The Promise of Our Country

How do you teach people to love their country -- even when it means a great personal sacrifice? That question has long interested Walter Berns, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the book Making Patriots. Berns argues that patriots are made, not born -- that we have to be taught to love our country. He also believes that this love, though necessary to our nation's very survival, does not come easily. That's because it's in our nature to put ourselves first -- especially so here in America, where individualism is so rampant. "In theory," Berns writes, "this nation began with self-interested men . . . endowed not with duties or obligations but with certain unalienable rights . . . Why should self-interested men believe it in their interest to give their lives for the idea or promise of their country?" And yet, our cemeteries are full of men and women who did give their lives for their country and are doing so today in Afghanistan and Iraq. This Veterans Day, we honor the sacrifice of these brave people who rose above their own interests, and who are doing so each day in Iraq. Their lives and deaths remind us that, in order for America and its ideals to flourish, we have to teach our kids that there are things more important than simply fulfilling their own desires. The key lies in Berns's phrase "the idea or promise of our country." It's not enough to show people that it's in their own best interests if the country prospers. We have to remind them of what our founding documents state: that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." Our nation's promise is a declaration of the rights and freedoms of everyone. So we each have a higher standard to meet than simply looking out for number one. Now, sadly, we have often fallen short of that standard, arbitrarily denying rights to one group or another. But when we did, we knew it was wrong, and we worked to correct it. If we truly believe in the ideal of freedom for all people, we will keep reminding our countrymen of that standard and keep doing our best to meet it. Walter Berns does this throughout his book, pointing to great figures from American history who believed that the promise of freedom was a precious heritage and a goal to keep striving toward. As one book reviewer wrote, "He's instructing us in our own history and ideals in order to demonstrate that our nation is worthy of our love." For example, Berns quotes from Abraham Lincoln's eulogy for Henry Clay: "He loved his country partly because it was his own country, but mostly because it was a free country; and he burned with a zeal for its advancement, prosperity, and glory, because he saw in such, the advancement, prosperity, and glory of human liberty, human right, and human nature." Well said. How do we teach people to love their country? We teach them to love goodness and freedom -- and remind them that these are the ideals America was founded to preserve and promote. It's the only way we can guarantee that those ideals will survive, in America and around the world. And what better day than Veterans Day to remind our kids and grandkids of these truths. For further reading: Walter Berns, Making Patriots (University of Chicago Press, 2001). Walter Berns, "From the Ashes Comes the Rebirth of Patriotism," AEI Online, 1 October 2001. Read a transcript of an interview with Walter Berns and this book review of Making Patriots. Michael Potemra, "Teach Them Well," National Review, 17 September 2001. "American Patriots," Online Newshour, PBS, 9 July 2001. Read President Abraham Lincoln's eulogy on Henry Clay. BreakPoint Commentary, "Quiet Heroism: And the Culture that Produces It." (Archived commentary; free registration required.) Anne Morse, "I Pledge Allegiance to . . . Whatever," BreakPoint Online, 25 February 2003. Anne Morse, "," BreakPoint Online, 19 August 2002. Jim Tonkowich, "Heroism Rediscovered," BreakPoint WorldView, September 2002. Roberto Rivera, "Uncommon Valor and Common Virtue," BreakPoint Online, 27 November 2000. See the "Worldview for Parents" pages, "Liberation or Oppression?" and "Respecting Our Leaders." Call 1-877-3-CALLBP for a copy of "God and Caesar: The Logic of Christian Political Responsibility" ($5). This booklet addresses the issues of Christian engagement in the political process, and the Christian stake in issues of public policy.


Chuck Colson


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