Why Celebrate Washington’s Birthday?
This column by former federal judge and ACRU policy board member Richard Bender Abell was published in the Mount Vernon Gazette.
A great nation — a great democracy — needs heroes to set an example — a paradigm for conduct, a coalescence of our own defining traits.
Currently we live in an anti-heroic age. Egalitarianism presides. The great American Revolution was about Liberty — not egalitarianism. The latter was part and parcel of the French and Soviet Revolutions. We sought Liberty as God given — Liberty under God; the French and the Soviets sought freedom from God. Their legacy is that of a hecatomb of death and violence.
To be subordinate to God suggests inequality. Despots have always understood this. Despots have always sought to banish God from the social equation. If there is no personal God, then we can all be ideologically equivalent and if we are all the same then the concept of the heroic … or the inexplicable appearance of great men and women in history, is an inconsistent chink in the armor of the Brave New World — the hydra head of collectivism. It would be an admission that some men are simply unlike others; that some men are different.
Both Scripture and common sense tell us that we are each distinct, different and unique. Yet many of our current national elites remain obsessed and possessed with an egalitarian temperament. Combining it with the reductionist methodology of their social sciences, they seek to reduce the course of human affairs to material and sub-rational forces. Fundamentally, this is Marxist egalitarian leveling — it is also adverse to our shared Judeo-Christian traditions and ethics based on a personal God who has given us each free will. While they believe in the myth of the common man, we understand that the so-called common man is most uncommon because we each have God-given free will.
The United States is founded on the liberty of opportunity to excel — to be famous or infamous. As such, our Republic has been exceedingly blessed with great men and women — men and women who have exemplified America — what we are about, and who we are.
Over these past three centuries of independence it has become obvious that our own lasting revolution was and is grounded on continual change within the constancy of custom and tradition. America arose out of our collective colonial experiences under English precepts of constitutional democracy. Our societal principles arose not first out of an unyielding ideology, but rather, on experience tempered by our religion. This combination determined our evolved philosophy. This is the genius of America.
This recognition of the sinful vicissitudes of human nature directed our perspective. Mankind is tainted by original sin and for our foreseeable future will always be so. Unlike the French and Soviet revolutions based on the utopian vision of the perfectibility of man here and now (… if we can only gloriously remove certain impediments we will have paradise now …) — our revolutionary principles are predicated on the imperfectability of man.
There are men and women who have represented our inner soul of definition. George Washington is lucidly sans peur et sans reproche our finest American exemplar — one who set our tenor and tone for our people — a tenor and tone that conflated our British origins, that was tempered by our colonial frontier experience, and nourished by the liberty and freedom of opportunity presented. He arose out of the 18th century to become our pater patriae; he represents moral virtue, practical wisdom, chivalry and public spiritedness. Absent Washington, we would have had no recognizable American republic.
In our democratic value system, IQ in and of itself is not enough. Intelligence is necessary, but there must also be a balance of moral virtue and judgment with public spirit — a balance of duty, honor, and service. A great man or woman is not made. He or she is not merely trained for this. They are born. Greatness cannot be acquired by study or experience — although those qualities are certainly beneficial. It is also not dependent on social rank. Greatness is based on character. Difficult to define … but we all can recognize it.
The first truly quintessential American embodying all of these traits was Washington. Courage in combat, and moral courage in the face of adversarial circumstances, a sense of duty and service to community, a sense of honor, his firm word, all under a guiding Providence. These pragmatic traits provided us with what we were, are, and wish to be. And this is why we must study and learn from this greatest of all Americans.