best of the United States. He cites, for instance, his public-primary-school teachers’ including traditional Christmas carols as part of their instruction. This is part of our culture after all, and joy is not to be withheld from children; they can come to know joy is possible, whatever their beliefs about the nature of God might be or come to be. We pay lip service to not “imposing,” and yet we do impose in all kinds of ways as a culture of increasing ideological tyranny. It is out of respect for another that you share, while not demanding submission! Podhoretz captures something beautiful and worth reconsidering throughout his book about love and gratitude:

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Looking back as a septuagenarian on my life as an American in America, I am reminded of something Jewish — this time of a special hymn of thanksgiving. . . . Each element is the subject of its own sentence, and each sentence of the series concludes with the word dayyenu, which can roughly be translated as “That alone would have been enough for us.” The idea is that, not content with “that alone,” God went on and on and on to pile wonder after wonder and marvel after marvel; so many that those participating in the seder invariably grow fatigued by the time they finish reciting them all.

(Snip)

And there are authors still calling us to our better angels. National Review editor Rich Lowry’s The Case for Nationalism: How It Made Us Powerful, United, and Free could very well have adapted Podhoretz’s title. And the day I first cracked it open, I started reading his chapter on Joan of Arc. It isn’t a prideful (in the deadly sin kind of way) argument he makes; it’s a love story seeking to draw others into the kind of gratitude that helps with perspective.

Our NR colleague, Richard Brookhiser, too, writes in his new Give Me Liberty: A History of America’s Exceptional Idea:

(Snip)

 

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