Can you see your country’s faults and still love it?
After living in Japan for a year during the early 2000s, my son thought it would be interesting to try “that other island that starts with a J.” That is, Jamaica. He expected the culture would be different—and it was. Completely.
I visited him that summer in Negril, on the westernmost tip of the island. He lived in an unfinished hotel—oddly, the builder had finished the second floor, and that’s all—at the end of a dirt road, with goats and shanties and uncertain water supply. Aside from minor inconveniences, I enjoyed the trip. My memories glow with blinding sun, turquoise ocean, glittering beaches, tropical fruit free for picking, and smiling people (a few of whom tried to sell me drugs or sex). We didn’t need a car—getting around was a simple matter of waving down a taxi (typically a vintage Toyota) and cramming ourselves in the back seat along with the other passengers.
It was fun, but “East or west, home is best.” Even so, I wasn’t prepared for my emotional return. After touching down in Kansas City and shuttling to my car, I unlocked the door, slid into the front seat, and gripped the steering wheel as the thought gripped me: I love this country. I love my car, I love these roads and buildings and people going about their business unmolested. It wasn’t just material prosperity; it was the sense of freedom stabilized by order, the ability to go have an adventure yet return to safety and comfort. This was home.
Wilfred McClay acknowledges that simple love of home in a City Journal article titled “Civic Education, Rightly Understood.” Rightly understood, “A patriotic education should be an education in love”—not chauvinism or jingoism, but sincere affection for one’s country and a desire for her welfare. It’s similar, I think, to love for a spouse. You know the worst while encouraging the best and working toward the better.
It appears that most American children are not getting this kind of civic education. America’s sins, common the world over wherever one group gains power over another, are treated as unique. But her virtues are taken for granted or waved away as hypocritical piety. President Donald Trump authorized the 1776 Commission—a panel of academics, historians, and public intellectuals—to challenge this cynical interpretation. They begin with founding documents. “No nation before America ever dared state those truths as the formal basis for its politics, and none has strived harder, or done more, to achieve them.”
Not all men (or women) were deemed equal in 1776, but those words promised they would be. Power always corrupts, but the words called power to account. When we took our freedom too far, the words recalled us to justice. Our mistakes, some of them grievous, have tended to self-correct because of the words, deeply embedded in our national consciousness.
Unless it was all a sham. That’s what critical theory in general teaches: History is about power, not virtue. Critical race theory in particular has found its moment as the conscience of a nation, and the history it cites is not entirely false. But instead of building our shared house, like the wise woman of Proverbs 14:1, it aims at tearing the house down, to be replaced with—what? The outlines of a social-justice utopia look a lot like Marxist redistribution.
Have the proponents of CRT thought through the practical result of trashing the country we share? Of teaching children that there’s nothing remarkable, or even redeemable, about our constitutional government? McClay, author of a history called Land of Hope, wonders if the dispirited youth of today have lost hope partly because of the hopelessness they’re taught to feel about their own home.
C.S. Lewis saw this coming in The Abolition of Man: “Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.” That is, souls not trained to love will default to apathy—or rage.
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