Does America Need A Fourth Of July Seder?

This is a widely talked about ritual, but the inventor of it often does not get the credit. July 2, 2017, the New Yorker published an essay “The Case for a Fourth of July Seder” without mentioning Dennis Prager, who I believe first made the case for this ceremony.

July 3, 2007, Dennis published this weekly column:

America Needs a July Fourth Seder

We come, finally, to tomorrow, the mother of American holidays, July Fourth, the day America was born. This day has a long history of vibrant and meaningful celebrations. But it, too, is rapidly losing its meaning. For example, look around tomorrow — especially if you live in a large urban area — and see how few homes display the American flag. For most Americans it appears that the Fourth has become merely a day to take off from work and enjoy hot dogs with friends.

Our national holidays were established to commemorate the most significant national events and individuals in our history; they now exist primarily to provide us with a day off. This was reinforced by the nation’s decision to shift some of the holidays to a Monday — thereby losing the meaning of the specific date in order to give us a three-day weekend.

National memory dies without national ritual. And without a national memory, a nation dies. That is the secret at the heart of the Jewish people’s survival that the American people must learn if they are to survive.

When Jews gather at the Passover Seder — and this is the most widely observed Jewish holiday — they recount the exodus from Egypt, an event that occurred 3,200 years ago. We Americans have difficulty keeping alive the memory of events that happened 231 years ago…

We all have to retell the story in as much detail as possible and to regard ourselves as if we, no matter when we or our ancestors came to America — were present at the nation’s founding in 1776.

The Seder achieves the feat not only through detailed recitation of the story, but through engaging the interest of the youngest of those at the table (indeed, they are its primary focus), through special food, through song and through relevant prayer. Obviously, just as secular Jews tend to avoid the prayer part of the Haggadah, so, too, secular Americans are free to avoid the prayer part of an American Seder Book.

But someone — or many someones — must come up with a July Fourth Seder. A generation of Americans with little American identity — emanating from little American memory — has already grown into adulthood. The nation whose founders regarded itself as the Second Israel must now learn how to survive from the First.

I think a Fourth of July seder is a lovely idea but it’s not going to do much to bind Americans together. A more important idea is to recognize that celebrating diversity means celebrating that the less we have in common, the better. We should stop promoting such nonsense and instead celebrate what binds us together as Americans.

America is not primarily an idea to me. It is where I live. It is a nation-state founded by people overwhelmingly from the United Kingdom who formed it in their own interests and in the interests of their progeny. America is not primarily a product of the Constitution. Rather, the Constitution is primarily the product of a particular people operating under selection pressure in a particular environment.

The Jewish nation is not primarily the result of God giving the Torah to the Jews (for the sake of this discussion, I’m assuming the truth of this traditional Jewish belief). If God had given every letter of the Torah to another people, the Torah tradition and nation that developed from would have been different from the one we have. Jews brought their own proclivities and talents to God’s Torah just as Africans and Japanese and Norwegians bring their own culture to Christianity today and transform it from the version that developed in the Middle East nearly 2,000 years ago. What counts as Christianity in Africa today is different from Christianity as practiced in England, Iceland and Peru.

In a naturalistic understanding, religion emerges out of culture, which itself emerges out of the combination of genes and environment operating under Darwinian selection pressure.

I can’t recall a country in history that has had its historic majority overwhelmed by outsiders and this transition has gone smoothly.

Now, America’s majority demographic situation is not as dire as U.S. Census Bureau reports indicate. The Wall Street Journal published this op/ed by John J. Miller Feb. 5, 2021:

‘Majority Minority’ America? Don’t Bet on It

How a Census Bureau error led Democrats to assume they were on the right side of inexorable demographic trends.

…“The rising numbers of people from mixed ethno-racial backgrounds is a sign of growing integration into the mainstream by members of minority groups, especially those of recent immigrant origin, such as Asians and Hispanics,” Mr. Alba says. He foresees a future in which many Americans think of themselves as outside the boxes of traditional Census categories—not as members of discrete racial or ethnic groups but rather as multiracial or multicultural Americans. Mr. Alba cites the example of Tiger Woods, who once described himself as “Cablanasian,” a portmanteau of Caucasian, black and Asian.

Government projections have obscured this picture by creating the false impression that many immigrants are failing to assimilate, Mr. Alba says. Starting in the late 1990s, forecasts about America’s majority-minority future seemed to describe a contest of unmeltable groups. In 2000, for example, the Census Bureau estimated that by 2059 nonwhites would outnumber whites in the U.S. population. A few years later, it moved the date up, to 2043.

Mr. Alba more or less accepted these predictions at first. But about five years ago he spotted an error in how the Census Bureau classifies people by race and ethnicity: “The data are understating the degree to which people were coming from mixed family backgrounds.”

The difficulty started as the federal government prepared for the 2000 census and sought to recognize the small but growing number of multiracial Americans. The Census Bureau decided to let people like Mr. Woods check off more than one racial box on their forms. Leaders of liberal civil-rights groups lobbied against the change. They feared a recognition of multiracialism would dilute the numerical strength of minorities and make it harder to enforce antidiscrimination laws.

The Office of Management and Budget devised an ironic solution to the dilemma. The OMB, whose responsibilities include maintaining the consistency of data across federal departments and agencies, revived a version of the old “one drop” rule from the Jim Crow era, according to which a single African ancestor made a person entirely black. The OMB decided that Americans who designated themselves as white and something else on their Census forms would be classified as nonwhite.

“If you’re changing white to nonwhite, there’s a problem,” Mr. Alba says. As an example, he cites survey findings that Americans of mixed Asian and white descent tend to have more contact with white relatives than with Asian ones (in part because Asian relatives are likelier to live abroad). Moreover, 62% of Asian-whites say they feel “very” accepted by whites, compared with 47% who say the same about Asians. When they marry, 72% of Asian-white women and 64% of Asian-white men take white spouses. The government nevertheless counts them and their progeny as nonwhite.

“We’ve allowed ideas about race to loom very large,” says Mr. Alba. “We tend to believe that people can have only one ethno-racial background and that this identity is fixed when in fact it can be quite fluid.” This in turn has corrupted political thinking, especially among Democrats who accept the demography-is-destiny theory—the notion that they need only bide their time and minority voters will put them into a position of unassailable political power.

John Judis and Ruy Texeira advanced the idea in their 2002 book, “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” which also argued that millennials and college-educated whites would join the partnership. Although this roughly describes the coalition that elected both Messrs. Obama and Biden to the presidency, the thesis has “just been falsified by the recent election,” Mr. Alba says.

“It’s true that most Hispanics vote for Democrats,” he says, “but the notion that you can just count on the behavior of this aggregate to remain the same as its numbers increase in the future is really preposterous. People assume that the ethno-racial categories that we use today will be the same ones that we use in the future.” He anticipates that by the 2050s, one-third of babies with white ancestry also will have Hispanic or nonwhite ancestry. The idea of who belongs to a racial majority or minority will be completely scrambled.

One possible response is to quit counting race and ethnicity, as proposed by Kenneth Prewitt, who directed the Census Bureau from 1998-2001. Mr. Alba rejects this idea, believing that flawed information is better than no information if the U.S. hopes to chart its progress as a land of opportunity for all people—especially blacks, who haven’t entered the American mainstream with the same success as other groups. Yet he hopes the necessity for such counting will one day fade: “Perhaps it could happen later this century.”

What America needs now, Mr. Alba believes, is “a new narrative.” The current one is all about conflict and collision between groups and “has polarizing political consequences.” A better one would be “less threatening to the white majority and at the same time would allow minorities to become a part of the mainstream ‘us’ without abandoning their distinctiveness.”

