Klavan On The Culture

What We Do — and Do Not Do — for Our Country

Peggy Noonan made an interesting comparison in her Saturday WSJ column. (Don’t complain that it’s behind a paywall. You’re a capitalist; pay the woman for her work!) She told of her great-aunt’s immigrant journey from Ireland to Ellis Island.  During the course of the nine-day trip, the woman was checked daily for any illness that might be contagious. Only when she was found to be healthy was she cleared to enter the country.

The great-aunt proudly saved the health card that marked her fit to immigrate and passed it on to Noonan, who framed it. Noonan reflects on the graciousness and gratitude of that sort of nation-building immigrant, as opposed to the reaction of American nurse Kaci Hickox, who was exposed to Ebola and threatened to sue when officials wanted to quarantine her to protect others.

Speaking of her great-aunt, Noonan writes, “I miss such humility, don’t you? Did we fail to encourage it by forgetting to honor it? Or, if these questions are insufficiently ideological, whatever happened to courtesy to the collective? We should bring it back.”

This is me talking now, not Noonan, but I think we can see the same shift in attitude from the great-aunt’s humility to Hickox’s I’ll-Sue egoism in a lot of places. Consider the Muslims so eager to cry out against “racial profiling” when police target them for investigation. Their religion is suffering a worldwide plague of violence, yet rather than sacrifice a bit of time and precious dignity to help insure their neighbors’ safety from that plague, they want us to reinvent reality to serve their convenience.

Blacks, too, who harrass the police assigned to protect their high-crime neighborhoods. They claim the cops are racist for stopping and frisking the suspicious when the truth is the officers are trying to protect the majority of non-criminals in their areas, not to mention the rest of us.

Illegal immigrants demanding their “rights,” while breaking the laws that sustain those rights; same deal.

And I’ll go farther than that. I’ll include gays — not those who merely insist on the legality of their marriages (which should be acknowledged) — but those who viciously and wickedly destroy the businesses of those who, in conscience, cannot regard them as they would wish. It’s a more subtle form of the same selfishness. Out of respect for the freedom of all, each of us has to learn to live graciously in a world where some people reject us for who we are. I do. Recently, an attorney tried to get in touch with me to discuss starting a class action suit against Hollywood studios for their reluctance to hire conservatives like me. I wouldn’t even call the guy back. The people who run the studios have the right to hire or not hire anyone they like. If I can’t defend their freedom to reject or accept me as they please, then what exactly is the basis for my freedom?

Noonan wonders whether we failed to encourage humility by failing to honor it, but I think the problem lies deeper than that. The good of all and the good of each are often inherently in conflict. No one — certainly no conservative — should want individuals to blindly and slavishly sacrifice their freedom to the “collective.” No, in order for the one to make willing and legitimate sacrifices for the many, he has to be clear in his mind what he is sacrificing for. The immigrants of the past came here “yearning to breathe free.” It was not their right to come nor was it America’s duty to accept them. It was the free gift of a gracious nation bestowed on the “huddled masses”; they returned it by striving to better themselves and so bettered us all.

That’s what they came for: the freedom to be left alone and make their way. That’s what we expected: that they would take responsibility for themselves and utilize the opportunities our society provided. That’s what we stood for: freedom with responsibility. A person who understands true oppression might sacrifice a good deal for that arrangement.

But what do we stand for now?