Two Views of America—and One of Them is Wrong…

Last Friday,
March 16, was the 250th anniversary of the birth of
James Madison—fourth president of the United States,
"Father of the Constitution," the major
political theorist of The Federalist Papers and the
last U.S. president to lead troops into combat (at the
battle of Bladensburg, which he lost, in the War of
1812).  But hardly anyone noticed. 
Indeed, given the shape of historical education
in this country today, it`s surprising anyone even
knows who Madison is. 

Yet someone
did notice, namely columnist Seth Lipsky of The Wall
Street Journal
, who unleashed a column
on the paper`s website about what he takes to be the
sudden reawakening of interest in the American
Founding and those who made it. 
Most of what Mr. Lipsky says is
unexceptionable, though I have to confess I haven`t
noticed all that much interest in the Founding
lately.  But
a passing remark Mr. Lipsky emitted suggests that he
and many other people harbor a radically wrong view
of the Founding and therefore of what America as a
public order is today. 

One reason
Mr. Lipsky proposes as a cause of the renewed
interest in the Founding lies in what two writers in
New York`s City Journal in 1999, Jean M. Yarborough
and Richard E. Morgan, suggest, "that America
has no `biological fathers to provide an ethnic
basis` for its nationality." 
"For us," Yarborough and Morgan write,
"the Founding Fathers and their ideas must do
the work." 

Well, not
really.  The
idea that America has no "biological" (or
ethnic, cultural, social or other) concreteness but
is simply one big idea unbosomed by the Founders has
generally come to be known as the theory of the

that America as a nation is defined by a creed of
abstract ideas, sort of like the Boy Scouts` Oath,
and that the creed that defines us is contained in
the opening sentences of the Declaration of
Independence about all men having been created
equal.  That`s
one idea of America. 
It`s not the only one, however. 

alternative idea is that while we certainly have our
creeds, we also have a fabric or historical context
that makes those creeds meaningful. 
The fabric or context consists precisely in
the very ethnic or "biological" basis that
Mr. Lipsky and his friends deny. 
It consists in the fact that, so far from
having no "biological" fathers to provide
an ethnic basis, America had nothing but an ethnic
basis in the British roots of the American identity. 

About 90
percent of the Americans of the founding generation
were of British ethnic background—English,
Scottish, Welsh or Irish—and the idea of
government they inherited and adapted in America was
rooted in the British political tradition —
representative government; the rule of law; it
regarded executive power as an institution to be
checked; it recognized various "rights" of
the subject incorporated into the Bill of Rights and
the very body of the Constitution; and it clearly
rejected both pure "democracy" and pure
"equality" in favor of a republican mixed
government of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. 

Moreover, as
Madison`s Federalist co-author, John Jay, wrote in
Federalist No. 2, Americans were "one united
people, a people descended from the same ancestors,
speaking the same language, professing the same
religion, attached to the same principles of
government, very similar in their manners and
In other words, there was an ethnic and
cultural homogeneity to the American people that
made their nation cohere and their creed and their
peculiar form of government work at all. 
The Founders had no problem whatsoever in
understanding and recognizing that America does
indeed have a specific ethnic and cultural
foundation and that when that foundation vanishes,
the American republic disappears with it. 

foundation, as the newspapers keep telling us this
week in particular, is indeed beginning to vanish. 
Some estimates place the British-descended
stock of the United States today at a mere 20
percent or less, and even the European-descended
stock has dwindled from 90 percent in the 1960s to a
bare 70 percent today. 
Hispanics, Asians and non-Europeans of other
ethnic and cultural backgrounds are well on the way
to transforming the United States, for the first
time in its history, into a non-European nation. 

It`s hardly
an accident that as ethnic and racial diversity has
flourished, the limited republican government the
Founders created from their own British heritage has
begun to wither, and the "creed" that Mr.
Lipsky, Mr. Yarborough, and Mr. Morgan think defines
America is now dismissed as nothing more than
propaganda designed to rationalize the rule of dead
white males.  Maybe
the new universal nation that has no
"biological fathers" and no "ethnic
basis" will adhere to the creed anyway, but
neither history nor anything the Founders really
believed give us any good reason for thinking so. 


March 22,