What is a nation?

As college classes, including my own, conclude for the Summer, I will reveal an academic secret:  professors often learn from their students.  Being an audience of one for all of those papers has its rewards.  In my Shakespeare class, several students wrote about some aspect of the emerging view of nationhood in Shakespeare’s history plays.  The nation-state, after all, was a fairly recent development in the 1590’s when Shakespeare wrote his histories, with England transitioning from the feudal system, with its personal loyalties to local lords, to a highly-organized central government commanding citizens with a strong sense of their “Englishness.”

But, as Shakespeare’s plays suggest, there are different understandings of what constitutes a nation:  (1)  a geographical locality; that is, a land, a place (“this sceptered isle”);  (2)  a people  (“we band of brothers”); (3) a government; that is, a sovereignty embodied in the monarch (“Henry V”);  (4) a distinctive spirit or ideology (not so evident in Shakespeare, except for perhaps hints of English liberties and differences with France).

It occurred to me that these same different views of nationhood are still with us today and that we Americans have not really arrived at a consensus about it, resulting in some of our confusions.  [Read more…]

The Immodest Republic

My colleague Mark Mitchell has co-edited a new book entitled  The Culture of Immodesty in American Life and Politics: The Modest Republic.  It’s not just about women’s fashions.  From the description at Amazon:

The Culture of Immodesty in American Life and Politics is a collection of thirteen essays from a broad range of scholars and independent authors, evaluating the prevalence of immodesty in various aspects of American life and culture. Contributors diagnose immodesty through the lens of corporations that are ‘too big to fail,’ consumption inspired by excessive greed, art and fashion that lack beauty and taste, government budgets resulting in perennial deficits, and foreign policy that meddle in the affairs of other nations. Going beyond mere diagnosis of societal ills, The Culture of Immodesty in American Life and Politics provides a prescription for cultural impropriety: promoting a framework for the rejection of immodesty and greed in contemporary life.

[Read more…]

The collapse of entitlement?

Robert J. Samuelson sees a shift underway in Americans’ expectations:

We are passing through something more than a period of disappointing economic growth and increasing political polarization. What’s happening is more powerful: the collapse of “entitlement.” By this, I do not mean primarily cuts in specific government benefits, most prominently Social Security, but the demise of a broader mind-set — attitudes and beliefs — that, in one form or another, has gripped Americans since the 1960s. The breakdown of these ideas has rattled us psychologically as well as politically and economically. [Read more…]

Conservative Christians and immigration reform

A group of Bible-believing Christians has formed the Evangelical Immigration Table to promote immigration reform. It is promoting what it is calling the “I Was a Stranger” Challenge.  They give you 40 Bible passages that have to do with how we should treat immigrants.  They ask you to read, meditate, and pray about each one, one a day, over 40 days.  And then see what you think about immigration reform.  After the jump, read the details and see the 40 Bible passages.

The organization includes lots of religious conservatives, though also some on the evangelical left. (See this.)  At any rate, it is clear that the Bible tells us to be kind to “sojourners.”  One could make a case that Christians should champion immigration reform because it is the right thing to do and also because the immigrants in question tend to be religious, pro-family, pro-life, anti-homosexuality, and potential cultural and political allies.  Do you agree?  If not, could reading the 40 Bible passages at least in theory change your mind?

[Read more…]

The new isolationism

The Obama administration is throwing America’s weight around less and less on the world scene, and many conservatives are saying that America should just mind its own business and avoid, as George Washington recommended, “foreign entanglements.”  Is this revival of isolationism a good thing?  Consider Michael Gerson’s worries after the jump and see if you agree.  Or can we derive principles for when we should and should not get involved in  foreign entanglements?   [Read more…]

Is America in decline?

When it comes to economic measures and economic prospects for the future, the United States is not in decline at all.  So says a report cited by economics columnist Robert J. Samuelson (who, however, is not quite so optimistic).  Then again, despite what some people assume, economics isn’t everything.  Are we in cultural, intellectual, or political decline? [Read more…]