More people have experienced “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in America than anywhere else on earth. On the Fourth of July hardly a village in the United States, hardly a city street, is without some celebration of the Declaration of Independence.
Despite complaints about national decline and about “idea gaps” that still separate the actual social and political situation from the announced principles of our historic documents, the American people nevertheless rank high in good will and generosity, in bold venturesomeness and ingenuity, and in general honesty. This reservoir of virtue is apparent to anyone who has visited other continents.
These qualities are not self-wrought, however; they reflect the nation’s orientation, however tenuous, to those distinctive spiritual realities which once lifted the Western world from paganism to a sense of Christian conviction and conscience. The traits that weld a heterogeneous society into a national family—truth, justice, love of neighbor, and benevolence—originate and mature through revealed religion. There may be an “American character,” but there are really no “American virtues.”
No one would deny that America has scars and blemishes. There is inordinate ambition, for example—the greed for power, for prestige, as well as for plenty. There is corruption—in politics, in business, in labor unions, in sports. And there is race prejudice—that devastating blight to the affirmation that “all men are created equal.”
Americans clash over goals and methods. Those who would socialize the American scene battle those who champion a voluntary rather than coerced society. Those who would rely on Big Government’s legislation to solve all man’s needs resist those who maintain—and quite ...1
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