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July 4

Celebrating new citizens on July 4

As Americans return to work after a weekend of July 4 celebrations and fireworks, it’s a good time to remember the freedoms that we celebrate on Independence Day–and a good way to do this is to look at some stories of immigrants who recently became American citizens.


Celebrating the Fourth of July

As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day  tomorrow, check out this great video that AEI videographer Sara Barger made to celebrate last year’s Fourth, in which she headed to the National Mall to find out how Americans are celebrating the holiday and why they are proud to be an American.


Noemie Emery on the importance of a national character

In the Washington Examiner, Noemie Emery provides a good reminder of the importance of the American national character in celebration of Independence Day:

“Who are we?” ask Leon Kass, Amy Kass and Diana Schaub at the start of “What So Proudly We Hail,” their anthology of works about the American character.

“How do we identify ourselves? … What larger community and ideals are we willing to fight and to sacrifice? … What do we look up to and revere?” they ask.

She continues:

National character, says Michael Novak, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, makes a tangible entity out of a mob. “A mob is composed of a multitude of atomized individuals,” he tells us.

“A people is composed of persons who have social identity … a communion of souls” reaching back to antiquity, and looking ahead to the prospect of still greater things. This identity also has its own character….

Longings for freedom are indeed universal, but in 1776 they were embodied in a particular nation that fought for them in a particular war, embedded them in a unique form of government and fought for them in the last century in three brutal wars.

American exceptionalism does not mean Americans are better than others, that their record is spotless, that they never fail, falter or stray. It means Americans’ works in the interests of freedom are unique and unequaled. May they remain so.

Read the whole column.


Wisdom from Silent Cal for the 4th of July

From the Wall Street Journal: Leon Kass, the Madden-Jewett Chair at AEI and co-editor of What So Proudly We Hail, discusses the insights provided by Calvin Coolidge’s remarkable Address on the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.


New video: Americans celebrate the Fourth

AEI videographer extraordinaire Sara Barger went to the National Mall to find out how Americans are celebrating the Fourth of July and why they are proud to be an American. Watch the whole thing:


Independence Day: U.S. patriotism still strong

As July 4th nears, AEI’s public opinion experts, Karyln Bowman and Andrew Rugg, examine attitudes about patriotism. They find that Americans remain among the most patriotic people in the world, and rank the military as one of the most patriotic institutions.

Other key findings include:

  • Overt displays of patriotism have lessened since September 11th. But patriotic sentiment is still strong. In a May 2011 CBS poll, 61 percent described themselves as extremely proud to be an American and 25 percent very proud. Only 1 percent said they were only a little or not at all proud.
  • What is considered patriotic? Voting (78 percent), saying the Pledge of Allegiance (70 percent), working hard at your job (62 percent), volunteering in your community (61 percent) and paying your fair share of taxes (61 percent) ranked at the top as very patriotic activities. Accepting what government officials say without questioning ranked last, with only 11 percent saying it was very patriotic [Greenberg/Quinlan/Rosner Research poll].
  • A substantial majority of Americans say serving in the military is a sign of patriotism.
  • The military is one of the most positively viewed institutions in the country. In Gallup’s June 2011 survey, 78 percent had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the military. It was the highest ranked institution in the poll.
  • Although historical data on college students’ patriotism are not available, a near majority of them (48 percent) in a poll taken soon after 9/11 described themselves as very patriotic and another 44 percent as somewhat patriotic. In October 2004, those responses were 39 and 49 percent, respectively.

Read the whole thing at AEI.

(U.S. Air Force Photo/Master Sgt. Wade Trahan)


Chris Harnisch: The Story of Self-Sacrifice

My brother and I went to a baseball game the other night, and watched a show of patriotism that occurs nightly at ballparks across America. Between innings, probably about halfway through the game, Lee Greenwood’s song “Proud to Be an American” came on the loudspeakers, and the big screen focused on about a dozen men and women with military haircuts sitting behind home plate in front of a sign paying tribute to our troops. Nearly every person in the stadium rose to their feet and gave our heroes an extended standing ovation.

