The Dual Virtues of American Citizenship: Jealousy and Commitment

Taking the Oath of Citizenship at a Naturalization ceremony

A naturalization address given last week by Professor Kevin Hardwick in Beaverdam, Virginia at Scotchtown, the governor’s residence of Patrick Henry during the War for Independence.

In the late 1790s, during the presidency of John Adams, Americans conducted a bitter public debate over the meaning of patriotism.  The dominant political party at the time, the Federalists, confronted an emerging opposition, headed by Thomas Jefferson.   The opposition, the Democratic-Republican party, sharply criticized the Federalists, and condemned both their policies and their motives.

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Making Free Men and Women

Richard Samuelson’s timely Claremont Review of Books essay, “The Genius of American Citizenship,”  presents the Founders’ argument for the citizenship of American exceptionalism, as opposed to the cultural and economic arguments that have dominated today’s debate over immigration. As Jefferson feared then, citizen identity without a sense of political duty will produce a “heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass”—the conditions for centralized bureaucracy we are seeing ever more realized today.

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The Tale of Two Revolutions and Two Constitutions

The closing of the XXX Olympic Games, in both French and English, reminds me of Charles Dickens who in the nineteenth century wrote famously about the Tale of Two Cities—Paris and London–separated by a channel of water.  Paris was experiencing in 1789 the fervor of what Karl Marx was to later call “revolution in permanence,” and London was, following Edmund Burke, muddling through with reforms here and there.  But the 2012 Olympics confirm that London, and not Paris, is the city of Europe.  There are no longer two competing European tales.

But it would be wrong to conclude that the more sober tale of London has triumphed over the more intoxicating tale of Paris.  It would be more accurate to say that the victory of London is the result of the ascendency of Parisian intoxication over the sobriety of the Londoner.  What we witnessed at the closing of these games was not the display of good old-fashioned pomp and circumstance, or simply good old-fashioned British fun in the performance of Eric Idle’s famous Look on the Bright Side of Life skit.   This was revolution in permanence.  Or more delicately stated, Paris and London are now two cities with One Tale: democratic perfectionism. 

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