Dreams of the Underlings

“We are here to help you hate your country’s past as much as we hate ours.”

So I imagine an emissary from the European Union saying, or a common sort of American public school teacher, or a representative from Facebook, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Disney, or some other multinational corporation, with a prelate of my own church, the Roman Catholic, smiling nearby, while the vanguard of social dissolution and family breakdown swing censers burning paper dollars and francs and lire and zloty in all the colors of the rainbow.

Of course it is only a dream, a bad dream. At the end of the world, said the man whom my church believes to be God incarnate, all things hidden will come to light. Forget plague and famine and war. That is enough to make the hair stand on end and the flesh to break out in a cold sweat. Imagine having to tell the truth.

What is the truth about my country? It weighs heavy upon my heart. When I was a boy, I wanted all the world to be more like America, not in their folkways and their daily lives, but in their love of liberty, and in that free and cheerful generosity that used to mark the American as young—sometimes naively so—wherever he went. When I was a very young man traveling alone through Italy, though all my forebears were Italian and I was as dark-haired and dark-skinned as anyone, something about me, the way I walked, the way I held my head, marked me as American—as someone with somewhere to go. That is what an older American tourist told me as he pulled up in his car behind me in Assisi to ask for directions. “You walk like an American,” he said.

Even at the time, I doubted that that was an entirely good thing. But does it mark the American now? I loved my country’s past, though it was shaded with great sins, as any nation’s past is going to be; as any person’s forebears are going to be; as any one living person is. But what would it mean, right now, for Italy or Ireland or Poland or Russia, to name the nations whose sons and daughters peopled the Pennsylvania town where I grew up, to be more like America? 

Again, when I was a boy, I pored over the encyclopedia, and I loved to see the United States at the head of this or that field of manufacture or farming or mining; America was the great supplier of goods to the world. But what now is our greatest export? I don’t know. Maybe it is pornography. Most likely it is debt. Morally, what is it? Social dissolution and family breakdown? Americans did not invent those. Europe has long been farther along in that regard, with its collapsing birth rates. But where, right now, does the energy for the dissolution come from?

It is not natural to hate your nation’s past. It is natural to cherish it, as it is natural to keep mementos of your grandparents who have passed away, and to tell stories about them, forgiving them their sins, and praising their virtues. The Irish should be more Irish, not less; Italians should be more Italian, not less. What kind of inhuman thing could want otherwise—could want an indiscriminate global grayness to cover the world, so that in the end the only thing to tell Ireland from Italy might be the color of the beer on March 17?

The answer is ready to hand. Those who want it are those who profit materially by it, gaining in wealth or power. Think of the small canton of Appenzell, in Switzerland, as bearing an analogous relationship to the Swiss nation, to the European Union (whereof Switzerland, to her credit, is not a member), to Europe, and to the world, as a small business bears to large businesses in the same line, and to business conglomerates, and to the multinational corporations that owe no duty to any state and that are far more influential and powerful than any mere Congress could ever be, even if Congress were not largely their lackey and tool. Brussels wants no more that Appenzell should be Appenzell than Disney wants people to make their own entertainment, to put on their own plays, as people used to do, and no more than the NFL and the television networks that pull its strings want people to organize their own football leagues, as people used to do.

The small will not resist if they are persuaded either that there is something irredeemably wrong with them, or that they are helpless before the great. Thus it is essential that they despise the great natural armories of resistance and independence. 

One of these is genuine patriotism, the love of your nation and her ways, not because they are perfect, not because they are the best in the world, if that can make any sense at all, but because they are yours, and you owe them a debt you cannot repay. 

Another is genuine religious faith, a strong and abiding sense of the sacred, that can rise against the pharaohs and despots, and say, “These grounds are holy. Beyond these grounds you may be powerful. Here you are less than the dust.” 

Another is the family—the natural family, father, mother, children, and all those kin that dwell in its sacred precincts, united in faith and loyalty and far-seeing care for their common good.

And I imagine family fathers standing up to say, “We do not need you, Google,” or Congress, or Hollywood, or Archer Daniels Midland, or the National Education Association, as the case may be. “We love our families and our land, and our history, but we do not love you. You are giants. We know it. You are as stupid and fumbling as giants, and wherever your foot lands, it destroys. Get lost.”

An essentially American dream of liberty, sure. Can’t an underling dream?

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About Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen is a Distinguished Fellow of the Center for American Greatness, a senior editor for Touchstone Magazine, and a contributing editor for Chronicles. He is the author of well over 1,000 articles and of 28 books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) ; Life under Compulsion (ISI 2015). His verse translation of The Divine Comedy (Random House) is considered the standard edition of Dante. Professor Esolen's most recent books are Defending Manhood: Why Civilization Depends on the Strength of Men (Regnery, 2022); In the Beginning Was the Word (Ignatius, 2021); Sex and the Unreal City (Ignatius, 2020); Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World (Regnery, 2018); and his beautiful book-length sacred poem, The Hundredfold (Ignatius, 2018). The recipient of the CIRCE Institute's 2021 Russell Kirk prize "for a lifetime devoted to the cultivation of virtue," Anthony Esolen is professor of humanities and writer-in-residence at Magdalen College. Click here to subscribe to his substack Word and Song.

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