In 2020, Christopher Caldwell published The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties:

Americans have in recent years been fond of boasting that—unlike most nations, where it is heritage, history, and race that bind people together—the United States is a place that one can belong to regardless of background. That is true enough, but there is a reason most countries are not multi-ethnic countries and why most of those that have tried to become multi-ethnic countries have failed. Where a shared heritage is absent or unrecognized, as it is in the contemporary United States, all the eggs of national cohesion are placed in the basket of the constitution. Hence a paradox: With the dawn of the civil rights era, the U.S. Constitution—the very thing that made it possible for an ethnically varied nation to live together—came under stress.
The problem is that rights cannot simply be “added” to a social contract without changing it. To establish new liberties is to extinguish others. This difficulty would be at the root of the earliest debates over civil rights legislation. In the summer of 1963, well before Kennedy’s assassination, one anecdote from the Senate’s debates captured the imagination of the public. Senators skeptical of civil rights legislation hinted that “
Mrs. Murphy”—a hypothetical old widow who rented out a room in her house in a northern city—might wind up bearing the brunt of federal surveillance and law enforcement if she got too picky about whom she accepted as a tenant. The legislation’s backers treated the question as ridiculous—of course a boarding house, unlike the hotels that would be covered in any civil rights legislation, was Mrs. Murphy’s “personal” property, with which she could do as she pleased.
But the distinction was not as obvious as pro–civil rights legislators claimed, and the certitudes that rested on it proved complacent. In his opening remarks at the 1963 March on Washington, A. Philip Randolph, organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (and of the march itself), warned that “
real freedom will require many changes in the nation’s political and social philosophies and institutions. For one thing we must destroy the notion that Mrs. Murphy’s property rights include the right to humiliate me because of the color of my skin. The sanctity of private property takes second place to the sanctity of the human personality.” And so it was after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Property simply would not enjoy the same constitutional protection that it had before.
Neither would the traditional understanding of freedom of association. Florida’s segregationist governor, C. Farris Bryant, was able to describe this understanding as something all Americans shared:
“We would all agree that the traveler is and should be free not to buy. He can pass a motel because he doesn’t like the town, he doesn’t like the color, or he doesn’t like the name. He can stop and go in and when he sees the owner he can decide he doesn’t like him because he doesn’t like his mustache, or his accent, or his prices, or his race, or his other customers. He can turn around and walk out for any reason, or for no reason at all. Why not? He’s a free man. So is the owner of the property. And if the traveler is free not to buy because he doesn’t like the owner’s mustache, accent, prices, race, other customers, or for any or no reason, the owner of the property ought to have the same freedom. That’s simple justice. The wonder is that it can be questioned.”
It tended to be segregationists who philosophized in this vein. Progressive politicians were seldom comfortable conveying to white voters that, in exchange for civil rights, they were going to have to surrender certain basic freedoms they had until then taken for granted. Naturally it was a delicate moment, because the white public was sending mixed signals about whether it wanted to get rid of segregation in the first place.

Is veneration for the Constitution an effective tool for binding Americans together? I doubt it. Families aren’t kept together by shared rituals and beliefs as much as they are by shared ties of blood and heritage.

In his 1996 book, Think A Second Time, Dennis Prager wrote:

Nothing in the history of the human race has caused more evil than the belief in the importance of blood.

Many of the greatest evils in history — from the universal practice of slavery to the caste system that has permeated the Hindu world — have emanated from the blood-based belief that I owe allegiance only to my group.

But it is in the twentieth century that blood-based beliefs have caused the most cruelty and destruction:

* The Turkish slaughter of the Armenians.
* The German near-extermination of the Jews of Europe (the Holocaust).
* The Japanese mass slaughter and enslavement of other Asians.
* The Chinese slaughter of the Tibetans.
* The mutual mass slaughter of Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda.
* Apartheid in South Africa and racist laws against blacks in America.
* The enslavement and mass slaughter of blacks in the Sudan.
* The “ethnic cleansing” by Serbians in Bosnia.

Every one of these evils was a result of blood-based beliefs.

The only great twentieth-century evil that did not result from blood-based beliefs was communism, which dehumanized people by defining them according to class or Party affiliation rather than race.

As regards children, blood-based thinking has been at the root of the belief in parental ownership of children — “you are my blood, I own you.” A feeling of ownership over children has led to or justified the enormous amount of abuse and humiliation of children and to such practices as male relatives murdering a daughter/sister for losing her virginity before marrying.

Of course, blood-based values aren’t entirely destructive… They have led to one positive development: the fostering of love and responsibility toward family members. Yet even these two positive results have often had negative consequences…

Obligations toward blood relations have frequently led to believing that one has no obligations to non-blood. The more people have based love for people on blood, the more they have tended to diminish the value of people who are not blood related. Hence, the great amount of inter-tribal, inter-clan, inter-racial, inter-ethnic, and inter-national hatreds.

Another negative consequence of blood-based values has been described…as “familism”, not trusting anyone outside of one’s family… [A] major explanation for the development of North America and the relative non-development of South America has been the prevalence of familism in South America.

…[F]eelings of responsibility and even love toward family members are created; they are not the “natural” result of blood relationships…

When people do care for family members it is because they are family members, not because they are blood (even though most people believe that it is blood that is the source of that caring). We think that blood love is natural, almost instinctive. It isn’t.

The desire to eat or to engage in sexual relations is natural, but caring for blood relations has been culturally cultivated…

If blood were a factor of any significance in determining family love, biological parents would be considerably more likely than adoptive parents to love their children. However, by any measurement we are capable of making, parents of both adopted and biological children love them identically…

Adoption also provides proof that obligation toward family members emanates more from cultural values than from blood ties. Members of adoptive families feel just as obligated toward (and close to) family members as do members of blood families…

Husbands and wives are family — indeed, they are often the individual to whom one feels closest in life — yet they are not blood related…

Throughout the world the family of one’s spouse is considered one’s family — yet, like our spouse, none of this family is blood related…

Friends provide the most obvious example of non-blood love…

If parents loved their children because they are blood related, why do they continue to love their child even if they come to loathe the child’s other blood parent?

Around 1995, in his first lecture on the Book of Exodus, Dennis said: “The Jewish dream is that the world not be based on blood ties. It is the only dream ultimately that will save humanity given the horrors of blood historically. Blood beliefs are the greatest source of cruelty in history because if you are not my blood, you are not valuable. That’s how people have lived.”

“The reason that Hitler so hated the Jews was a belief in blood. The Jews are the world’s polluters of blood purity. If you are into the purity of blood, the Jews are your quintessential enemy because wherever the Jews are, they assimilate in part and stay Jewish in part. They are part of you but not fully part of you because of their blood. If they fully assimilate, they are still dangerous… The assimilated Jew was the ultimate polluter of German purity. If you believe in the purity of the nation, the Jews are the quintessence of opposition to you.”

“The only nation to keep its identity and still be all over was the Jews.”

“He [Pharoah] doesn’t like that the Jews are all over Egypt, maintaining their identity but also a part of Egyptian life. He was interested in blood purity.”

All of the evils Prager ascribes to the belief in blood are the flip side of genetic altruism. When parents prefer their own children to other people’s children, they’re preferring their own blood. When people love, they simultaneously hate whatever threatens their love.

In his commentary on the Book of Genesis, Dennis Prager notes: "Every nation has a derogatory way of referring to other nations."