I had goosebumps as I clapped, and thought about how blessed we are to live in a land where people from every walk of life volunteer to sacrifice their lives for the freedom of others. The men and women fighting our wars today come from rural Alaska, Harlem, and everywhere in between. They are white, black, Latino, and Asian, and belong to every religious denomination. Some had ancestors arrive on the Mayflower, and many are immigrants. Some come from rich families, and some come from poor. But every single one of them has made the decision to put country and freedom above self.

The remarkable story of our men and women in uniform mirrors that of 56 visionaries who met in Philadelphia 234 years ago today and made the courageous decision to establish a nation based upon freedom and equality for all.  Americans affectionately refer to this disparate group of visionaries as our Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers worked as physicians, ministers, farmers, lawyers, and musicians. Some traveled to Philadelphia from rural Georgia, and others came from the vibrant city of Boston. Most were born in the colonies, but eight lived their earliest years across the Atlantic. They worshiped in Catholic, Anglican, and Quaker churches, and several elected not to worship at all. The youngest went to Philadelphia at age 26, and the oldest at 70.

The Founding Fathers cast aside self-interest and rejected the temptation of creating 13 different countries or a system of governance that would have left them in permanent positions of power. Instead, they decided that the consent of the people would govern the new nation, which should secure the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Such a nation would only succeed, they determined, if it remained unified. In support of this decision, they pledged “to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor”—the last words of the Declaration of Independence.

From its very founding, the story of America has been the story of citizens sacrificing for the cause of freedom and fellow man. Patriots from every generation have stepped forward and made selfless contributions for the advancement of our nation and the ideals it was founded upon. This American spirit of self-sacrifice allowed our nation to expand westward during the frontier, rebuild after 618,000 Americans died in a war between the states, and continuously defeat tyranny and liberate the oppressed around the world. Today, roughly 2.3 million Americans serve in some capacity in the armed services, nearly 8,000 Americans serve as Peace Corps Volunteers in 77 countries around the world, and more than 60 million Americans volunteer in their own communities. Countless others serve as police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and border patrol agents. All have made the decision to put their fellow man before themselves.

I vividly recollect my late grandfather, who flew B-24s in World War II, making a toast on July 4, 2004. He was 80 years old at the time, so it had been about 60 years since he completed his Army Air Corps basic training. He raised his glass that evening in honor of those in his basic training class who never made it home, recalling each man by name. The Americans in his generation stepped up when the world needed them, and more than 400,000 made the ultimate sacrifice for their fellow man and the cause of freedom. This Independence Day, let us all raise a glass in honor of the American spirit that has allowed this great nation to remain a glowing beacon of hope for liberty around the world.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Thomas Miller

Chris Harnisch is an analyst for the Critical Threats Project at AEI.


Joy Pavelski: A Thousand Tiny, United Actions

Great and enduring ideas such as “patriotism” or “citizenship” can seem abstract when peering from my little desk in a big office in a bigger building and an even bigger city in this giant country. Perhaps that’s why, as Mark notes, people of my generation (a cross between X and “Millennial”) find it easier to drop out of civic life. Like some of the other holiday posters on this blog, however, looking back at my family history has helped me to understand what it means to be an American.

My family members are farmers in Wisconsin, policemen in Detroit, teachers in Chicago, nurses in Minnesota, and fathers and mothers everywhere. Though my grandfather fought as a World War II pilot, few of us have ever done anything similarly remarkable. And yet, then again, we have. My family’s simple stability—sticking through rough marriages for the sake of faith and seven children, patiently working long hours for middle-class pay, living with and caring for a fading grandmother, always attending every graduation and family gathering even when distances among us have grown—endures through a series of small, but difficult and essential, choices we have made individually and together.

These choices may seem insignificant, but our country depends upon each generation’s renewed commitment to families and communities. It’s too much for me to think about “changing society,” or committing to “progress,” or bringing about social justice; but I can remember my mother soothing a crying sister and, in turn, care for my own children with equal dignity; study a few more hours into a late night because my father rose before dawn for decades to purchase my opportunity for higher education; I can honor my aunt’s enthusiasm for museums and the arts by eagerly attending a high school symphony; improve my attitude by watching my husband work 14-hour days and come home with a smile. I can also understand that each of these notes, when struck, ring in harmony with the greater and very American ideals of perseverance, personal responsibility, independence, and generosity.

