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two nations

 (This is for Brad Birzer, who threatened to be cranky.)

Just after the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927, the novelist John Dos Passos said, “All right we are two nations.”  Dos Passos was still a socialist America hater at the time, and seemed to represent the future in a year that Calvin Coolidge, a true Yankee American of the old school, said “I do not choose to run.”

Today the fourth has passed, and it is no longer necessary to celebrate the silly notion that the United States is the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Dos Passos, a few years after his “two nations” statement, saw close up what the country could become under a “New Deal,” and became a libertarian patriot, a flip-side ideologue who thought that you could do anything you want under a practically-no-government regime better than under a total government regime.

But the fact is, since about the time he said it, we have been two nations. I know that my Confederate friends would say that two nationhood radically predated Dos Passos, but that is not the argument I wish to make here.

Call it a coincidence, but on the day after our annual nationalistic pridefest I received a fund-raising letter from Tom Fleming, the brilliant editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a review copy of the brilliant writer Richard Gamble’s new book, In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth.

Mr. Fleming says that “the modern world is predicated on the elimination of all distinctions.  Differences in sex, nationality, religion–all have to be destroyed or at least ignored.  Class, taste, beauty, grammar–these are the true enemies of the great god Equality.”  Mr. Gamble’s book is about the misuse of a metaphor, its separation from the Bible in which early Americans believed so fervently, and put to the use of a nanny state and world empire.  Equality is itself a metaphor when transferred (the original Greek meaning) from the spiritual to the political realm; and politics is what has happened to everything in the modern world–now even and especially the family.

To base public policy on a notion so manifestly without particular meaning as Equality, and to insist that a nation that does so is somehow heaven-blessed, is a prescription for totalitarianism.  To think of a nation which has murdered over fifty million of its unborn children in the name of “choice” as “the greatest nation on earth” is the very definition of hubris.

In both respects the cultural cry is for diversity (to be enforced by the state, of course), defined by Mr. Fleming as “the uniqueness of every individual who is to be exactly like every other absolutely unique individual.”  And woe to the individual who takes issue with the series of wars undertaken in the name of peace and responsibility for a chaotic world, once the province of progressive Democrats but in recent years made thoroughly bipartisan.

Equality is a condition, not a prescription.  Diversity is a condition, not a prescription.  Neither is particularly desirable, nor undesirable.  They are, of course, ultimately incompatible (can you have a basketball team that is both equal and diverse?) and impossible to attain, however much force is applied.  What most of us don’t realize, of course, is that the progressive thrust for Equality isn’t about equality–nobody really believes in it–but about power.  How many people do you know who are pining away for every neighborhood to be made up of the perfect mixture of tall and short people, a fine variety of colors, every sexual arrangement that ever existed, smart and dumb people, fat and thin, smokers and non?

And yet, these are actually things that congresses debate, and about which laws are passed!  They are also things about which some folks get angry with me for saying.

That is, the inhabitants of the other nation get angry.  Dos Passos, in 1927, had something very specific in mind when he cut the other half off.  Too often, both the Left and the Right throw thunderbolts that are only what Lionel Trilling once called “irritable mental gestures seeking to resemble ideas.”  Herewith I offer five observations from news stories that appeared today (Thursday, July 5) and pertain to the general ideas expressed above.


The AP reports a juicy thing from Anne Romney: Mitt is considering a woman (gasp!) for Vice President!  To my nation this is a non-story.


Serena Williams won her way into her seventh Wimbledon final with a career high 24 service aces. This is a story about one of the great athletes of our time, doing something that very few people in any walk of life achieve. I don’t care what Serena’s politics are.


Janet Napolitano tries hard to say that our tough summer temperatures are about “climate change” without saying it. The other nation has made “climate change” into a religion.


The Tom/Katie divorce is showing that Scientology is weird.  How long before this becomes a major issue of religious freedom, unlike what Catholics have been talking about lately? Or about what we won’t talk about in the proliferation of Muslim schools, or…?


WikiLeaks is putting out a couple of thousand documents about Syrian “crisis.” Good.  Maybe it will help slow down the rush to more war in the middle east, which is the main source of quite a few of our present troubles. But maybe it will give the other nation more excuse for slaughter.

This is just today. Yesterday Chris Rock (who the heck is he to judge anybody?) said something about “white Americans” independence. Well, friends, I won’t apologize to anybody about being white, about being the husband of one wife, about having ancestors who go back to the 1600s; about owning guns, teaching in a college that has a clearly defined commitment to the liberal arts, or about opening doors for women. All right we are two nations.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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6 replies to this post
  1. Excellent. I wonder how such ideologies came to triumph over real life for so many. I also wonder if it began once we no longer needed to spend most of our time staying alive and had spare time to daydream and meddle – say, the era of 'fridges, preserved food, washing machines and television.

    R de Toledano was, I gather, a friend of "Dos" as he called him, presumably in the laten 30s or 40s when both had tired of leftism.

  2. Kudos.
    Too often, the Right is not "conservative" and the Left not "liberal".
    In point of fact, I can more readily converse with an intelligent liberal than with a knotheaded Rightist.
    In the musical "1776", while it deliberately skewers men of substance and property ("cool, considerate men"), it also has a gentleman from Georgia quote Burke on the duty of a representative of the people to give them his best judgment rather than follow the popular opinion.
    Thank you for providing your best judgment.
    I do not like to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet.

  3. Excellent post!
    C.S. Lewis in his clever essay "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" offers prophetic insights that are closely aligned with what you are explaining in this article. Here is an excerpt:

    "As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings. You can get him to practise, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided. The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I'm as good as you. The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid, resounding lie. I don't mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense
    than in height or waist measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says I'm as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did."

    Thank you for your candor.

  4. I enjoy reading C.S. Lewis but this quote from CJH is over the top. This idea that democracy is somehow an idea of satan implanted into the minds of modern man is not rational. This is not to say that our Democracy doesn't have problems but it is the best system we have today. In my opinion, Karl Popper's "open society" is closer to the truth. Democracy, a human invention, is not the cause of moral failure. This idea that men in ages past were somehow "more moral" doesn't understand the human predicament. We are sinners and each day is a never ending quest to figure out how to be "good". No government can do this for us. I find many things reprehensible about modern society but I can do the same for any generation or age. I find it interesting that " democracy" is being attacked on all fronts; liberals, conservatives, radicals, and even libertarians. I guess my whole point is that the problem is not a political problem but a human problem.

  5. CJH, thank you. a variety of conservative and libertarians now approach democracy from a position similar to lewis's; some think that a single royal family of leeches cost less than many political parties full, and some look to a constitutional democracy as the best system. increasingly i think that churchill's beaten-to-death saying of democracy as the least worst is flummery. i do agree with screwtape that democracy encourages the kind of barbarianism under which no man recognises any betters or reason for self-improvement. i used to think this was merely due to poisonous progressivism, but now i think that it is a natural outcome of democracy. for those who concur, we may well ask if the american experiment was ever doomed to fail by dint of being based on an ideology (at one level) painted over Kirk's Revolution as a conservative reaction. In this sense a drop of Enlightenment spoiled the otherwise sensible brew.

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