Does genetic similarity predict closer ties than less genetic similarity? The evidence is clear.  Anthropologist Peter Frost wrote:

As late as 1923, only 2% of children without parental care ended up in adoptive homes, the others going to foster homes or orphanages (Adoption, 2014). And a large chunk of that 2% involved adoptions between related families. These statistics are mirrored by my family tree: whenever children were left with no provider, they would be adopted by an aunt or an uncle or placed in a foster home. In those days, changing your family identity was as unthinkable as changing your religion or nationality.

To deal with the surge of illegitimacy, progressive-minded people now turned toward a seemingly great idea. On the one hand, there were babies abandoned by deadbeat dads. On the other, there were middle-class families with loving homes. Why not transfer these babies from the dads who don’t love them to the ones who can?

The 20th century is littered with great ideas that proved to be not so great. Adoption is no exception. One negative outcome, which could have been foreseen, is that adopted children tend to replicate the psychological profile of their biological fathers. In one study, Gibson (2009) notes:

Adoptees were more likely than genetic offspring to have ever received public assistance, been divorced or been arrested. They also completed fewer years of schooling and were more likely to have ever required professional treatment for mental health, alcohol and drug issues.

This supports other research showing that, compared to genetic children, American adoptees have a higher overall risk of contact with mental health professionals, specifically for eating disorders, learning disabilities, personality disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder… They also have lower achievement and more problems in school, abuse drugs and alcohol more, and fight with or lie to parents more than genetic children…

Dennis Prager advocates the "proposition nation" (a country united by shared beliefs) as well as the "proposition family" (parents and children united by shared beliefs). He wrote: "As a father, my purpose is not to pass on my seed, but to pass on my values."

Prager doesn't believe the family is a big deal when compared to the importance of the individual.  In a 2005 lecture on Deut. 24:5, Dennis said: “Traditional life in Europe became you are defined by your family but that’s not the way it ought to be. You are defined by you, not by your family. People think family is a big deal. It’s not. It’s a big deal, who are you?”

Prager's view that we are primarily individuals rather than members of families is a modern liberal perspective. In his 2018 book, The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, John J. Mearsheimer wrote:

My view is that we are profoundly social beings from the start to the finish of our lives and that individualism is of secondary importance… Liberalism downplays the social nature of human beings to the point of almost ignoring it, instead treating people largely as atomistic actors… Political liberalism… is an ideology that is individualistic at its core and assigns great importance to the concept of inalienable rights. This concern for rights is the basis of its universalism—everyone on the planet has the same inherent set of rights—and this is what motivates liberal states to pursue ambitious foreign policies. The public and scholarly discourse about liberalism since World War II has placed enormous emphasis on what are commonly called human rights. This is true all around the world, not just in the West. “Human rights,” Samuel Moyn notes, “have come to define the most elevated aspirations of both social movements and political entities—state and interstate. They evoke hope and provoke action.”

[Humans] do not operate as lone wolves but are born into social groups or societies that shape their identities well before they can assert their individualism. Moreover, individuals usually develop strong attachments to their group and are sometimes willing to make great sacrifices for their fellow members. Humans are often said to be tribal at their core. The main reason for our social nature is that the best way for a person to survive is to be embedded in a society and to cooperate with fellow members rather than act alone… Despite its elevated ranking, reason is the least important of the three ways we determine our preferences. It certainly is less important than socialization. The main reason socialization matters so much is that humans have a long childhood in which they are protected and nurtured by their families and the surrounding society, and meanwhile exposed to intense socialization. At the same time, they are only beginning to develop their critical faculties, so they are not equipped to think for themselves. By the time an individual reaches the point where his reasoning skills are well developed, his family and society have already imposed an enormous value infusion on him. Moreover, that individual is born with innate sentiments that also strongly influence how he thinks about the world around him. All of this means that people have limited choice in formulating a moral code, because so much of their thinking about right and wrong comes from inborn attitudes and socialization.

If Mearsheimer is right, and I believe he is, then Dennis Prager is just another guru spouting pseudo-profound nonsense.

James Kirkpatrick argued: "Nor can any real family hold together on the ground of ideology. We love our parents and our children because they are ours—not because we agree with their view of the Constitution."

So what best predicts a child's education attainment (and with it future income and family stability)? Blood or home? As the Times of London reported: "NATURE not nurture is the main determinant of how well children perform at school and university…"

"Russell W." wrote to Lawrence Auster about Prager:

He also has a sometimes bizarre anti-biology approach to all ethical matters. For instance, he considers racism as the most grievous human sin throughout history, and so anything at all that even acknowledges race as a reality is offensive. He was (completely rightly, in my opinion) appalled at the “Baby Richard” episode during the 90s, where an adopted child who had lived with his new parents from near-infancy to around age four or five was removed and given back to the formerly absentee biological father. He described the danger in ascribing so much importance to blood (and again, this seems like a perfectly valid point), but he takes this view to the extreme and says blood is completely meaningless. For instance, he has said many times that if the hospital mistakenly gave him another person’s baby and he kept that child for a day, he would not want to bring it back to switch it for his biological child. Of course, for every sane and decent person there’s a threshold of time after which the emotional connection overrides biology, but one day?

Auster replied:

I was just talking with a Jewish friend the last couple of days who has the same absolute opposition to the slightest hint that “blood,” i.e., descent, matters in the definition of a people, particularly the Jewish people. He said this rejection of any racial or ethnic component is central to Judaism, since what makes a Jew is the covenant with God. To non-Jews, of course, this staunch Jewish rejection of ethnic tribalism seems risible, as Jews are the oldest and most famous tribal people on earth. 

Economist Gregory Clark wrote in the New York Times Feb. 21, 2014:

To a striking extent, your overall life chances can be predicted not just from your parents’ status but also from your great-great-great-grandparents’. The recent study suggests that 10 percent of variation in income can be predicted based on your parents’ earnings. In contrast, my colleagues and I estimate that 50 to 60 percent of variation in overall status is determined by your lineage…

Does this imply that individuals have no control over their life outcomes? No. In modern meritocratic societies, success still depends on individual effort. Our findings suggest, however, that the compulsion to strive, the talent to prosper and the ability to overcome failure are strongly inherited. We can’t know for certain what the mechanism of that inheritance is, though we know that genetics plays a surprisingly strong role. Alternative explanations that are in vogue — cultural traits, family economic resources, social networks — don’t hold up to scrutiny.

Family names tell you, for better or worse, a lot: The average life span of an American with the typically Jewish surname Katz is 80.2 years, compared with 64.6 years for those with the surname Begay (or Begaye), which is strongly associated with Native Americans. Heberts, whites of New France descent, live on average three years less than Dohertys, whites of Irish descent…

The notion of genetic transmission of “social competence” — some mysterious mix of drive and ability — may unsettle us. But studies of adoption, in some ways the most dramatic of social interventions, support this view. A number of studies of adopted children in the United States and Nordic countries show convincingly that their life chances are more strongly predicted from their biological parents than their adoptive families. In America, for example, the I.Q. of adopted children correlates with their adoptive parents’ when they are young, but the correlation is close to zero by adulthood. There is a low correlation between the incomes and educational attainment of adopted children and those of their adoptive parents.

These studies, along with studies of correlations across various types of siblings (identical twins, fraternal twins, half siblings) suggest that genetics is the main carrier of social status.

In the second edition of Ultimate Issues, Prager wrote that the Jews' greatest problem is that "fewer Jews know that they have a message." The solution? "Jews must be taught why to be Jewish." In other words, Jews must be taught that they are a proposition nation.

In the Spring/Summer 1986 issue, Prager wrote:

I would say that the Jewish identity of Jews, including Jewish leaders, let us say, fifty-five and older, is overwhelmingly ethnic. They were born and raised in a Jewish world and they are Jewish only for this reason. Few have gone through the soul searching of asking "Why am I a Jew?"

