Does it break some unwritten rule for a columnist to bring his readers’ attention to his own book? If so, I ask your indulgence.
But, after nearly a thousand columns and 12 years since my last book, I hope readers will forgive me for noting that today, April 24, 2012, HarperCollins is publishing the culmination of a lifetime of thinking and years of the most challenging writing of my life.
The book is “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph.” It is an argument on behalf of the moral superiority – and universal applicability – of American values.
There are three big ideas – or religions, if you will – competing for humanity’s allegiance: leftism, Islamism, and Americanism. I argue that the American value system – what I call “the American Trinity” – is the best system ever devised for making a good society.
The problem is that most Americans cannot identify these values, and therefore cannot fight on their behalf. In the meantime, the alternatives, leftism and Islamism, have been spreading like proverbial wildfire, largely because their adherents know exactly what they are fighting for.
I do not fault Americans for not knowing their distinctive values. No one taught them what they are. And the problem is not new. Even the so-called “greatest generation,” the World War II generation, had not been systematically taught these values.
I only came to realize what these values are in the way medical researchers sometimes happen upon a major discovery – by chance. One night, as I emptied my pockets, I stared at the coins I had removed, and, lo and behold, there they were: America’s values. The designers of all of America’s money – paper and coin – had been telling me and every other American for well over a century what America stood for. And I hadn’t noticed:
“Liberty,” “In God We Trust,” and “E Pluribus Unum” (“From Many, One”).
No other country has proclaimed these three values as its primary values.
“Liberty” means the individual must be as free as possible. And this is only possible when the state and government are as small as possible. The freer the state is to do what it wants, the less free the citizen is to do what he wants. In sum, the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.
“In God We Trust” means that a good society is only possible when the great majority of its citizens feel morally accountable to a God that is morally judging and a religion that is morally demanding. If men are to be free, they must control themselves. And if a moral religion doesn’t control them, the state will try to. If men are not God-fearing, they will be state-fearing. And, as I show repeatedly in the book, every American founder believed that. Even the so-called “deists.”
This is one reason why, as America and Europe have become more and more secular, the state has become more and more powerful.
“E Pluribus Unum” means that whatever one’s race or ethnicity, everyone who becomes a citizen of America is to be regarded first and foremost as a fellow American. This explains why America has assimilated people of every background more rapidly and successfully than any other country in the world. Because E Pluribus Unum means that race and ethnicity don’t matter.
The “unum” also means that all Americans embrace their American identity. Ethical nationalism – a nationalism that is rooted in liberty and God-based morality – is part of the American values system – and it is eminently exportable. We who believe in American values not only want other nations to retain their national identity, we want them to celebrate it. The more Australian Australians feel, the better. That so many young Brits no longer strongly identify as British is one of the reasons for Britain’s decline.
These magnificent American values are applicable to virtually every society in the world. But Americans cannot export values they do not themselves know or believe in. And that is why I have devoted so many years to writing “Still the Best Hope.” Because Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that America is the “last best hope of earth.” It was true in 1862. And it is true today.