For want of a nail, a kingdom was lost; for presence of a thousand tiny, united actions in pursuit of great and enduring ideas, our country lives on.

Joy Pavelski is editorial assistant for The American.

Image by ginnerobot.

Cross-posted at the Enterprise Blog.


Jenna Schuette: Teaching Citizenship

Recent education reforms such as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the Common Core standards movement have kept the spotlight on mathematics and reading, overshadowing other vital subjects such as history and civics. A 2006 study by the Center for Education Policy found that 71 percent of the surveyed districts reported they have reduced instructional time in at least one other subject to make more time for reading and math due to NCLB.

The Center for Civic Education, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and many others have launched impressive campaigns to attract attention back to civic education. However, the lack of useful data on both expectations for civic education and teachers’ attitudes towards civic education makes thoughtful policy discussion difficult.

Students’ civics knowledge has remained rudimentary and stagnant over the years. The most recent 2006 NAEP civics test reports that only 27 percent of twelfth graders scored at or above the proficient level. Students in grades 4, 8, and 12 who took the NAEP civics test in 1998 scored at the same level as students in 2006, with improvement only in grade 4.

However, there’s little clarity as to what is meant by “citizenship” in schooling today. In 1996, 86 percent of respondents to the annual Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll said “prepar[ing] students to become responsible citizens” was a “very important” goal for public education. However, the 2000 poll found that training “responsible citizens” wasn’t nearly as important as “enhance[ing] people’s happiness and enrich[ing] their lives” and “dispel[ing] inequities in education among certain schools and certain groups.” The PDK/Gallup poll has not asked questions regarding citizenship and schooling since 2000.

Most essential to assessing our civics education is a better understanding of teachers’ attitudes and actions in regards to citizenship and the classroom. Before suggesting reforms to current policies that may stunt civic education, we must understand what teachers are being expected teach, what teachers are teaching, and what civic ideals teachers esteem in their classrooms. It’s very possible that our idea of civic education has evolved over the years and that current policies, curricula, or even school structures are not supporting our goals.

AEI’s new Program on American Citizenship has partnered with AEI’s education policy department to take a closer look at precisely that. The forthcoming fall 2010 report, “Schools, Civics and Citizenship: What Teachers Think and Do,” asks teachers what civic values or facts they believe to be most important for their students to learn, what the current system expects to be taught and what is realistically happening in their classroom.

A preliminary read of the survey data suggests that almost half of the teachers surveyed have seen social studies de-emphasized as a result of NCLB and that teaching “facts” is considered amongst the least important objectives for social studies teachers. Stay tuned for the AEI report this fall. It promises to be a helpful addition to the discussion, and will offer guidance on what to do next to ensure our children are getting the best education.

Jenna M. Schuette is a research assistant in education policy at AEI.

Cross-posted at the Enterprise Blog.


Marc Thiessen: Citizenship Through the Eyes of a Freedom Fighter

My mother grew up in Nazi-occupied Poland, and as a teenager she joined the Polish underground and fought in the Warsaw Uprising, serving as a courier during the heroic 63-day battle to liberate the Polish capital. At an age when most kids are riding bikes and playing dodgeball, my mother was carrying a gun and dodging Nazi sniper bullets as she carried orders from one end of the city to the other. Her first exposure to America was hearing the roar of U.S. aircraft dropping supplies to the resistance fighters. And she vividly recalls looking through field glasses at the Soviet Red Army sitting camped out across the Vistula river, waiting for the Nazis to crush the Uprising and destroy the leadership of a free Poland for them before they took over the city.

