America isn’t a country. She has no borders. She has no government. She has no President and no Congress. She has no Supreme Court, nor police force. There is no location on a map where you can place her. That is because America is, at her very heart, an idea. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher summed it up best by saying; “Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy.” The premise that America is an idea is critical in understanding how we, as Americans, should approach everything in our lives. If we are to be the superpower of the world, as well as govern ourselves justly, we must have a firm basis as to why we are distinctly different from every other nation on Earth. Other nations were founded on centuries of history. America is unique because we were founded on an idea, a philosophy:
“The American Idea”
More and more often, Americans see so many problems in society that they lose hope in what we stand for. Americans are beginning to see themselves as “just another nation”, with nothing special to offer. That is a lie. The United States of America is a country with everything to offer, not because we’ve gotten it all right, but because every generation is moving towards the perfect idea upon which we were established.
Being founded on an idea, America has the unique ability change. America was based on freedom, individual liberty, republicanism, limited government, and private property. Thomas Jefferson was the first to transcribe the American Idea into words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Jefferson’s quote, as enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, is the American Idea in words: that all people are equal, with certain unshakable rights. Indeed, our founding fathers did a superb job at understanding the kind of country that America could be. They understood how America was, at her very heart, an idea. They understood how America could be a land where people governed themselves, emphasizing individual success and individual responsibly. However, I also believe that our founders knew it would be impossible to fully put the words that they had just written into law. After all, abolishing slavery in 1776 would’ve aliened most of the South and caused our newfound country to collapse. As such, I believe that the founders understood that the perfect America would not be created in a fortnight. Rather, Americans would have to work at bringing their country to the lofty goals set by our founders over time. Therefore, I submit to you today that it is the job of each generation to compare what our American Idea says our society should look like with what our society actually looks like. Then, that particular generation can go to work solving any inconsistencies between the idea and reality. This type of comparison has been going on for centuries. In the decades leading up the Civil War, abolitionists looked at the American Idea and saw that it was fundamentally incompatible with slavery. They understood those two concepts, slavery and the idea of America, could never coexist together. As such, the Civil War was fought, and slavery was abolished. The same comparison between idea and reality happened in the early twentieth century. Many saw how women did not have the right to vote and correctly recognized this as a disparity between the American Idea and the reality of the nation. The Suffrage Movement ultimately gained victory, culminating in the right of women to vote as codified in 19th Amendment. Then, in the 1960s, Civil Rights activists pushed to show the nation that the ideas promised in our founding documents were not being faithfully delivered to all citizens. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described our founding documents as a “promissory note” in his “I Have a Dream” Speech. He stated that America’s founders had promised equality to all people and that the founders’ promise of equality had not been met. Dr. King was correct; he accurately recognized the gap between what was promised and what was delivered. He recognized the gap between the American Idea and the reality of his time. The Civil Rights movement marched on and achieved victory in the courts through cases like Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka as well as laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Time and time again, our history illustrates the principle of perpetual self-analysis. Every generation looks at what America should be and what America currently is and then tries to bring the two as close together as they can. They try to bring the American Idea into being.
However, no one argues the United States of America is perfect. During this 2016 election cycle, every candidate, regardless of political party, is campaigning based the serious problems facing our nation. Candidates brazenly point out the flaws in our government and in our popular culture. And, with all this negativity, many Americans see our current era as perhaps the darkest era in quite some time. Lately, to many it seems like all the United States has been doing – is failing. However my friends, this is not true. What you are seeing is what every generation is called to do. Each and every generation of Americans is called to compare our founding principles with the reality of our time and join the two as close together as possible. Each generation is called to bring the United States closer and closer to that perfect idea known as “America”. Every generation fails somehow. In fact, every generation will inevitably fail because the American Idea is something that can never be fully achieved. That is why it is both imperative and beautiful to see each generation striving to bring America closer and closer to the perfect ideas of her founding. If every generation can honestly assess our founding philosophy and bring our current reality as close to that founding philosophy as possible, the future can only be bright for the United States and for the rest of the world.
America is the greatest country on Earth not simply due to our technological or military strength. It is due to the fact that we were able to codify and build a nation out of one idea of freedom and equality. And, though we are not perfect, we are working daily to bring the completely perfect American Idea into reality. Moreover, we can rest assured knowing that the idea which founded this great country will go on for the rest of eternity. While other nations and empires may have risen and fallen throughout history, America, the true America, the idea of America will never fall. The United States is but an embodiment of an idea founded over 230 years ago. In several centuries, the country of the United States may fall; we do not know. But, what we do know is that the idea that founded the United States, the American Idea, will never die. It is destined to live on, driving our species for thousands of years to come. As humanity explores space, the idea of America will be with us as we reach for the stars. Humanity will be around for a very long time. And, unlike every other country in history, the idea that sparked the United States will live on for all time, acting as an eternal lamp guiding us to freedom and peace.