Princeton professor Robert George gives a remarkably pure presentation of the “America as proposition nation” thesis here. If you want to know what that thesis is, watch the clip—it’s only a couple of minutes, and it’s a collector’s item.
Here are a few obvious issues the thesis raises:
- If America is all about freedom of opinion, how come you have to sign on to a questionable political theory to be American?
- Suppose you just want to have a country, the land where your fathers died and all that jazz, and you don’t want to sign on to George’s political theory. Are you out of luck if America is the land you’re attached to?
- If it’s a big deal that rights are God-given, how does that fit in with the idea that America has nothing to do with any particular religion? And how does “credal nation” fit in with the concept that all religions are welcome? Is America a supreme creed that trumps all particular creeds, so it doesn’t matter which creed you start off with?
- If particular concrete human connections are irrelevant to whether you’re American or not, and being American means accepting the view of government presented in the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence, and that view is universal in its validity, then does America by rights include the whole world?
- Does the self-evident truth that governments are instituted to secure the natural God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness mean that libertarianism is the only legitimate scheme of social life?
- Or maybe “liberty” means liberty to attain the true good, and the “pursuit of happiness” includes the right to a setting that facilitates the attainment of true happiness. If so, does that mean that a Catholic American (George is Catholic) should be committed to the transformation of America and indeed the whole world into a Catholic state?
- That can’t be right, since America has no connection to any particular religion. But if America doesn’t depend on any particular religion—any particular view regarding reality and what we’re supposed to do in life—what do “liberty” and the “pursuit of happiness” mean? Maybe we’re back to libertarianism. But then does “America” really mean “global enforcement of democratic capitalism”? Is that the cause I’m supposed to be willing to sacrifice my all for?