Would You Follow Smithers to War?

by Daniel Foster

Would you dispatch your footman to negotiate with Josef Stalin? Sorry, Kevin and Charlie, but I’m closer to Adams and Hamilton here than I am to you fine republicans.

The founding drama of our country is Washington’s only-half-mythic refusal of a crown. He was the man who wouldn’t be king, not the man who couldn’t. There’s a significance there, not to mention hints of an aesthetic parallel with a certain Someone who Himself refused temptation and earned a fairly prominent spot in the Western Tradition.

Because we are Americans, we crave liberty and we love republicanism. But because we are still, in important ways, basically tribesmen in search of chieftains — and not free-standing monads in some Rousseauian wood — we crave leaders fit to be kings. Objects worthy of worship who won’t be worshiped.

This is not a contradiction but a paradox. And so be it. The American Idea is large, it contains multitudes.