When the Poles finally surrendered to the Nazis after a valiant fight, she was taken prisoner and sent to a prisoner of war (POW) camp in Germany. She was eventually liberated by General Patton’s army, and finished out the war as a paratrooper in the Polish Army under British command (though instead of jumping from planes she went to a special school set up for teenage soldiers in the British sector of Germany). She eventually moved to London, where she remained as a stateless refugee rather than return to Poland to live under Communism. Eventually, she went to Ireland, earned a medical degree, and made her way to the United States, where she became a U.S. citizen. There is no one prouder to be an American. Indeed, when Poland held its first free elections in 1989, the members of the Polish Diaspora were invited to vote. My mother refused. She loved her native land, but she was an American now and would not vote in a foreign election.

I think of her story when I reflect on the meaning of citizenship. This is the only country in human history built not on blood or soil, but on an idea—the idea of human liberty. All it takes to be fully American is to believe in those ideals. My mother’s belief in those ideals are what makes her American. She has a thick Polish accent, and often when someone hears her voice for the first time they will ask, “Where are you from?” She answers with pride, “New York City.”

I also reflect on the fact that, had my mother not joined the resistance she would not have been taken to that POW camp, or liberated by American troops, or made her way to London, Dublin, and eventually New York, where I was born. If my mother had survived the war, I would likely have been raised in Communist Poland and would have lived in tyranny instead of freedom for the first half of my life. Yet here I am, a proud American who has had the privilege to work in the White House as a speechwriter for the president of the United States; who learned to appreciate the gift of liberty, and the meaning of American citizenship, through the eyes of his immigrant, freedom-fighter mother.

Image from the Library of Congress

Marc Thiessen is a visiting fellow at AEI.

Cross-posted at the Enterprise Blog.


Michael Barone: Privileged to be Citizens

On the Monday before this Fourth of July, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas issued a concurring opinion in McDonald v. Chicago, the case ruling that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms applies to the states. Unlike his four concurring colleagues, Justice Thomas based his decision not on the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment but on its privileges and immunities clause, a provision that had been rendered largely inoperative by the Supreme Court in the Slaughterhouse Cases in 1873.

“No state,” reads the Fourteenth Amendment, “shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” It is interesting to think of the rights proclaimed self-evident by the Declaration of Independence and set out in the Constitution in those terms. I believe we ordinarily think of those rights as immunities. We are free to speak and write, to keep and bear arms, to be immune from unreasonable searches and seizures, to be safeguarded against deprivation of life, liberty, and property without due process of law. Government’s power is limited and we are immune from interference in those particular respects.

But I believe that it is even more fitting and proper to think of citizenship in terms of privileges. Those of us born as United States citizens or naturalized as such are privileged to partake of a heritage which not only gives us rights but responsibilities. We are part of a nation of mass prosperity and economic creativity, a nation that has led the world (despite current problems) into the broad sunlit uplands in which hundreds of millions have been able to lift themselves from poverty into independence and affluence. As American citizens, we have a responsibility to build on the work done by those before us to ensure that this heritage is forwarded, not forfeited.

We also live in a nation that has important responsibilities in the world. The Constitution was written by representatives of the Atlantic seaboard states for a nation of 3 million people; we are a continental nation of 310 million now, a nation with the greatest military might ever assembled. George Washington hoped that we would be an example to the world, and we have been. But in time we have become something very much more: a liberator of millions, a source of hope for the persecuted, and a focus of fear for their oppressors. Again, we have a responsibility to further the work of the giants on whose shoulders we are lucky enough to stand.

Justice Thomas’s decision may in time revive the long-dormant privileges and immunities clause. In the meantime, we need to appreciate not only our immunities but our privileges as citizens of the United States.

Michael Barone is a resident fellow at AEI.

Image by Thorne Enterprises.

Cross-posted at the Enterprise Blog.


Jay Richards: Make Independence Day an Act of Deep Remembrance

For most Americans, Independence Day is an opportunity to celebrate those American founders who risked their lives and their fortunes in a daring experiment in liberty. Such celebration is a form of gratitude, and all gratitude involves, to some degree, remembrance. So it’s heartening that many Americans, resisting the Progressive lurch of our contemporary politics, are embracing their American citizenship by learning about both the founders and their ideals.

