“A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.”
Virtue. A salient term of the 19th century. If we are to understand Mr. Adams warning, and make no mistake, it is a warning, we must first decide what virtue is. The dictionary definition is as follows: behavior showing high moral standards. Already, there’s a caveat: What is morality? This generation of people, be they Gen X, Boomers, or any other identifier says that morality is something different to each group or subgroup. One person’s immorality is another person’s pleasure. Some will say since we cannot define it, we cannot quantify it. If we cannot quantify it, we cannot measure it and therefore, the term should not apply. Immediately, Adams’ warning falls upon deaf ears.
If, however, we revert to common sense and rid ourselves of the over-thinking, over-intellectualized, word parsing clap-trap that we are inundated with on a daily basis, we intuitively understand what morality is, and therefore, what virtue is. It is a set of morals by which we live that elevate us, and those around us. Virtue is the high ground on which we stand, and the elevation which we seek. Virtue allows us to plant our feet and defend the truth, and virtue, as Confucius once said, “never stands alone; it always has neighbors.” If that is so, and who are we to dispute Confucius, then what if we abandon virtue, relegating it to the dust heap of history as little more than a noble idea whose time has passed?
We would find ourselves on the path that Adams warned us about all those decades ago, increasingly willing to sacrifice ourselves at the altar of government in exchange for the promise of its care. Overarching government has never been able to to fulfill that promise for long, but we drink from the wellspring of hope to the point that hope itself becomes our reality, and reality then becomes our delusion. We’ve failed to learn the lessons of history, preferring to relegate those lessons on the power of virtue to the dustbin of time; they have no use in the modern day as they are as weatherbeaten as hand-me-down shoes. “No need,” we say, the disdain in our voice unhidden, “we are different and we are better.” That same, tired refrain echoes throughout history by one failed government after another.
We are on the precipice of losing who and what we are as a nation because we’ve become convinced we should kowtow to the loudest and most radical voices that fill our heads with how evil this nation is, rather than celebrating our successes. Self flagellation was never an American virtue, but it has become our drug of choice because we’ve been told it must be. If we do not ingest it, we are no longer virtuous, they tell us, something they don’t believe we are in the first place.
This is not the America that I remember, and certainly not the America for which we should stand. We tell our children not to dwell on their errors so that they may move forward but that mentality does not seem to apply to the adults. No, we are told by academics and journalists alike the we are to wallow in our own muck, breathing in our toxic waste and filling our lungs with it for no other reason than we deserve it, they say, we deserve it all for wrongs done on this land, forgetting, willfully, our collective good.
Yes, we’ve lost our virtue, but not because it was taken from us. We willingly abandoned it. We’ve been fed a diet of self-loathing and self hatred for decades and as a result, we’ve forgotten who we are and what we stand for. What’s ironic is that new immigrants do not see this nation that way. They still see the United States as a beacon of light in an otherwise darkened world. They see in this nation hope for themselves and for their future, a future we’re prepared to abandon for reasons we don’t fully comprehend, and for promises of government that rarely materialize.
Let us not surrender our liberties willingly. Let us embrace who we are, re-learning our manners and our principles as set forth in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. Let us understand our weaknesses and move to rectify them, but also to remember our virtues of which there are many. Let us celebrate the uniqueness of this nation, and let us forever remember that we are one, despite our differences, we are one. Should we do that, we will begin to repair our nation and ourselves