If I am Jewish, I said, I want to be Jewish because I chose to, not because I was raised in it. That's why I studied all these other religions. I wanted to come to Judaism on my own. 

It seems literally racist to object to [intermarriage]… And the truth is, for irreligious Jews, it is racist because their argument against intermarriage is purely ethnic and racial, not religious and ethical. The only reason that I am ultimately opposed to intermarriage is because I want to see somebody carry on Judaism, not ethnicity.

Few people with IQs under 130  are going to spend much time thinking, "Why am I a religious?" This exquisite feeling is the luxury of intellectuals. Liberal thinker T.A. Frank wrote in Vanity Fair, Feb. 6, 2017:

For the past two decades, prevailing opinion has embraced the idea of the United States as an “experiment,” a “propositional nation” or “creedal nation,” as Irving Kristol described it in 1995. In contrast to older nations, America is bound together by people “dedicated to the proposition” of constitutional democracy as laid out by Lincoln. It’s an appealing idea for a great number of reasons. It helps bridge our ethnic divisions, and it gives newcomers a fast track to assimilation. That citizenship is an act of will, a buy-in rather than something more organic, helps remove nationhood from the realm of “blood and soil,” a conception of nationhood that predated the Nazis but won’t soon recover from their embrace.

Still, while stressing the creedal nature of the United States is effective up to a point, it resonates more among intellectuals than among ordinary people. Ideas can help create a community, but they cannot alone sustain it. Ask most people why they join armies, and they’re likely to speak of home and country more than propositions. Similarly, while ideas can strengthen bonds in a family—shared Catholic faith, for instance—most families aren’t based on ideas. They’re formed instead by proximity, affection, habit, and, more often than not, blood ties. Adherents of Trumpism therefore see in creeds only a limited panacea for our societal rifts, and in high levels of migration or workplace turnover an increase in existing pressures.

Americans have never achieved the social cohesion of, say, 1940s England, where an unconscious patriotism and a sense of family offered what George Orwell called a “substitute for a world-view.” But we know that the sense of community in the United States used to be stronger. Many Americans have felt a way of life slipping quickly away—the “rug pulled out from under your feet,” as Gessen and Navratilova put it—often at the hands of trade and immigration. And not all are conservatives. A few years back, liberal humorist Joel Stein wrote a funny but edgy article about seeing his hometown of Edison, New Jersey, transformed by Indian immigration and trying “to figure out why it bothered me so much.” All of us feel the influences of ancestry and sense of place.

In the Winter 1986 edition of Ultimate Issues, Dennis wrote that the Mormons should be allowed to build a study center in Jerusalem:

The opposition to the building of a non-Jewish center in the Jewish state is very instructive of the moral and psychological state of many Jews today. Most obviously, it reveals a strong strain of intolerance. Just imagine, for example, if another country forbade the construction of a Jewish center. Wouldn't these very same Jews cry — correctly — "bigotry" and "anti-semitism"? Apparently, to many Jews the tolerance that is demanded of non-Jews is not be demanded of Jews…

Israel and Jewry would appear [if they back out of the deal] — not without reason — to non-Jews as religious bigots and as a people that demands rights for itself that it is unwilling to extend to others…

Between the illusory assurances of a non-democratic, hermetically sealed Jewish state and the risks of an open and democratic one, I choose the latter…

Finally, as far as this religious Jew is concerned, let every religion on earth set up a center in Jerusalem and thereby become acquainted with Jews and Judaism…

There is…an unfortunate movement among some Jews toward the elevation of nation and land to a value coequal with God and above ethical monotheism.

Another reason that Dennis supported the Mormons building a center in Jerusalem corresponds with his desire for more immigration to America: "I want members of other religions exposed to Judaism. I believe that Judaism is so impressive…"

Author Jared Taylor wrote in 2012:

Any American or European who wants an ethnostate of his own is a frothing bigot, whereas Israelis who want the same thing are heroes in their own country and respectable statesmen here. It is entirely understandable that American patriots should be angry about the double standard, but it is more useful to laud the Israeli example than to complain about it. The Israeli government is doing exactly what we would like our government to do. We should point to Israel as a model and encourage our rulers to copy it rather than grouse about others getting away with things we can’t do. We should celebrate this Israeli policy just as we would a similar outbreak of sanity in Canada or Australia.

Mar. 25, 2014, Dennis said: "Good values are not permanent. Good values have to be reinforced every generation. Nothing lasts unless it is restated for every generation. Every child is a blank slate."

The evidence against Prager's blank slate theory is overwhelming. Wikipedia notes: "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature is a best-selling 2002 book by the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, in which the author makes a case against tabula rasa models in the social sciences, arguing that human behavior is substantially shaped by evolutionary psychological adaptations."

Social Psychologist Carol Tavris wrote in the New York Times, Sept. 13, 1998:

[R]esearchers have been unable to find any child-rearing practice that predicts children's personalities, achievements or problems outside the home. Parents don't have a single child-rearing style anyway, because how they treat their children depends largely on what the children are like. They are more permissive with easy children and more punitive with defiant ones.

Second, even when parents do treat their children the same way, the children turn out differently. The majority of children of troubled and even abusive parents are resilient and do not suffer lasting psychological damage. Conversely, many children of the kindest and most nurturing parents succumb to drugs, mental illness or gangs.

Third, there is no correlation — zero — between the personality traits of adopted children and their adoptive parents or other children in the home, as there should be if ''home environment'' had a strong influence.

Fourth, how children are raised — in day care or at home, with one parent or two, with gay parents or straight ones, with an employed mom or one who stays home — has little or no influence on children's personalities.

Finally, what parents do with and for their children affects children mainly when they are with their parents. For instance, mothers influence their children's play only while the children are playing with them; when the child is playing alone or with a playmate, it makes no difference what games were played with mom…

The first problem with the nurture assumption is nature. The findings of behavior genetics show, incontrovertibly, that many personality traits and abilities have a genetic component.

John Derbyshire wrote about people like Dennis: "The bloodless, deracinated, group-indifferent, 'blank slate,' omnisympathetic creature promoted by the merchants of Political Correctness is one I do not recognize as human… Their lofty pretensions to have risen high above us grubby group-identifying lesser beings strike me as just another form, a particularly obnoxious form, of in-group status-striving."

In the Fall 1986 edition of Ultimate Issues, Dennis wrote:

I, for one, had always tended to side with the nurture crowd… Moreover, I wanted to believe that people, not uncontrollable forces such as genes, determine their own and others' personalities.

My thinking all changed in one day — the day my son was born. He came out with a personality! Without parental influence, without watching a single television show, and without a single word of wisdom from me, he already had a personality. And, my God, so did all the other kids born that day at that hospital….


When it comes to Israel, Dennis wants to keep it a Jewish state. Mar. 24, 2014, Dennis said to his guest Caroline Glick:

* "Everybody thinks one-state is the end of the Jewish state."

* "On what do you base that? Why have we been fed the wrong [demographic] figures all these years?"

* "If the [demographic] numbers had not been false, you would not be advocating the one-state solution?"

* "[Her book] is primarily based on what she contends are the real numbers of Jews and Palestinians in the area west of the Jordan river, west of the state of Jordan, and if everybody was in one state, there would still be a two-thirds Jewish majority."

* "What do you say to having millions of people in your population who want to annihilate your state?"

Caroline: "We're talking about three million people and a lot of them do but what can you do? You have to prevent them doing that… I don't understand why we should have sympathy for aspirations of people whose aspirations are based upon negating us and destroying us."

