A Return to National Greatness
by David Brooks in The New York Times
The Library of Congress’s main building is one of the most magnificent
buildings in Washington, or in the country. It was built in a pivotal,
tumultuous time. During the 23 years in the late 19th century that it took to
design and build the structure, industrialization transformed America.
More people immigrated to America than in the previous 250 years combined.
The building articulates the central animating idea that held this bursting,
turbulent country together. That idea is best encapsulated in the mural
under the dome of the main reading room. A series of monumental figures
are depicted, each representing a great civilization in human history and
what that civilization contributed to the human story.
It starts with a figure representing Egypt (written records) and then
continues through Judea (religion), Greece (philosophy), Islam (physics),
Italy (the fine arts), Germany (printing), Spain (discovery), England
(literature), France (emancipation) and it culminates with America
In that story, America is placed at the vanguard of the great human march
of progress. America is the grateful inheritor of other people’s gifts. It has a
spiritual connection to all people in all places, but also an exceptional role.
America culminates history. It advances a way of life and a democratic
model that will provide people everywhere with dignity. The things
Americans do are not for themselves only, but for all mankind.
This historical story was America’s true myth. When we are children, and
also when we are adults, we learn our deepest truths through myth.
Myths don’t make a point or propose an argument. They inhabit us deeply
and explain to us who we are. They capture how our own lives are
connected to the universal sacred realities. In myth, the physical stuff in
front of us is also a manifestation of something eternal, and our lives are
seen in the context of some illimitable horizon.
That American myth was embraced and lived out by everybody from
Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan. It was wrestled with by
John Winthrop and Walt Whitman. It gave America a mission in the world
— to spread democracy and freedom. It gave us an attitude of welcome and
graciousness, to embrace the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and
to give them the scope by which to realize their powers.
But now the myth has been battered. It’s been bruised by an educational system that doesn’t teach civilizational history or real American history but instead a shapeless multiculturalism. It’s been bruised by an intellectual culture that can’t imagine providence. It’s been bruised by people on the left who are
uncomfortable with patriotism and people on the right who are uncomfortable with the federal government that is necessary to lead our project.
Read the rest of the article here.