But the ideas on which the American Experiment was based did not spring up ex nihilo in the minds of Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, Adams, Jay, et al. They also have a history. And if we are to recover the ideas of the founders, we would do well to recall the foundations of those ideas.

Read more after the jump.


Carmela Aquino: Fresh Off the Boat

I spent my first Fourth of July in the United States in Washington, D.C. as a curious, sometime summer resident of the district. At the time, I was perhaps a month into this town, a little under a year into this country, and what other international friends joke about as being “fresh off the boat,” having been born and raised in the Philippines. Watching the festivities—the fireworks, the fierce patriotism engulfing the city—felt foreign to me, and momentarily, I wondered if I would ever feel for America what I felt for my country.

That was four years ago. At last year’s Fourth of July, I found myself back in D.C., settling into work and a life here I’d come to call my own. That day, I looked around, and it surprised me to find how far (literally) I’ve come, and how I’d come to fall for this country. Though I was brought up to believe in the possibilities that come with opportunity, I think I am only just beginning to realize exactly what that means. Perhaps, this is the American dream.

I am not saying everything about America is all good. There is the sensationalism, a culture of constant consumption, an overabundance of reality TV—the list never ends. But for all that, America is still the best model for a working democracy out there. I come from what is considered to be one of the most free and democratic Southeast Asian nations, yet to this day, our elections continue to be marred by violence and fraud, our government considered corrupt, and our society still divided by massive inequality. To watch and study the midterm and presidential elections over the past few years here as they unfolded was a gift. I have never before seen people believe so much in their power to move government and truly feel a vote could be a chance to say something.

What it is to be able to speak and be heard, to truly feel like you are making a tangible difference—I cannot underscore enough how much that means. Liberty, freedom, opportunity—these ideals forming the most fundamental idea America is founded on are what draw people half a world over to this country.

But America is nothing without its Americans. If I am taken by what this country stands for, it is because of people I’ve encountered, peers who’ve taught me the value of engagement, colleagues who are passionate about public policy, and every immigrant I’ve met who’s come here trying to make something out of nothing.

And for all that, to be watching America invent and reinvent itself, for everything I am learning here, for even just a glimpse into the workings of this massive democracy, I am grateful.

Image by dbking

Camela Aquino manages online communications at AEI.

Cross-posted at the Enterprise Blog.


Danielle Pletka: The Most Special Nation

I’ve been an American citizen for 18 years now. No single member of my family was born on the same continent, and until 1992, I was an Australian citizen. I love Australia, and hadn’t really been eager to become an American. It was more convenient to carry my Ozzie passport, the green card was fine, and I saw no reason to change the status quo. But I had to become a citizen when I went to work for the U.S. government, and toddled off to take my naturalization test and swear in with a huge group somewhere in Alexandria, Virginia. No one came with me, it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t take a photo, wave a flag, or wear a lapel pin.

As I have gotten older, however, I clutch my American passport to me more and more. Yes, Australia is a wonderful country, an almost idyllic place to grow up for my parents. But as the years pass, it has become ever clearer to me that America is the most special nation on earth. We’re not chill like Australians; we’re not chic like Italians; we don’t cook like the French; frankly, I like British novelists better, too. But around the world, we remain that shining city. I know it’s sappy. I even feel a little sappy saying it. But who will fight for someone else’s freedom first? Who will reach into his pocket first to help another? Who frets about the well being of the downtrodden first? Is there another nation whose volunteer army has sacrificed as much—not for soil, nor for glory, but for the ideals upon which our country was built?

Image by seantoyer.

Danielle Pletka is vice president of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at AEI.

Cross-posted at the Enterprise Blog.


Henry Olsen: Immigration, Citizenship, and America

Independence Day once celebrated a specific act: America’s separation from Great Britain. Today, we celebrate our way of life: the freedom and opportunity promised in the Declaration. Foremost among the reasons behind this change is the huge waves of immigration that have swept our land since the largely British-descended populace celebrated their centennial in 1876.

