Beyoncé’s rendition of the national anthem, lip synced, was quite symbolic of Obama’s second inaugural. As she added notes and changed the tune and drew out sections in melismatic digressions, making it almost ridiculous for uniformed members of the armed services to stand at attention and salute, so the president’s address altered the meaning of the Constitution to which he took his oath. In fact there is an irony in his swearing to defend and uphold a Constitution that he so clearly wishes to upend, alter, ignore, and go beyond, in order to realize his collectivist vision, a vision contrary to the true meaning of the document. One helpful thing is that it all showed how utterly elastic are the abstract principles of “freedom” and “equality,” supposedly shared by all mankind, and belief in which is supposedly all that is needed to make one an American. How desperately we need to understand the kind of cultural supports that are vital to make viable the constitutional republic designed by the Founders. Even education in the founding documents is insufficient if we don’t understand their cultural underpinnings in ancient Greece and Rome, Christianity, the Enlightenment, European and English history and literature, etc.
As a Chinese social scientist put it, quoted in Niall Ferguson’s Civilization (reviewed by Bruce Bawer in the Spring issue of Academic Questions), “The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.” Evidently, China understands us better than we understand ourselves.