Dennis: "Having within your population millions of people who loathe you and feel they were cheated out of their own national expression, you don't worry about that?"

When it comes to America, Dennis has long supported mass immigration and he has expressed no interest in maintaining a majority white population. Echoing Bill Bennett, Dennis Prager has often said he is "more afraid of what America will do to immigrants than what immigrants will do to America."

Jan. 9, 2014, Dennis said: "It's a nation of immigrants. The difference is us, not them. We tried to Americanize them then."

Au contraire, wrote Steve Sailer in 2004:

But look at Europe. Its experience proves that the different immigrant approaches of the host countries matters less than what the immigrants bring with them…

Finally, the French have traditionally tried to do with their immigrants almost exactly what the neocons recommend here: cultural assimilation, education in civics theories, monolingualism, meritocracy, separation of church and state, and all the rest…

Officially, France is what the neocons say America is: a "Proposition Nation" defined by adherence to ideological concepts rather than by descent. Indeed, the American and French "propositions" are basically identical…

But they've failed miserably with their huge North African Muslim population, which now makes up somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of the population. (The French are so neocon that they refuse to count by ethnicity.)

Indeed, this French neocon philosophy probably can't survive the impact of the Muslims. France's Muslims are now so poor and hostile that the most dynamic political figure, the center-right Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy (himself the son of aristocratic Hungarian immigrants), has called for France to junk its tradition of equality under the law and institute affirmative action for Muslims.

Similarly, Brazil, despite its endless boasting about having no race problem, recently imposed racial preferences.

What Mexicans in particular and Latin Americans (outside of Cubans) have done in general in America mirrors their achievement in their native lands. Edward S. Rubinstein wrote in 2004:

A new study by the United Way of Los Angeles finds that 53 percent of the city's adult population—3.8 million people—are functionally illiterate. [United Way, Literacy@Work: The L.A. Workforce Literacy Project, September 2004.]

The percentage soars to 84 percent in heavily Hispanic south L.A., dropping to 44 percent in the greater San Fernando Valley. 

When we last checked, only 41 percent of Los Angeles' population was foreign-born. Thus the illiteracy problem in that city is not limited to immigrants. Many of their U.S.-born children must also be functionally illiterate.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about half of hispanics in America are basically illiterate in English, and the problem is getting worse. "Among Hispanics, the percentage with Below Basic prose literacy increased 9 percentage points between 1992 and 2003…" By contrast, only 7% of whites and 24% of blacks are illiterate.

Prager's pro-immigration position is closer to the neoconservatives (William Kristol, John Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, etc) than to conservatives such as Steve Sailer, who wrote:

The neocons argue that immigrants should be admitted based on their current—or eventual —assent to the propositions underlying the United States government, such as “All men are created equal.” But the neocons have failed to answer numerous questions about how their philosophy would work…

President Bush has asserted that most Iraqis share our fundamental political values. If that’s true of the furious Iraqis, who are notorious even among other Arabs for self-destructive lunacy, then how many billions of other foreigners qualify to move to America?

And exactly whom would the propositionists keep out, other than the most fanatical Muslim fundamentalists? With the exception of a handful of refugee dissidents, the vast majority of immigrants to America are in it for the money and are willing to mouth whatever platitudes would be required to get in.

Finally, there’s an insidiously Jacobin implication to propositionism. If believing in neoconservative theories should make anyone in the world eligible for immigration, what should disbelieving in them make thought criminals like you and me? 

Ultimately, propositionism seems less like a well thought-through philosophy and more like ethnocentric nostalgia, an intellectualized exercise in ancestor-worship. Emotionally, the neocons abhor asking tough questions about today’s immigrants because they see that as the equivalent of asking tough questions about their own Ellis Island immigrant forebears and, thus, about themselves.

Internet poster Stephen T. wrote about Prager to Lawrence Auster Nov. 24, 2006: "If his wife needed some chores done while he was out of town and told him she intended to go to a street corner and randomly hire a Mestizo Mexican day laborer in the country illegally to work around the house with her in his absence, he would feel completely relaxed and have no worry whatsoever about her safety. However, if she said she was going to hire an American man to do the same thing, Prager said he would greatly fear for her well-being."

Another poster replied:

Dennis Prager…has a deeply heartfelt, emotional investment in believing that, while Americans are turning their backs on “conservative values,” there is somewhere else on the face of this earth a superior “other” culture—a simple, pious, goodhearted folk, who will work as servants for his family for practically nothing and who embody the old-time values he reveres… When reminded of the rampant corruption, immorality, violence, and cruelty which these same Mexicans have created in abundance in their failed, backwards country of origin, Prager typically excuses it all as entirely the accidental quirks and flukes of a broken political system—having nothing to do with any sort of cultural or societal ills of Mexicans at large. I live in Los Angeles and I also know where Dennis Prager lives: it’s an outlying, heavily private security-guarded community nowhere NEAR any of these “other” people whose values he supposedly admires so much. His kids have all attended exclusive private schools (not the LAUSD, with its Mexican-style 60% dropout rate) and I doubt Mr Prager socializes with many of the working Americans he delights in seeing downgraded from middle-class status to the level of third world peasants.

Internet poster "Gary M." wrote to Lawrence Auster in 2008

Prager interviewed Michelle Malkin a number of years ago on his radio show about her book, Invasion. At one point, Malkin became so distressed by what she was hearing from him, that she stopped and asked, “Mr. Prager, do you even believe we should have a southern border?”

Prager seldom, if ever, has anything but gushing praise for immigrants of the Mexican variety. He says he favors a border fence, but… he is one of these people who also supports a huge increase in legal immigration to go along with any reductions a fence might provide in illegal immigration.

On Nov. 12, 2013, Dennis said: "Why is the [American] latino population so left of center? Because they left countries whose culture is big government. We have not taught them. We haven't taught anglos, or the people who have been here the longest — blacks. We haven't taught anybody what American values are, so why would we expect a latino to be in favor of a small government United States?

"They have not asked the question — why is America prosperous and Mexico not? And El Salvador not? Guatemala not? Nicaragua not? Colombia not? Why?"

To Dennis, the answer is simple — values. Jan. 3, 2014, Dennis said: "Latin America is the greatest enigma in the world. The most exhilarating people as a rule. You can't go to Latin America and not fall in love with the people. The sum is worse than its parts. They produce terrible governments and terrible ideas and an inordinate number of terrific people."

Latin America does not produce ideas. Steve Sailer wrote:

For his encyclopedic Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century, Peter Watson interviewed 150 scholars from around the world about who was responsible for the great innovations. Watson recounted that "…all of them—there were no exceptions—said the same thing. In the 20th century, in the modern world, there were no non-western ideas of note."

Latin Americans tend to under-achieve their IQs. Venezuela's average IQ is 84, Mexico's 87, Brazil's 87, Colombia's 89, Chile's 90, Argentina's 96. The U.S. is 98. 

Sailer wrote in 2006: "Latin Americans do the worst on school achievement tests relative to their IQs than any other large group of people. Some of that is cultural — Mexicans, especially, don't like to read and don't like to go to school…"

Gene Expression wrote:

In World on Fire Amy Chua describes the relationship between economic status and "Indian-blood" throughout Latin America: "Latin American society is fundamentally pigmentocratic: characterized by a social spectrum with taller, lighter-skinned, European-blooded elites at one end; shorter, darker, Indian-blooded masses at the other end…" (p 57). 