An American immigrant longs for freedom and is drawn to our land to satisfy that longing. The freedom he seeks differs: one wants freedom of worship, another like the Cuban, Hungarian, or Vietnamese fleeing Communism wants freedom of conscience; still another wants the freedom to make a better material life than they could in their native land. These new Americans can’t feel the same glory in the act of revolution that thrilled their Anglo neighbors whose ancestors won the War of Independence. But they can celebrate the virtue which inspired that act and which was politically enshrined by that act’s success—the virtue of freedom.

The American immigrant wants more, though, than to simply be left alone to pursue his private pursuits. He wants to be a citizen, to belong to this new country as fully and completely as he did to his old land. Indeed, for one fleeing lands whose ruling class deprived him of basic economic and social rights, belonging to America is a more complete attachment than he could ever have attained before. For in America, the immigrant is respected as an equal, an end unto himself, rather than as a means to some other’s end.

We commonly look at this process of becoming a citizen as one of the immigrant’s assimilation to dominant American norms. This is important, for as a nation founded on a creed rather than on birth or blood, America could not long endure unless the vast majority of its population believe in the basic tenants of the Revolution. But this view is incomplete, for it focuses on citizenship from the viewpoint of the native rather than that of the immigrant.

For the American immigrant, assimilation is the process by which the immigrant becomes accepted as part of the American community. That means that the immigrant or his child is viewed as coming from another community, but one who now belongs to the American community.

This transition is never easy. Native Americans have resisted and discriminated against newcomers for as long as we have had a republic. Immigrants always must earn their citizenship, through private acts of productivity and decency and, ultimately, though public acts of vying for and winning public office.

Aristotle in the Politics says “he is a citizen in the highest sense who shares in the honors of the state,” and this is no less true in America than it was in ancient Greece. Indeed, it is even more important in America than it was in ancient Greece, because American identity is intimately entwined with our system of republican government. Whether an immigrant is truly an American citizen, then, ultimately comes down to the question of whether a member of that immigrant’s group can be elected to a high office of public trust.

Thus, American Catholics could enjoy political victories as their co-religionists became mayors, governors, senators. But complete belonging only came when John Kennedy was elected to the presidency. Thus, American Jews were excited when Joe Lieberman became the first Jew to be nominated to run on a major party’s presidential ticket. For members of these groups, these acts meant that they had truly arrived, that had finally become Americans in the highest sense.

This sentiment animates even long-resident groups who feel out of step with the American political class. Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976 thrilled Southerners, as he was the first Southerner to be elected president without first serving as someone else’s vice president since the Civil War. And Barack Obama’s election in 2008 so excited African-Americans that they turned out in record numbers to ensure that one of their own sat in the Oval Office. Their victories gave all members of their groups the sense that they were, finally, fully American.

This process seems so natural that it’s worth recalling just how exceptional it is. European nations, based as they are on a community of blood rather than one of ideas, find it difficult to make immigrants full citizens. It’s impossible to think of a German of Turkish descent or a Swede from Bosnia or Kurdistan becoming prime minister. Even France, a nation that proclaims its fidelity to the international ideals of libertéégalitéfraternité, finds it difficult to make immigrants full citizens. When Nicolas Sarkozy ran for president of France, the fact that he is descended from Hungarian immigrants was an issue; was he truly French?

The recent gubernatorial nomination of Nikki Haley, daughter of Indian Sikhs, in South Carolina shows that this American phenomenon of arrival, aspiration, and achievement continues apace. As we celebrate our nation and our republic this weekend, let us also celebrate the political miracle that our revolution has wrought. And let us celebrate the foundation of American citizenship that makes that miracle possible, the principle of individual freedom that flows from the Declaration’s assertion “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” and that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Image by Edu-Tourist.

Herny Olsen is vice president and director of the National Research Initiative at AEI.

Cross-posted at the Enterprise Blog.


Making Patriots

While we’re discussing citizenship, we’d be remiss if we didn’t direct you to Walter Berns’s 1996 Bradley Lecture on patriotism or, for that matter, his book, Making PatriotsMaking Patriots is a slim volume, but one deep in insight, and it should rank high on your list of summer reading.

