In a post today, titled, "No, America is Not Great," he gives a litany of the cultural atrocities Americans are committing: moral relativism, abortion, gay marriage, pornography, sexual promiscuity, recreational looting, illegal immigration.
He is right so far: Americans are doing really bad things―and lots of them. Some of them are even done in the name of America. But, just as he has gotten a good list of symptoms, he lapses into a bad diagnosis.
In fact, the disease metaphor is an apt one, since he is basically blaming the patient for his sickness.
G.K. Chesterton once argued that the best argument against Christianity was Christians. But what Chesterton did not do is to blame Christianity for it. What would we think if someone gave the litany of sins that professed Christians commonly engaged in and said, "No. Christianity is Not a Great Religion."
I know what I would think.
Is America's greatness suspect because of what Americans do? This is Walsh's thesis, but he is wrong, and here's why.
Walsh quotes Chesterton in making his case, but Chesterton would have disagreed with him. Chesterton talks about what he calls "primary loyalties." What is a "primary loyalty"?
A primary loyalty is a commitment we must have to a thing, and it is a loyalty over which we have no choice and may not even be aware. It is not the result of any commitment we may have consciously made or that we can ever escape from. It is something we are born to, in addition to being born into. There are various primary loyalties in our lives. Our family is one of them. If we are Christians, our Church is another. Another primary loyalty is that to our community or nation.
To be an American is to have a primary loyalty to America, a primary loyalty from which no one's deviation from its ideals can detract. And the contrast to that ideal should make us more, not less loyal to it. In fact, it is only by contrast with that ideal that we can say these things―abortion, pornography, same-sex marriage, looting―can be considered wrong at all.
If we do not have an ideal which we expect our nation's action to live up to, then we have undermined our ability to criticize the actions of its citizens at all, since we have no standard by which to criticize it.
In fact, the very passage in a Chesterton essay Walsh refers to to bolster his argument is in complete contradiction to his point:
I’m a patriot, but to borrow from Chesterton, a patriot who is uncritical of his country while it teeters on the edge of total destruction is like a son who doesn’t warn his mother that she’s about to fall off a cliff. In this case, however, we already fell off the cliff. We are shattered on the rocks below, and I’m truly not certain if we can be repaired.Chesterton's essay was written precisely against such despair:
On all sides we hear to-day of the love of our country, and yet anyone who has literally such a love must be bewildered at the talk, like a man hearing all men say that the moon shines by day and the sun by night. The conviction must come to him at last that these men do not realize what the word 'love' means, that they mean by the love of country, not what a mystic might mean by the love of God, but something of what a child might mean by the love of jam.
When hard times come, we don't reject God, although we may argue with him like Job. Maybe what Walsh needs is a voice out of the whirlwind.
Chesterton provides it:
It is the essence of love to be sensitive, it is a part of its doom; and anyone who objects to the one must certainly get rid of the other. This sensitiveness, rising sometimes to an almost morbid sensitiveness, was the mark of all great lovers like Dante and all great patriots like Chatham. 'My country, right or wrong,' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober.' No doubt if a decent man's mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.
What we really need for the frustration and overthrow of a deaf and raucous Jingoism is a renascence of the love of the native land. When that comes, all shrill cries will cease suddenly.Contrary to Walsh, we should share our countries troubles to the last, partly by pointing out how its so-called supporters ill serve it so badly.
Same-sex marriage, for example, was not mandated because of anything American (like the Constitution), but precisely by something that was un-American (judges violating the separation of powers).
This question comes up in my work with classical education, which studies the cultures of Athens and Rome. Some people point out that there are some pretty bad things that Greeks and Romans did. My response is always the same: that we admire these cultures―and judge them―on the basis of their ideals, not by their failures to live up to them. We judge Rome on the basis of Rome, not on the basis of Romans. And we do the same with Greece and every other civilization. Why would we not do this with America?
The problem with Matt Walsh is that he thinks what is wrong with America is America. What he fails to see is that what is wrong with America is only Americans. "[T]he point is," said Chesterton, "that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more."