How a Dead Irish Philosopher Reminded Me Why I Love America

After the 2016 election season, I was exhausted with all things political. Hamilton made me rediscover my love for American history, and I spent much of the election season reading through some absolutely stellar political works from America’s founding (The Federalist Papers included, of course).

I am conservative by conviction, admittedly, and I was left disappointed with this past election cycle. I’m unhappy about many of President Trump’s policies, and I’m let down by his moral character. Many of us—perhaps most of us—have grown disenchanted with the state of American politics today. How do we celebrate July 4th in light of that?

Put aside your political affiliation for a moment. Strip away your religious views. You’re a citizen, and I’m a citizen, and we are in this together.

Shortly after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Irish politician/statesman Edmund Burke wrote a treatise of sorts, and in it he detailed the kind of order in leadership that makes it possible for a nation to exist—a “natural aristocracy,” he called it.

Look at what he says, and if you get confused I’m going to explain why I care about these quotes at the end.

“A true natural aristocracy is not a separate interest in the state, or separable from it. It is an essential integrant part of any large body rightly constituted. It is formed out of a class of legitimate presumptions, which, taken as generalities, must be admitted for actual truths.”

Burke begins by saying that the pursuit of a governing body is a good and right thing for a society to pursue. He goes to break down the fundamental truths that any rightful leader(s) of a nation ought to let govern their world and life view. He lists everything from reading literature to moral guidance in light of our status as creatures before God:

“To be bred in a place of estimation; to see nothing low and sordid from one’s infancy; to be taught to respect one’s self; to be habituated to the censorial inspection of the public eye; to look early to public opinion; to stand upon such elevated ground as to be enabled to take a large view of the widespread and infinitely diversified combinations of men and affairs in a large society; to have leisure to read, to reflect, to converse; to be enabled to draw and court the attention of the wise and learned, wherever they are to be found; to be habituated in armies to command and to obey; to be taught to despise danger in the pursuit of honor and duty; to be formed to the greatest degree of vigilance, foresight, and circumspection, in a state of things in which no fault is committed with impunity and the slightest mistakes draw on the most ruinous consequences; to be led to a guarded and regulated conduct, from a sense that you are considered as an instructor of your fellow-citizens in their highest concerns, and that you act as a reconciler between God and man; to be employed as an administrator of law and justice, and to be thereby amongst the first benefactors to mankind; to be a professor of high science, or of liberal and ingenious art; to be amongst rich traders, who from their success are presumed to have sharp and vigorous understandings, and to possess the virtues of diligence, order, constancy, and regularity, and to have cultivated an habitual regard to commutative justice: these are the circumstances of men that form what I should call a natural aristocracy, without which there is no nation.”
Edmund Burke in An Appeal to the New from the Old Whigs (1793)

Make Patriotism Great Again

Here’s why Burke’s writings made my patriotism great again: they remind me that America is the greatest governmental experiment to ever happen. He wasn’t writing about America, no, but no other nation was founded on principles like this—principles of self-worth, the importance of vocation, honor and dignity found within every individual. Under no other system of government can a representative of the state truly consider himself “an instructor of his fellow-citizens in their highest concerns.”

Yes, our society has a rocky history of racism, injustice, misuse of influence, and corruption—we ought to somberly remember the faults of those who have gone before us. But as a nation, it is unmatched in the preservation of the general population’s individualism and the adoration of those individuals’ dignity.

Let us heed the words of Lincoln’s 1858 speech in Chicago: “Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man—this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position—discarding our standard that we have left us. Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.”

Friends, Americans, countrymen, lend me your ears: let us discard all our quibbling about this party or that party being inferior. Let us discard all our quibbling about this religion or that religion being inferior. Let us discard all our quibbling about immigrants from this country or that country being inferior. Let us learn to recognize anew the dignity of each and every individual, and let us cherish the reality that we have the honor to live in a society that recognizes our God-given freedom to do such a thing.

I’ve had a hard time with politics lately. I’m tired of partisanship and cold-hearted cynicism. But I’ll never grow tired of living in this political system. It’s a system that enables the greatest good for the greatest number of people and allows each and every individual to find their worth, and have it represented on a federal level.

The preservation of patriotism is not the mere upholding of a document written hundreds of years ago, or taking pride because any given political party has won or lost; it is the continued effort of the protection of each and every individual regardless of background, skin color, or nationalism. It is the beholding of the image of God in every man and woman.

It is the single greatest governmental system in the history of the world.

Cody Barnhart (@codygbarnhart) lives in Maryville, Tennessee, and is an MDiv student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He attends Pleasant Grove at College Street, where he is a church planting intern.