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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Being American

British writer Charles C.W. Cooke discusses what it means to be American:
There are a host of similar American propositions, and most of them are fully testable. This is why America has a citizenship test. Would it not be “un-American,” for example, to oppose free speech? One has to understand the axiom and vow to uphold it in order to be naturalized not simply because it is the law of the land, but because it is a foundational principle without which the American idea ultimately cannot operate. This and the other core principles are neatly outlined in the national guidebooks, which include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Gettysburg Address, and so forth. Such works have made the world intimately familiar with the propositions of the American project and have acted as a magnet to immigrants from all over the globe. In contradistinction, ask somebody what Belgium is for and they will be hard-pressed to answer you — there is no such thing as the Belgian “promise” or the Belgian “dream,” and those who spoke of such things would be looked at with reasonable suspicion.
So prominent are ideas in America that they are put on the money: “In God We Trust,” “E Pluribus Unum,” and “Liberty” are — literally — forged into the currency of the nation. In Britain, by way of contrast — a nation that helped write America’s values and then largely abandoned them at home — the money features a picture of the Queen, some functional words, and a few decorations. This difference is important.