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real americaAlthough I am now a citizen of the United States, I was for most of my youth virulently anti-American. Back in the 1980s, I could be seen demonstrating outside U.S. airbases in England, carrying a placard demanding that the “Yanks Go Home”. At the time I knew nothing about the “Yanks” or their home. I knew nothing except what I’d seen on television and in Hollywood movies. I was outside looking in.

The problem is that you can’t see in when looking from the outside. The real America can only be seen from the inside. I only realized this after I moved here and discovered the real America, or what Chesterton called the “unknown America”. In his essay of that title, Chesterton complains that people are always talking about “Americanization” but “nobody ever says a word about the real virtues of America”. The essay ends with “the final paradox that the best things do not travel, and yet we must travel to find them”. In this “final paradox” is to be found the first problem afflicting the European perspective of the United States. The fact is that we Europeans do not know the United States because we have not traveled to America. We sit at home and watch our televisions and our Hollywood movies. Those few who do travel to the States visit places like Disney World at which the real America is decidedly absent or, at least, is present only as a grotesque caricature.

The public face of America, the face that it shows to the rest of the world, is a combination of the triteness and trash of Hollywood, the simulated copulation of MTV, and the vagaries of U.S. foreign policy. This is the face that America shows to the world, and this is the only face that the rest of the world sees. Is it any wonder that the European perception of the United States is so skewed? I remember with a lingering sense of nausea listening to a talk-show host on local radio in Michigan, shortly after I first moved to the United States, in which he remarked that the American government should send topless dancing girls to Baghdad to show the Iraqis what they were missing by not accepting the American way of life. Is this all America has to offer the world?

At this juncture it is necessary to insist that the hostile view of the United States that is held by many Europeans is not solely the fault of the United States. Much of the hostility is rooted in Europe’s own decadence. The fact is that modern Europe is blinded by its own secular fundamentalist prejudice. It has abandoned the Christian faith which is not only at the very root of all that is best in European culture but is the very heart that pumps the lifeblood through it. For the past few hundred years, Europe has systematically abandoned its own priceless inheritance for the ignoble savagery of Rousseau, the nastiness of Nietzsche, and the excreta of existentialism. In consequence, it has nothing to offer but a sneer of cynicism. Such modern European criticism of the United States might be likened to a drunk and drug-addicted débauché lecturing his Christian cousin about morality. It need not, indeed it should not be taken seriously.

Ironically enough, considering my earlier disparaging remarks about Hollywood, there is an excellent film that serves as a metaphor for America’s troubled relationship with modern Europe. It is Unfaithful, starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane. Ostensibly an erotic drama surrounding a woman’s adulterous relationship, it highlights the abyss that separates the healthy innocence of America, represented by the marriage between the characters played by Gere and Lane, and the perverse self-centered existentialism of the Frenchman, played by Olivier Martinez, who seduces the wife. The film’s subtlety is rooted in the fact that the wife is seduced as much by the Frenchman’s philosophy as by his physical charm, his sophistry seeming sophisticated in the face of the wife’s native naiveté. The fatal attraction between old world decadence and new world naiveté has disastrous consequences for all concerned, not least, and most tragically, on the future of the young son who remains oblivious of the way that his parents have ruined his life in the ruination of their own. There is no escaping the obvious moral that the American way of life, centered on marriage and the family, has been seduced and then corrupted by the nihilistic narcissism of postmodern Europe. This overarching moral is buttressed by the unexpected appearance of a woman representing Planned Parenthood whose total lack of morality and utilitarian attitude towards sex prophesies the destruction of the marriage. It is weird indeed that this pro-life message should emerge in the midst of a movie that otherwise seems to wallow in the gutters of its own degradation. Aesthetically speaking, it illustrates that the sordid can be edifying when it shows the true ugliness and destructiveness of sin.

As a European who lived in the Old World for the first forty years of my life, I am only too aware of the seductively seditious philosophies that are poisoning Europe and her people. And yet, having moved to the United States four days before 9-11, I have had the privilege of seeing America from the inside. I have come to know the “unknown America” and have come to love her. Five years ago, I formalized my relationship with her by becoming an American citizen, something that would have been unimaginable during the days when I knew only the ugly face of America that the rest of the world sees.

As an English American, I do not see America in the same way that a native-born American sees her. Indeed, even as an American, I still see America from a European perspective. But this makes me no different from all those Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Polish Americans, and German Americans, to name but a representative handful of nationalities who have found their home in this land. More important, America is herself a child of the same western civilization that gave Europe its very existence and raison d’etre. She has her being in the same Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian synthesis that unites Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament, the disciples and apostles of the New Testament, and the saints, scholars and scribes of Christendom. This essential unity between that which is most truly American and that which is most truly European was encapsulated by the reception that Chesterton received at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts in December 1930 when he was greeted by seven students dressed up to represent giants of literature, namely Newman, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Chaucer, Dante, Virgil and Homer. He was also presented with “a dim print of a Greek painting on vellum, now in Athens, of the Battle of Lepanto”, the naval encounter in 1571 in which a Christian fleet defeated an Islamic armada thereby saving Europe from Muslim domination.

On the deepest level of what it truly means to be an American, we can see that all true Americans are united with all true Europeans in sharing the common bond of Christendom. As brothers and sisters in Christ, and as inheritors of the western civilization that Christendom brings, we are truly one. Those seven American students attired in the robes of Newman, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Chaucer, Dante, Virgil and Homer were wearing their true native dress. These giants of western civilization are the bridge across the Atlantic. They straddle the ocean like a colossus of culture, uniting the civilized citizens of all nations and separating them from the barbarians in their midst. They also represent the greatest and truest challenge to modern America. To whom or what do we owe our allegiance? That is the question. To be or not to be? That is the question. To be a part of Christendom or not to be a part of Christendom? That is the question. To be a beacon of western civilization and Christian virtue shining forth to a world in need of light, or to be a servile missionary of the new secular creed of godless globalism? That is the question.

The questions are clear enough but so is the answer. America must become what she has always claimed to be: one nation under God.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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3 replies to this post
  1. I don’t know if this is an optimistic or pesimistic note, but if what makes a true American and a true European is the common bond of Christendom, then – as my wife pointed out to me – we needn’t worry about the collapse of the West. There are about 100 million people in Ethiopia, where Christendom has its most ancient roots, and they don’t seem intent on trading in the faith for the chance to watch Modern Family any time soon.

  2. As the son of a Welsh immigrant to America, I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with you, Mr. Pearce. It encapsulates what I know America to be, if only we would re-realize it. Wonderful!

  3. Unfortunately America is working hard to “catch up” to the old world. This used to be a truly great country. Now we are in decline.

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