The Corner

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Are We or Aren’t We?

President Calvin Coolidge on October 22, 1924 (Library of Congress)

In Impromptus today, I begin with “patriot” games. The Chinese dictatorship has decreed that only “patriots” may serve in the Hong Kong government. By “patriots,” they mean loyal servants to the Chinese Communist Party. We Americans sometimes play “patriot” games ourselves.

I further discuss Afghanistan, Magnitsky acts, George W. Bush, an engineering feat, an NBA coach, an anniversary, etc.

What about the anniversary? This month, oddly enough, marks the 20th anniversary of my column, Impromptus. So, happy anniversary “to all who celebrate.” Seriously, great thanks to my readers and correspondents, with whom it has been a privilege to share some of life, or a lot of it.

Speaking of correspondents, let’s have some mail. In an Impromptus two days ago, I quoted Calvin Coolidge, at length. I was talking about the new and popular phrase “post-liberal.” In my judgment, liberalism has no “post-” (and we’re talking about classical liberalism, the outlook of our Founding). It has friends and enemies — a relative handful of the former and multitudes of the latter.

A person can be no more post-liberal than he can be post-freedom, post-democracy, or post–human rights. You either are or you aren’t. You’re fer or agin.

On the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence — in July 1926 — President Coolidge gave a whale of a speech. “About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful,” he said. You want more? Here’s a lot more:

It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

In my column, I wrote, “Well said, Cal. They called him ‘silent,’ but when he spoke — it was worth it.”

I received a note from a reader in the beautifully named town of Vestavia Hills, Alabama.

Jay,

When reading the passage from Calvin Coolidge in today’s Impromptus, I couldn’t help but think of Ecclesiastes 1:9-10.

In the King James Version, those verses go,

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.

Our reader comments,

Yes, they all want to regress and when doing so call it “progress.”

A young friend of mine from Seattle writes,

Jay,

I enjoyed your appreciation for President Coolidge in your latest Impromptus! I was actually thinking of that speech in the lead-up to your quoting it. . . .

Yesterday, in a Clubhouse room centered on Teddy Roosevelt, I quoted the paragraph just before the one you focused on. “Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments. . . . The people have to bear their own responsibilities.”

Too many people want to use the government to create social change, and they miss this crucial fact. They’re going about it completely the wrong way.

A phrase I used above, “fer or agin,” I used in my Wednesday column. A reader from Piedmont, S.D., writes,

Jay,

. . . I noticed your use of “You’re fer or agin.” That was awesome and somehow reminded me of “Git ’er done,” by Larry the Cable Guy. One of my favorite colloquialisms is from the Coen Brothers’ movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? (a movie that always gets a laugh out of me): “Is you is, or is you ain’t, my constituency?” I just love how that sounds . . .

Me too. I am further reminded of something that André Aciman’s uncle (I believe) often said. You will find it in Aciman’s classic memoir — I am declaring it a classic — Out of Egypt. The uncle would say, “Siamo o non siamo?” Are we or aren’t we? What are we made of? Are we mice or men? That sort of thing.

Again, today’s Impromptus is here. Thanks to all y’all.

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