Culture

Those Zany Colonists and the Nation They Built

Pilgrim Landing by Charles Lucy (1754) (Three Lions/Getty)
A thought about Thanksgiving

Gratitude has been a prominent theme of National Review’s​ since the beginning. Bill Buckley wrote a book bearing the title “Gratitude,” and his attitude was infectious. One indicator of what a remarkable man WFB was is that so many people feel such sincere gratitude for having known him, even if it was only through his work. I won’t embarrass my friends and colleagues by enumerating their gifts and charms here, but I am grateful to know them, and to share in National Review’s work.

Thanksgiving even more than Independence Day puts me in mind of the American idea; July 4 is about the American mode of government and political liberty, but Thanksgiving is about the much older American nation, which precedes the Declaration of Independence. Thanksgiving is about the weird ancient America, the religious fanatics and explorers and utopians and opportunists who came to what were then savage shores to freeze (the Mayflower landed in November) and starve and fight for — what?

Whatever the answer is, there is one point of consensus among our progressive friends: We should feel bad about it. In the beginning of Heart of Darkness, Marlow looks out on the Thames and thinks about other rivers that have carried him: “This, too, was one of the dark places of the earth.” And so was this place. What we built here wasn’t only good — it was better, better than anything the world had seen, and we shouldn’t give a second’s hearing to those who say otherwise. Yes, even with slavery, the mistreatment of the Indians, and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”: better. A world better.

#share#If we look back on the 18th century and sometimes wince, it is because what we built here inspired us (and the rest of the world) to dream of better things, and a better kind of life, than had seemed imaginable. Forgive me if that sounds fulsome, but that’s the fact. How could we possibly feel ashamed of that? I’ll take the Pilgrims, and Columbus too, while I’m at it. I wouldn’t trade 50 pages of Moby-Dick for the entirety of pre-Columbian American cultural achievement.

I have the privilege of traveling around the country and meeting some of its most remarkable people. Everywhere, one sees the evidence: Providence did not stop blessing us in 1776, and we didn’t stop producing great men after D-Day.

#related#Lots of places have good farmland, natural wealth, and navigable bodies of water: If that’s all it took, we could have all stayed in England or Bavaria or wherever. But we have something more: We’re crazy. Our forefathers crossed freezing oceans on little rickety boats because they had some odd ideas about how things should be done. We still do, which is why half of all the good things of our time were cooked up in garages in California.

From Cuban Miami to Hustling Nashville to Silicon Valley, we are, as the song says, still crazy after all these years. And for that we should be truly grateful.

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