Here is a representative snippet from his Bradley lecture:

The Founders were aware of the danger that we would claim our rights, and even, as has proved to be the case, that we would convert many an interest into a right, and all this while neglecting our duties. That is why Madison and his Federalist colleagues resisted the demand made by Patrick Henry and other Anti-Federalists that a bill of natural rights, similar to that in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, be affixed to the Constitution, indeed, be attached to it as a preamble. And that is why Hamilton, in Federalist 84, was so emphatic in insisting that the Constitution itself is a bill of rights. Having established a free government–no simple task–they saw the necessity to gain support for it, and feared that that support would be jeopardized by giving rights, especially natural rights, pride of place in the Constitution. Herbert Storing made their point with a couple of questions. “Does a constant emphasis on unalienable natural rights foster good citizenship or a sense of community?” he asked. “Does a constant emphasis on the right to abolish government foster the kind of popular support that any government needs?” As Storing said, the Federalists–led here by Madison–did not doubt that these first principles were true, that they may be resorted to, and that they provided the ultimate source and justification of government. Their point was that even a rational and well-constituted government needs and deserves a presumption of legitimacy and permanence, and, to quote Storing again, “a bill of rights that presses these first principles to the fore tends to deprive government of that presumption.”

As they say, read the whole thing.

Cross-posted at the Enterprise Blog.


Gary Schmitt: Irish Schmitts? Only In America

A few years back, I was a guest at a dinner hosted in Madrid by a senior Spanish politician. It was, as has often been my experience in Spain, a wonderful meal involving a significant amount of Spanish red wine, liqueurs, and cigars. And, as has also been my experience in Spain, the talk at the table among the guests went well into the morning. (How friends in Spain routinely rise the next morning for breakfast meetings and/or work, or for that matter live beyond the age of 50, is a mystery I’m sure some scientist working on unlocking the secrets of DNA will someday solve.)

This particular dinner occurred approximately two years and bit after the United States and allied forces had removed Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Although I was among friends who had been sympathetic to the effort, if not outright supporters, the general drift of the conversation was: Hadn’t the United States overreached in attempting to replace the tyrant Saddam with some semblance of a representative democracy? Given the daily news reports of suicide bombings, the increasingly murderous relations between Sunnis and Shia, and the reports of general corruption and factionalism among Iraq’s own leaders, making the counter-argument was certainly at the time an uphill battle.

As the discussion got a bit more intense—indeed, heated—a conservative European colleague jumped in with the remark that of course the effort would fail: “Any sound conservative knows that for a people to become truly self-governing requires decades of acculturation, of habits formed over time….indeed, wasn’t the U.S. itself a product of more than a century of British constitutional rule before it became an independent country. [Edmund] Burke had made this clear, and we were fools to forget it.”

I pushed back by reminding him there are plenty of examples of countries, including his own, that have moved from living under autocratic rule to being liberal and democratic without having had this long gestation period in which they acquired the mores of sound republican rule. Burke’s point was not to be ignored, but neither was it to be taken as an iron law of politics. And, as a nation of immigrants, the United States was a great experiment in how sound governing institutions, combined above all with a creedal touchstone in the Declaration of Independence, had allowed millions upon millions to participate in that great, ongoing American experiment in self-rule.

At that point, I remembered that my own family was largely recent, off-the-boat immigrants from Ireland—with an Alsatian “Schmitt” who was attempting to avoid the Prussian draft in 1872 tossed in the mix. Grandmother Schmitt, for one, was a poor farm girl from County Clare, arriving here alone at the age of 16. Put simply, there were no Mayflowers in my family history.

But, in some ways, that’s the point. Growing up, it never occurred to me that America’s history was not my history. The Revolution was my revolution; the Civil War, my civil war; those “self-evident truths” mine, as well. When Thomas Jefferson wrote years later that, in crafting the Declaration, he intended it “to be an expression of the American mind,” he was (intentionally or not) capturing the American mind not only then but for the generations to come. Despite the fact that by blood and time I was far closer to the Easter Uprising than Bunker Hill, there was not one moment that I thought Irish history was my history.

