Every now and again but especially on the Fourth of July an article appears describing how a foreigner falls in or out of love with America. Dozens have been written over the years. The important term in these articles is the nature of the love professed and not its object. What does it mean when an Upper Slobovian falls in love with, or learns to hate America? Perhaps they mean admiration. We often confuse 'love' for admiration when these are two different things. Infatuation is naturally bestowed on the magnificent, but love is something different; ironically reserved for something whose flaws we know but are determined to preserve. Infatuation comes spontaneously. Love is learned.
To outside observers deciding whether to love or it, abstraction discloses either an America or Amerika: the City on the Hill or its opposite, a CGI rendition, a thing to be admired or despised. But love requires something more. It means an openness to the unexpected, a readiness to be disgusted at defects invisible outside the family; the ability to be astonished at unsuspected miracles that no intellectual model can predict. In love, as opposed to admiration, there is an element of risk.
It is impossible to understand the original Fourth without appreciating how deeply the Founders admired England or how much they had to lose. The first illustrates the depth of their rebellion; the second the magnitude of their gamble. The Fourth went beyond mere calculation or convenience. It was undertaken in the knowledge of defects that could not be insured against, in the awareness of fallibility. What makes the enterprise so singular is that it was undertaken in the face of unanswerable questions. Why America? If you have to ask you'll have trouble with the answer.
Consequently the Fourth is a kind of bellwether of the national comity, a mutable thing. It went into deep freeze during in the Civil War. "Contemporary accounts and newspaper stories [of the first national 4th of July after the Civil War] depict a subdued, at times somber celebration in a country struggling to recover a sense of normalcy. In some places, the holiday was barely observed at all." For a while the Fourth was lost.
How strange it is to read that, especially for the rest of the world, who have come to regard the United States as a fixed point in a bewildering and dangerous universe. Recently the French complained America was welshing on its commitment to protect the world, as if it were one of nature's laws. ‘Europeans Can’t Think of Building a Future Without the Americans’, said the French ambassador to the United States.
Yankee go home. Yankee went home. Yankee come back! -- this time without your "aggressive nationalism".
But what is this rock on which the globe depends? This something to admire or hate? This year's Independence Day is particularly significant because it occurs in a world riven by crises. The problem of debt, where a world bloated by fake information, especially money, is unable to get to amicable Haircut Day to avoid economic catastrophe. In a crisis of freedom, unable to say how enterprises and individuals can survive and innovate when privacy has been destroyed by technology and mass surveillance perhaps forever. In a crisis of war where proliferation both makes cross-border war both unthinkable and nonstate warfare inevitable.