Chesterton on “The American Creed”

A lively discussion thread has broken out in response to Paul’s post immediately below about Donna Brazile’s call for scrapping the Constitution to save the country from conservatives.

I’ll let that discussion play out there, but introduce here a new angle by way of following on my post invoking G.K. Chesterton several weeks ago that met with approval and calls for regular sequels. As it happens, one of our faithful readers has tipped me off to a new development in Chestertoniana that I’ll roll out here in a couple of weeks. Also in my radio conversation with Seth Liebsohn last week we detoured briefly about Chesterton’s book What I Saw in America. And so it seems like the planets have come into line for a reprise.

The opening of What I Saw in America is a wonderful observation on the oddity of the questions a foreign traveler is asked upon entering the United States (it was 1922 when Chesterton made his trip, and he was asked if he was an anarchist). It seemed to him rather like an Inquisition, and he even goes so far as to say “It would be easy to develop the fancy that, as compared with the sultans of Turkey or Egypt, the American Constitution is a thing like the Spanish Inquisition.” But after a long paragraph explaining why this was wrong, he gets to one of his most famous passages:

It may have seemed something less than a compliment to compare the American Constitution to the Spanish Inquisition. But oddly enough, it does involve a truth, and still more oddly perhaps, it does involve a compliment. The American Constitution does resemble the Spanish Inquisition in this: that it is founded on a creed. America is the only nation in the world that is founded on creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things.

So a sharp question to ask today is whether liberals like Brazile still believe in the creed behind the Constitution. I’m betting they don’t. Woodrow Wilson rejected it, but he did so openly. Today’s liberals try to disguise their rejection of the Declaration of Independence.

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