As an example she describes her experience in Mexico: "Almost without exception the Mexican officials, lawyers, and business executives we dealt with were light-skinned and foreign educated, with elegant European names. Meanwhile, the people doing the photocopying and cleaning the floors were all shorter, darker, and plainly more "Indian- blooded." While considerable social fluidity exists in Mexico, it is also true that lightness of skin correlates directly and glaringly with increasing wealth and social status." (p 59)

The trends Chua observes within Latin American countries also appear to operate between these countries, with countries with mostly European populations, like Chile and Uruguay, being the most economically developed and countries with largely Amerindian populations, such as Bolivia and Ecuador being the least economically developed. 

On Nov. 14, 2013, Dennis Prager said: "Importing people, large numbers of whom don't share your values, is not a good answer for these [European] countries."

If the values of big government are the problem, how come big government societies like the Scandinavian countries Sweden and Norway are prosperous? And when Scandinavians move to the United States, how come they prosper while fourth-generation Mexican-Americans do not? How come 65% of American Jewish adults over 25 graduate from college and 50% of Asians, 30% of non-Hispanic whites, 18% of blacks and only six percent of fourth-generation Mexican-Americans? 

Dennis has historically spent more time on his radio show talking about adultery than about immigration (the index to his books Think A Second Time and  Still the Best Hope contain no entry for "immigration" nor is the topic ever tackled in Prager's 16 years of publishing a personal journal Ultimate Issues) even though the human capital of a country will have more effect on its welfare than its legislation. You won't find many prosperous countries, for instance, where the average IQ is under 90.

In 2013 and 2014, Dennis opposed immigration reform aka amnesty because it would predominantly legalize immigrants from Latin America "with left-wing values." (Feb. 4, 2014)

I find it hard to imagine that Prager’s Fourth of July seder will overcome the damage he’s done to America by promoting mass immigration and devaluing the power of blood ties.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. . . . That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”

Peter Novick writes in 1988: “Rarely have so many ambiguous terms and dubious propositions been compressed into such a brief passage. By rigorous philosophical criteria the passage is nonsense. But far from being, in the well-worn phrase, “pernicious nonsense,” it is salutary nonsense. Belief in these “self-evident truths” has for more than two hundred years provided one of the strongest bulwarks of liberty and equality in the United States. I don’t know what it would mean if someone asked me whether I was for or against the ideas expressed in the passage, and I would have no idea how to respond.”

You can find reasons why, in some context, almost any statement is true. You just have to want to bad enough. For example, if you are talking to someone and you really want to understand what he is saying, you need to accept provisionally that what he is saying is true, and then look for ways it can be true. On the other hand, if you just want to dismiss something, you can usually find reasons to do so without much effort. Because we have limited time and energy, we tend to frequently dismiss people so that we can concentrate our limited resources on the few who matter to us.

If you are an American and you want to know about your history, you might want to look for ways that the Declaration of Independence might be true when it says that all men are created equal. Stanford historian Jack Rackove says: “When Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal” in the preamble to the Declaration, he was not talking about individual equality. What he really meant was that the American colonists, as a people, had the same rights of self-government as other peoples, and hence could declare independence, create new governments and assume their “separate and equal station” among other nations. But after the Revolution succeeded, Americans began reading that famous phrase another way. It now became a statement of individual equality that everyone and every member of a deprived group could claim for himself or herself. With each passing generation, our notion of who that statement covers has expanded. It is that promise of equality that has always defined our constitutional creed.”

Brion McClanahan writes for Chronicles:

In January, Donald Trump’s President’s Advisory 1776 Commission released its 45-page “1776 Report,” which, according to The New York Times, is “a sweeping attack on liberal thought and activism that…defends America’s founding against charges that it was tainted by slavery and likens progressivism to fascism.” Joe Biden scrapped it the day he entered office, and the report has since been scrubbed from all government websites.

This is perhaps for the best. However noble the intentions of the Commission’s members, their document is a profoundly flawed vision of American history, one that places the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln at the center of the American experience. That Lincolnian vision is now the accepted “conservative” consensus regarding American history.

American conservatives looking for an intellectual home should avoid claptrap like the 1776 Commission and its intellectual sibling, “The 1619 Project.” They are in reality two sides of the same coin. Both rely on a fantasy about the founding that Lincoln invented at Gettysburg in 1863. Accepting the assumptions behind either view of America is tantamount to a coin toss in which the rules are heads they win, tails you lose.

Trump created the 1776 Commission in September 2020 to combat The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which paints American history as a story of black slavery and white supremacy. However, his appointments to the Commission led its report down a predictable path.

Trump tapped Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn to head the Commission and appointed 17 other academics and politicians to serve in advisory roles. Vanderbilt University Political Science and Law Professor Carol M. Swain and Hillsdale Constitutional Government Professor Matthew Spalding served as vice-chair and executive director, respectively. Swain’s prior publications focused almost exclusively on race and the dangers of “white nationalism,” including tomes fully in accord with the credo of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Spalding penned the popular We Still Hold These Truths (2009), a book steeped in neoconservative deceit.

Other appointments included Thomas Lindsay, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, who drafted most of “The 1776 Report,” as well as conservative historian Victor Davis Hanson. While Hanson has recently bemoaned the effects of cancel culture on American history, for years he never found a Confederate statue he did not want removed.

Consider the required reading recommendations for American students from “The 1776 Report,” which include the 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration calling for women’s suffrage, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Stanton looked to the form and substance of the Declaration of Independence in crafting the Declaration, and King asserted that the Declaration and the Constitution constituted a “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”

No contemporary of Stanton or King would have confused either for a “conservative.” Stanton sided with the Republican Party during the 1850s because she perceived it as a conduit for reform, and complained loudly of betrayal when it refused to back women’s suffrage following the Civil War. King flirted with communism, and like the academics who crafted “The 1776 Report,” viewed the Declaration’s “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal” as a foundational promise betrayed by bad actors in American history, mostly from the South.

Michael Anton responds:

Teachers, friends, and colleagues of mine from the Claremont-Hillsdale school (or “CHS,” after where most of us were trained, and many now teach) have spent years making a concerted effort to find common ground with fellow travelers on the Right who may be broadly understood as paleoconservatives.

I’m happy to say that, to a large extent, the effort has borne fruit. Many paleoconservatives have been published in the Claremont Review of Books and American Greatness, while many Claremont and Hillsdale scholars (myself included) have written for Modern Age and The American Conservative. There is more cross-pollination and friendly dealing today between the two groups than ever, with each side attending and speaking at the others’ conferences and so on. I think we’ve even learned from each other. I know I have. Exposure to paleo ideas has influenced my thinking on trade, immigration, and foreign policy, among other subjects.

My commitment, however, to the core tenets of the Claremont-Hillsdale school—which I consider to be nothing more (or less) than an attempt to understand Americanism, without any alterations or admixtures—has never shaken.

“Others . . . insist that the key to everything is to refight the Civil War until no one left alive denies that Lincoln was a tyrant and the father of all evil among us. I once asked such a person whether, with the militant Left coming for both our throats, we could for the time being put aside such fratricide, turn our attentions against our common enemy, and then get back to killing one another over Lincoln after we win. He said no, it was much more important to kill me over Lincoln right now.”

[LF: I suspect it did not happen this way.]

* I really do agree with the paleo positions on trade, immigration, and war. Moreover, I believe that the American founders did, too, and that their principles provide the strongest possible support for those positions, much stronger than anything Chronicles offers here.

[Is Anton saying that the founders opinions provide the strongest support for those positions, as opposed to any other form of support, such as what is in the best interests of the American people now?]

* If the American Republic fails, then the question of what follows takes on paramount importance. There will still be people alive on the American continent. How will they organize themselves? According to what understanding and which principles? The same questions with which the founders were forced to wrestle will again be front and center. Before we reject their solutions, we had best know what they were, and then evaluate them against the available alternatives.

