Dennis Prager is a man on a mission. Arriving at home one evening and emptying his pocket change out on the table, he had an epiphany reading what was on the coins: the “American Trinity” of Liberty, E Pluribus Unum, and In God We Trust. This gave him his marching orders: to get down on paper what it means to be an American. It is certain that this book is one many Americans will have been waiting for: it is not only a meticulously researched, thorough, and informative account of the current world ideological scene, but in addition a memorable primer for like-minded citizens of what it actually means philosophically to be American. For Prager, the last two generations of Americans have not been taught exactly that, and he aims to remedy the situation: “a country that can’t remember what it’s about cannot survive.”
Prager is supremely confident, and as a result he can take apart opposing arguments with impressive power. He is fond of side-by-side comparisons, and each time they sum up the differences between rival ideologies nicely. His manner is reassuring, somewhat like a Greek tragedy that posits that, yes, there really is a moral order to the universe, and it will all come out for the good. No one escapes moral truth. Nevertheless there is a sober trepidation in the optimism, something unsettling. At one point he tells us that, “Evil is normal. America is not.” To explicate that, Prager points out that in the 21stcentury there are three chief ideological possibilities in global competition, and this unfolding situation has not yet produced an outcome. The three candidates are Islamism, Leftism, and Americanism. Prager wrote his book to inform us of what is going on, and to arm us with the principles we believe, expressed in clear, compelling form. He is adamant that we need to get as serious about winning the looming battle of ideas as our relentless adversaries. He adduces G.K. Chesterton’s observation that, “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing – they believe in anything.”
Therein is the crux of the problem – we are drifting away from the disciplined, grounded, founding values and virtues of America. We don’t even know how to explain what we believe – no wonder we are threatened with losing our place in the world against foes who know overwhelmingly what they are about. Whereas the global Left and Islamism are “poison,” the American Trinity is still the “last best hope of earth,” to adduce the notion of Abraham Lincoln, from which Prager takes his title. If we are to avoid a quasi or fully-fledged totalitarian dystopia, we need America to prevail.
Prager begins his Prologue with this arresting sentence: “I have written this book because I am convinced that there is a way to end most evil.” He has stated in the past (on Uncommon Knowledge), that ever since childhood, he has been riveted with the subject of fighting evil. This book is the product of a life’s work in that regard, and the way to end evil he’s referring to is of course Americanism. In an ironic twist, the American way of life can replace the god that failed, the discredited European system, which was itself designed to save us all from racism and nationalism. Trouble is never very far away, however, because America is “the last great holdout” for both the Left and for Islamism, which both see America as their most formidable adversary, and are thus allied in anti-Americanism. That alliance explains why “the Left around the world runs interference on behalf of Islamists.” If we do nothing, Prager sees another generation of Americans, the third in a row now, being educated by people who don’t believe in America. This failure to educate the young about our way of life is what has produced our eroding position.
This means, of course, that there are two Americas, one conservative and one liberal. One America believes in small government, Judeo-Christian moral values, and the melting pot identity, while the other America believes in the strict welfare state, secularism, and the all-inclusive “quilt,” the diversified, multi-cultural utopian identity. The former is patriotic, skeptical of the U.N., and believes in a strong military, spirituality, and the American Revolution. The latter promotes citizenship of the world, always turns to transnational organizations rather than to national institutions, clings to negotiations over force, embraces intellectualized reason, and looks to the French Revolution as the paradigmatic case of core values.
In sum, Prager concludes, the Left is more interested in fighting inequality of economic outcomes than in fighting tyranny or evil, and Americanism by contrast is focused on doing exactly what the Left doesn’t want to do, that is, vigorously standing up to evil and promoting equality of economic opportunity. For Prager, fighting evil is our national DNA, and it is thus incumbent on us to fight. We must preserve liberty abroad so that it is not taken from us at home, and secondly, with a “God-based liberty” given to us, we must contribute as a gesture of noblesse oblige. We are among the few nations that care, and we are certainly the most significant in the fight. In the global arena, the Left wants to engineer utopia, while Americanism wants simply to counter that and avoid dystopia. But where then are good and evil for the Left, if for the Left “equality trumps morality”? The answer is that good and evil are relative. They are just the arbitrary, selfish, and useful self-deceptions by which a country gets to its ends, and they have no objective, non-contingent status.
Contrast that to the God-based liberty Americanism cherishes, and we see quite a divide. In cases like these, Prager consistently demonstrates a ready ability to cut to the essence of things in a no-atheists-in-a-foxhole sort of way: for example, he points out that it was not peace activists, with their moral relativism and negotiations, that liberated the Nazi death camps, but on the contrary it was “people taught how to kill” who provided the liberation. But why have we gotten away from what it means to be American in the first place? Prager defers to Tocqueville for the answer: it is our religiousness that is our strength, and the attrition of that Christian religiousness that could be our downfall. Leftism is meant as a substitute religion while our most august universities have become seminaries, and all this was meant to fill the void that opened when “In God We Trust” went into partial dormancy. But Leftism isn’t up to the task of providing spiritual depth. The truth about Leftism is that it is “feelings-based,” for all its claims to Reason and Science, and it is decidedly not moral-values-based. If it were the latter, it would more eagerly fight evil, less eagerly stop those who were actually doing that fighting, and would not stand aloof in poseur umbrage at disparities in wealth.
Moreover, Prager offers a solid argument against those who would ask, “Why do they hate us?” Muslim terror is caused by Muslims, not by the Westerners against whom that violence has been leveled. The primary cause of terrorism is to be found within the behavior and morality of the perpetrators, and not within the behavior of the victims. But Islam can reject this causality because of the unconstrained view it entertains of the nature of Allah: for example, it is his will that directs the arrow to the bull’s eye, not the marksmanship of the archer. Allah is simply not subject to the laws of nature or reason or consistency as is the god of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
In sum, Prager’s book is certainly successful in its mission of explicating the core American values and what they are up against. This book is an eminently readable and important account of the moral regeneration and reconstruction necessary to preserve our unique liberties and American way of life. Prager has convincingly shown that American values are indeed “The last best hope of earth.” Hope is a good way to put it, too, since hopelessness is what ensues in the dystopian world of the Leftist and Islamist alliance. One might add that only Americanism is enlightened enough to assign consent of the governed as the central feature of government, while that feature is conspicuously absent in the totalitarian alliance. To believe utopia is possible without including consent of the governed is to believe what cannot ever be. But many believe just that, or don’t even know it’s being attempted, and that is why Prager’s book is right on target.
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