In a recent reply to Putin’s hard-hitting New York Times article Jim DeMint, a former US Senator, writes:
As a British admirer of America, G.K. Chesterton, once put it: “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.” We are, in other words, not a nation based on ethnicity, but on beliefs, and not coincidentally, that is why we attract people of all ethnicities and they become proud Americans.
DeMint is citing Chesterton’s “What is America?” However, Chesterton was writing critically, not in support, of America’s ideological nationalism. Chesterton continues in the same essay:
Now in America this is no idle theory. It may have been theoretical, though it was thoroughly sincere, when that great Virginian gentleman declared it in surroundings that still had something of the character of an English countryside. It is not merely theoretical now. There is nothing to prevent America being literally invaded by Turks, as she is invaded by Jews or Bulgars. In the most exquisitely inconsequent of the Bab Ballads, we are told concerning Pasha Bailey Ben:
One morning knocked at half-past eight A tall Red Indian at his gate. In Turkey, as you’r’ p’raps aware, Red Indians are extremely rare.
But the converse need by no means be true. There is nothing in the nature of things to prevent an emigration of Turks increasing and multiplying on the plains where the Red Indians wandered; there is nothing to necessitate the Turks being extremely rare. The Red Indians, alas, are likely to be rarer. And as I much prefer Red Indians to Turks, I speak without prejudice; but the point here is that America, partly by original theory and partly by historical accident, does lie open to racial admixtures which most countries would think incongruous or comic. That is why it is only fair to read any American definitions or rules in a certain light, and relatively to a rather unique position. It is not fair to compare the position of those who may meet Turks in the back street with that of those who have never met Turks except in the Bab Ballads. It is not fair simply to compare America with England in its regulations about the Turk. In short, it is not fair to do what almost every Englishman probably does; to look at the American international examination paper, and laugh and be satisfied with saying, “We don’t have any of that nonsense in England.”
We do not have any of that nonsense in England because we have never attempted to have any of that philosophy in England. And, above all, because we have the enormous advantage of feeling it natural to be national, because there is nothing else to be. England in these days is not well governed; England is not well educated; England suffers from wealth and poverty that are not well distributed. But England is English–esto perpetua. England is English as France is French or Ireland is Irish; the great mass of men taking certain national traditions for granted. Now this gives us a totally different and a very much easier task. We have not got an inquisition, because we have not got a creed; but it is arguable that we do not need a creed, because we have got a character. In any of the old nations the national unity is preserved by the national type. Because we have a type we do not need to have a test.
Chesterton even includes in the closing paragraph:
I am very far from intending to imply that … there is no danger of tyranny becoming the temptation of America.
So, in arguing in favour of ideological nationalism, DeMint quotes a critic arguing the opposite. It’s at least heartening that Heritage might have a real conservative in the woodwork, since DeMint is provided a quote by Chesterton instead of Horowitz. If readers aren’t aware, Chesterton is one of ours. DeMint is President of The Heritage Foundation, the same that asked Jason Richwine to leave for having written this brilliant study.
Hopefully DeMint learns from this embarrassment and takes the path of Harvard political scientist, Samuel P. Huntington, in asking, “Who are we?“