For those not born in this country we have a strange word for the process by which they become citizens: “naturalization.” It’s odd in the respect that what actually happens is that through a process defined by law—convention—they acquire citizenship. But of course the implicit assumption is that, through that process, they do become like most of us who have acquired our citizenship by virtue of being born here in the United States. As a country, we are so used to this process that we fail to note how “unnatural” this presumption is. Ask a Frenchman or a German, for example, whether a recent immigrant to their country could truly become a Frenchman or German in a short span of years and they would have a hard time even imagining such a thing. Yet it is precisely (and only) because this country ultimately remains a country that rests on a clear creed as expressed by the Declaration that we in fact have pulled off this magic trick time and again of turning strangers to this country into Americans. As July 4th approaches, it is just one more reason to wonder at the power of that unprecedented document.

Image by mccheek.

Gary Schmitt is the director of the AEI Program on American Citizenship.

Cross-posted at the Enterprise Blog.


Robin Currie: In Defense of America the Beautiful… and the Beautiful Game

he tea isn’t good, and the chocolate’s like wax,
The beer isn’t stout, and the comedy’s lax;
They don’t “get” soccer and think it’s a plot
To undermine the world and put the Commies on top.

But America is so much better than that,
Than seeing goal-driven players as social democrats,
And the game so loved by these poor, enterprising lads
As something underhanded and dangerous and bad.

For America’s an idea, among the best thoughts of man,
Even to a Manchester United/Glasgow Rangers fan;
And because it’s a place with an exceptional spark,
Best light a candle and not curse the dark.

(Soccer primers: YouTube to watch (and watch again); DVD to rent.)

Robins Currie is a senior writer and editor at AEI.

Image by Nina Matthews Photography.

Cross-posted at the Enterprise Blog.


Mark Kubisch: ‘Millennial’ Citizenship

The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution declares that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” If one were to ask the typical “Millennial,” as my generation is known, to explain citizenship, I doubt the first word used would be “privilege.” Yet, this word perfectly captures the principle of reciprocity inherent in a proper understanding of citizenship. As the Fourteenth Amendment implies, being a citizen involves more than simply exercising one’s rights, it also entails fulfilling certain responsibilities to one’s country.

If a key element of citizenship involves meeting certain civic and political obligations, how patriotic is my own generation? Despite ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military service is in decline. Only two percent of Millennial males are military veterans while, at comparable stages of their life cycle, so were 6 percent of males from the “X” generation. Furthermore, according to a recent Pew survey, 58 percent of young Americans don’t engage in civic or political activities regularly (e.g., active membership in a group or volunteering for a campaign). Millennials thus tend to enjoy the liberties associated with citizenship while neglecting its concomitant duties to community and country.

Defenders of Millennials might point to the unprecedented youth participation in President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign as evidence that Millennials are finally recognizing their civic duties. They might add that social networking sites (favored by many Millennials) are encouraging greater civic engagement. Finally, they might argue, as Neil Howe and William Strauss do, that Millennials are “more idealistic, more civic-minded, and more engaged with the world” (a claim which New York Times columnist Ross Douthat throws some cold water on here).

Yet it’s clear that my generation’s understanding of the relationship between the citizen and his government has changed. Increasingly, government, instead of private initiative, is seen as the answer to social and economic problems. Pew research polls find that nearly 70 percent of young American voters—in sharp contrast to older generations—favor an expanded role for government, agreeing that government “should do more to solve problems.” We may become a very different 70/30 nation than the one AEI President Arthur Brooks describes in The Battle. It’s up to Millennials to prove themselves as citizens and ask not what their country can do for them, but what we can do for our country.

Mark Kubisch is an intern for the AEI Program on American Citizenship.

Image by Felipe Bachomo.

Cross-posted at the Enterprise Blog.


Nick Schulz: ‘If All Men Are Created Equal, That Is Final’

Cheryl, it’s a great idea. I’ll outsource my comments to one of the most underappreciated patriots in our nation’s history (h/t Goldberg):

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

Image by Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation

Nick Schulz is editor of The American.

Cross-posted at the Enterprise Blog.