[What comes next will come out of the predispositions of the people wielding power in America. As Samuel T. Francis stated: “The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted to a different people.” Different peoples tend to organize themselves differently. People don’t usually operate in a deductive fashion (from general principles to the specific, but rather peoples have ways of doing things, and you might later try to ascribe principles to these practices).]

* McClanahan’s attack on the Trump Administration’s 1776 Commission report is never clear on what exactly it’s asserting. Something is said to be terribly wrong, but what? Is it the actual founding or a later interpretation? Were the founding principles wrong? If so, is that because the founders made an honest mistake? That is, were they true to their own self-understanding but nonetheless mistaken in their account of the nature of political things? Or did they not really mean what they plainly said? And if the latter, were they deliberately misleading, using elevated rhetoric to cover more earthly or self-interested motives? Or did they just not understand or think through the implications of what they said, thus unwittingly paving a way for the modern egalitarian catastrophe?

[He’s asserting that we are not a proposition nation and that we do not depend upon the assertion of certain philosophic principles to organize in our self-interest. Anton is a political philosopher, so he might put more importance on philosophy than most of us who simply regard America as exceptional to us because we live here.]

* The very grave question of whether the founders blew it or got it right but had their work corrupted matters. We can’t really know where we are without knowing how we got here, nor can we get to a place we want to go without knowing which routes to take and which to avoid. If the founders blew it, we should abandon their ideas. If, however, they got something—anything—right, we still have something to learn from them that may aid us going forward.

[Does it matter that much? Are we truly unable to know where we are without knowing history and philosophy? If Anton is truly curious about McClanahan’s answers to his questions, has he consulted any of Brion’s six books, numerous articles, podcasts, interviews and videos? Here’s the blurb to one of the books: “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers proves that the Founders had a better understanding of the problems we face today than do our own members of Congress. McClanahan shows that if you want real and relevant insights into the issues of banking, war powers, executive authority, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, states’ rights, gun control, judicial activism, trade, and taxes, you’d be better served reading the Founders than you would be watching congressional debates on C-SPAN or reading the New York Times.”]

* McClanahan further says that placing “the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln at the center of the American experience” makes the commission’s report “profoundly flawed.” This is an extraordinary claim. Say what one will about Lincoln, it nonetheless remains a fact that he is, and has been almost since his assassination, the most revered of American presidents (or perhaps tied with Washington). The Civil War which he fought and won was certainly, for good or ill, “cent[ral] to the American experience.” Indeed, does not the whole paleoconservative argument hinge on this very claim, that Lincoln and the war fundamentally changed absolutely everything? But now this is blithely dismissed simply because people McClanahan doesn’t like also say it.

[Perhaps Brion does not regard rhetoric and civil war as the center of the American experience. Perhaps he views the common cause of Americans to establish themselves as a separate nation and to expand across the continent as the center? Perhaps he sees lived experience of Americans rather than rhetoric as the center? Perhaps how much reverence one has for presidents from 150 to 220 years ago does not matter much for making the best of now?]

* it is flatly—almost perversely—ahistorical to deny the centrality of the Declaration of Independence to America. This is literally the document that founded the country, the date of whose adoption is still (for now) celebrated as America’s birthday, the first organic law of the United States, and the most widely quoted and imitated political document in the history of mankind. That’s before one even turns to the importance of that document’s principles to our country’s subsequent history and self-understanding, which the rest of McClanahan’s piece may be said to attempt to cover.

[Did this document found America or did people found America?]

* McClanahan next states, rightly, that the 1776 Commission was created to “combat” the aforementioned “1619 Project” which “paints American history as a story of black slavery and white supremacy.” It would seem, then, that to attack the 1776 Commission, McClanahan would have to do one of two things. First, he could argue that America and American history do not deserve a defense against the charges of the “1619 Project” because that project basically got it right: America is racist and evil, hence the 1776 Commission’s defense is false. Or he could defend the founding on the ground that it was just as racist as the “1619 Project” says it was, but assert that the founders’ (alleged) racism is true and just, and that therefore the 1776 Commission defense is false both in the historical sense (untrue to what the founders actually believed) and in the philosophic sense (untrue to the realities of nature).

McClanahan doesn’t say either of things, but neither does he really reject either. The reader is instead left in suspense. Was the founding racist and good? Racist and bad? Not racist but still bad? The one thing we can deduce is that it cannot have been both non-racist and good, because that is precisely what the 1776 Commission report asserts, and if McClanahan is clear about one thing, it’s that the report is very bad.

One wishes to ask McClanahan: does the American founding, and America itself, deserve a defense against the “1619 Project” and other more or less identical attacks that are now ubiquitous from academia, the media, corporations, and every level of government? If it does, on what grounds?

[Maybe he finds it ridiculous to defend the founding of the nation?]

As I understand it, this is a clash between liberalism (Anton) and nationalism (McClanahan). Liberals see the world as primarily composed of individuals who are born with certain inalienable rights. Nationalists see people born into nations with responsibilities and rights that vary depending upon circumstance. Anton is articulating an individualist perspective and McClanahan gives a national view.

Anton sees America as a state in service of ideas. McClanahan sees America as a state in service of its citizens.

Did the Declaration of Independence shape Americans or was it more a rhetorical expression of Americans? Was the Magna Carta central to British history or was it more of an embodiment of the character of the British? Particular people produce particular documents more than particular documents produce particular peoples. DNA>culture>politics>documents, not documents>politics>culture>people.

Anton and McClanahan differ over the significance and wisdom of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln is articulating a new vision for America and a new understanding of its history. Few Americans who founded and built up the country prior to Lincoln regarded their national enterprise as “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Rather, they saw themselves building a home for themselves and for their posterity. As the preamble to the U.S. Constitution states: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Anton’s approach conceives of the founders as working out philosophical ideas in political practice. The other view sees politics as a way to promote the general welfare, and part of that welfare is insuring the rights of Englishmen.

Brion writes:

The attempt by the authors of “The 1776 Report” to beg absolution from the political left for the sin of slavery is a fatal miscalculation. The left’s game is cancel culture, and it’s a game in which conservatives will always be playing defense. You cannot play the left’s game on their field and by their rules and hope for success. Charges of racism are emotional, not intellectual, and are used—successfully—to change the narrative. Instead of focusing on the contributions antebellum Americans made to Western civilization, we are instead debating who was the least racist and bigoted among them. This is unproductive….

“The 1776 Report” admits that the founding generation never spoke of America as a proposition nation, even though its authors appear to believe that the propositional idea can be discerned in the penumbra of the founding documents. It was Lincoln, the abolitionists, and black Americans who popularized that concept (in reality, fabricated it) for political reasons.

Joe* emails:

I think you really have to get Paul Gottfried’s perspective on this. The problem is that the Claremont School following Harry Jaffa, not only venerate Lincoln, but also take their lead from Leo Strauss. The proposition nation, which is an increasingly popular way to look at America, is that it has certain ideals, some of which are enshrined in the Declaration and the Constitution, some of which are actually in the Articles of Confederation (which governed America between Yorktown and the adoption of the Constitution) the Federalist and Anti Federalist Papers, the arguments over Nullification and the Gettysburg Address. The Claremont Schools really focuses on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the promotion of the primacy of the declaration in the Gettysburg address as the propositions that any person can adopt and become an American.

