Jewish World Review July 4, 2012/ 14 Tamuz, 5772
The American idea
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | The role of great men in history is often noted, but they may exercise little influence compared to great ideas. John Maynard Keynes, who was not an historian or a statesman but an economist, noted that ideas, "both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else."
Today we celebrate the birth of The American Idea, which took form and flight in Jefferson's immortal Declaration 236 years ago today.
It was gruff old
He got just one detail wrong. Lawyer that he was, he assumed that
It was not the formal, legal resolution of independence that would be celebrated in the years ahead, but the words, the vehicle of ideas.
The American Idea, crystallized in
Those words cannot be said aloud even to this day without their resounding like a poem. It was
Ideas have consequences. Fateful consequences. A time would come when this still forming nation would experience a new birth of freedom amid the most terrible of our wars. The president who would see the Union through that long, dark night to another dawn's early light would trace his principles back to that selfsame declaration of
The sentiments that brought forth the American Revolution remain revolutionary, which is why we remain a revolutionary people despite ourselves. Our ideas shape us. We would not be ourselves if we did not remain a standing provocation to the tyrants of the world.
There is much talk this election year, as there is every election year, of the American Dream, but it is a woefully weak, pathetically reduced version of that dream to imagine it encompasses only material promise. That may be a vital part of the dream, but it is the least of it. For the American Dream encompasses a wealth off hopes and aspirations.
Most of us understand that America is more than a geographical designation, more than a political system, more than borders and laws and storied institutions. It is an idea. And without that American Idea, all our laws and constitutions, history and traditions, would be but an empty tomb where our greatness does not live but is buried.
"When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the
It has never been put better.
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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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