The other are based on a belief that American values and government were based not on these documents, but on the person who settled America and bequeathed their ideas of what a just society should act like. Thus, since our government and legal system are taken from English law, the emigrants from England shape the values in a way that immigrants from Latin America do not share. Our entire sense of responsibility and civic order may well be something entirely unrelated to the constitution, but related to the large number of German and Scandanavian immigrants starting in the mid 1800’s. You still see their influence both in large cities (Cincinnati) and small cities throughout the midwest and northwest even today.

The problem with the 1776 project according to them is that although the counter narrative promulgated by Howard Zinn and now the 1619 project is clearly false, it is also filled with propaganda or myths that have become accepted facts as of today. One of the main myths according to the Paleos relates to the civil war which the Paleos see as something that was avoidable and something that led to increasing Federal power at the expense of state autonomy as well as increasing executive power well beyond what the constitution anticipated. There remains the recurring fight over Wilson and WWI. Wilson was always thought of as a progressive and in some ways the forerunner of the next Democratic president Franklin Roosevelt. But Paleos feel he broke his promise to keep America out of war (and as an example, although Williams Jennings Bryan is ridiculed since he ran and and lost for the presidency three times, and was thoroughly made fun of for his position in the Scopes Trials where he said he believed every word of the bible literally as Wilson’s secretary of state, he resigned out of principle because he saw Wilson leading the U.S. into the war.)

Recent history is even more of a problem. Was there really much difference between FDR and Mussolini when FDR tried to push through the NRA? Although almost all Paleos believe Hitler was evil, many believe that the Soviet Union was an equal if not greater evil. Was WWII really a fundamentally different type of war or was it basically an attempt by the maritime powers (the U.S. and Britain) to maintain control of the world by controlling the oceans (including destruction of the Japanese fleet so they would be unchallenged in the far east) and was the clash between Germany and Russia simply a continuation of power struggles between the two great continental powers for dominance?

After the war, how much of the tension between the U.S. and Soviet Union was the fault of the Soviet Union. If you believe American history books, almost all of it. But the U.S. played no small part in maintaining tensions.

Anyway, I could go on all day, but suffice it to say that Trump wanted American textbooks to teach American exceptionalism and American triumphalism in the same way he was taught when he went to school. Most scholars realize that this model has serious flaws, not the least of which is that it often times is inaccurate. It doesn’t matter how many times Anton and others (such as Hugh Hewitt) say Larry Arnn is brilliant, all an open minded person has to do is listen to him and conclude that perhaps at one point he was a serious and respected scholar, and he may even now be considered a great teacher by his pupils, but he fully embraces all the mythic heroic parts of American history and downplays anything to the contrary.

In his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers, Brion McClanahan wrote:

Thomas Jefferson, author of the well-regarded pamphlet A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774), was chosen to lead a committee in drafting a declaration of independence. Work began in June 1776. Congress approved independence from Great Britain on 2 July 1776, and the final wording of the Declaration was hammered out over the next two days.

Many years later, Jefferson told Henry Lee that he wrote the Declaration “not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of … it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.”

Many historians, including Jefferson’s most important biographer, Dumas Malone, believe Benjamin Franklin changed Jefferson’s draft of “we hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” to “we hold these truths to be self-evident,” a much more powerful expression. Jefferson himself probably borrowed language from George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Resolves, written a month before Jefferson authored the Declaration. Mason had argued, similarly to Jefferson, that “all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights … namely the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and maintaining happiness and safety.” It seems likely that Jefferson simply shortened Mason’s wording. But even that wording was not new. The idea that Englishmen had a right to “life, liberty, and property” went back at least to John Locke and his Two Treatises on Civil Government in 1689, which itself was meant to couch England’s “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 in the rights of Englishmen, established in 1215 when King John was forced to sign the Magna Charta at Runnymede. These rights were thus common parlance not only in Britain but in America. They were, for instance, part of the Carolina Charter, which Locke may have helped author. Most colonists did not consider themselves to be solely “Americans.” They were British subjects pleading with the king for relief from taxes and laws that violated their “natural” rights as Englishmen. Indeed, Americans were proud to be British. And, why not? Englishmen were the freest and most prosperous people in the world.

Jefferson insisted that the colonists had suffered patiently while the king and Parliament assumed tyrannical rule over the colonies, but only the “present King of Great Britain” deserved the condemnation of the patriot leaders. Jefferson never declared that all kings were unjust, just George III. It is true that Jefferson was not a monarchist, but it is equally true that he thought there were worse things than monarchy. When the French Revolution, of which he was an early proponent, had proven itself to be unmistakably extremist, with the revolutionary government lopping off heads at a rapid pace, Jefferson called for a restoration of the royal family in France. Moreover, contrary to what the historian Joseph Ellis says, Jefferson never suggested that government was an “alien force.” Government, in Jefferson’s words, should protect the “safety and happiness” of the people. Only after a “long train of abuses and usurpations” reduced the people “under absolute Despotism” did the people have the “right” and “duty, to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future security.” They could “alter or abolish” a tyrannical government, but Jefferson did not consider the British system of government per se to be unjust, only the government of King George III. Even conservatives like John Dickinson knew their grievances would not be addressed by a Parliament determined to maintain its sovereignty over the king’s subjects, no matter what the cost. Independence was justified because it was the only way left for the colonists to preserve their inherited rights.

Myth: The Founding Fathers really believed everyone was equal The most famous line in the Declaration of Independence is “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal… . ” But the Founders meant something very different by that phrase than most of us have been taught to believe.

It was written, of course, by a slaveholder— by Thomas Jefferson— and politically correct historians mock him, for that very reason, as a hypocrite. But they do so by ignoring what he meant.

When the Founders talked about liberty and equality, they used definitions that came to them from their heritage within an English culture. Liberty was one of the most commonly used terms in the Founding generation. When Patrick Henry thundered, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” in 1775, no one asked Henry to define liberty following his speech. Similarly, when the Founders talked about equality, they thought in terms of all men being equal under God and of freemen being equal under the law. But the distinction of freemen was important. The founders believed in a natural hierarchy of talents, and they believed that citizenship and suffrage required civic and moral virtue. Jefferson wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and what never will be.” To that end, restricting the status of freemen was essential, in the Founders’ view, to the liberty of the republic, which is why some states initially had property qualifications for voting, and why equality did not extend to slaves (or for that matter to women or children). Most of the Founding generation favored a “natural aristocracy” consisting of men of talent and virtue. They believed that these men would be, and should be, the leaders of a free society. The Founders were not at all egalitarian in their sentiments, as might be clearer if we quote Jefferson at greater length: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness— that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed … .”

…It is a politically correct myth that the colonists sought to create a radically new conception of political and civil rights. The popular historian Joseph Ellis has fueled this misinterpretation in his American Creationby concluding that the Declaration of Independence was a “radical document that locates sovereignty in the individual and depicts government as an alien force, making rebellion against it a natural act.” 10 On the contrary, colonial protests and America’s founding documents always relied on a common understanding, and a reassertion, of the rights of Englishmen, which is why the British statesman Edmund Burke supported the colonists in Parliament. Hardly a radical, Burke is considered the founding father of Anglo-American conservatism. American leaders justified their protests against Parliament in terms of the Magna Charta of 1215 and the 1688 English Bill of Rights. The Revolution intended to preserve these “ancient constitutions” of their forefathers. In the eyes of the Americans, it was the British Parliament that was making a radical departure from tradition, usurping powers to itself (principally the power of taxation) that rightly resided in the colonial legislatures. It was this sense of traditionalism, of conservatism, that separated the American Revolution from the later and more ideological French Revolution that sought to create an entirely new politics and even a new religion. The Americans were looking to keep what they had: liberties that had been developed over centuries of English history and law.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in America, Dennis Prager. Bookmark the permalink.