- - Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Rich Lowry, named editor of National Review in 1997 by Bill Buckley, is author of “Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream — and How We Can Do It Again” and “Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.”

As the successor to a legend who gave shape and substance to contemporary conservative thought and discourse, it was a sufficient challenge for any young man. But with the potential breaking points of recent years — Iraq, Trump, Never Trump, to name a few — the strains have been intense. But through it all, Mr. Lowry has managed National Review with a steady hand.  

His intention here is to make the case for nationalism, which he approaches historically, philosophically, and commonsensically, understanding, as Sen. Tom Cotton puts it, that “nationalist sentiments are essential to self-government.” 

In a chapter titled “The Treason of the Elites,” Mr. Lowry notes that “poets, novelists, lexicographers, and historians (he might well have added educators), have been central to excavating and delineating the identities of nations, toward the goal of establishing proud, self-governing peoples.”

But in our own country, he writes, “this class has turned its back on a nation buttressing role and instead embraced a hostility to the American nation as such, to its cultural supports, its traditions, and its history.” 

As for our leaders, they were robustly nationalist until the latter half of the 20th century. Then in the ’60s and ’70s, as Samuel Huntington put it, “‘they began to promote measures consciously designed to weaken America’s cultural and creedal identity and to strengthen racial, ethnic, cultural, and other subnational identities. These efforts by a nation’s leaders to deconstruct the nation they governed were, quite possibly, without precedent in human history.’” 

Nor if we watch oddities like the current misnamed Democratic presidential debates, are there any topics touched on beyond those deconstructive ones — primarily race and gender, along with other people’s money and how best to divide it up among people of the right sex and color.

Then there’s the whole subject of “Multiculturalism,” which, as Mr. Lowry puts it in a sub-heading, “Rejected Unum for Pluribus.” In other words, there goes the old melting pot, and the effective and unifying process it symbolized — a total change in the playbook, snookered past most citizens, a reversal of one of the doctrines of which they are proudest — and worked beautifully — to be replaced by an identity-based, anti-assimilation creed that naturally breeds tribalism and conflict. 

In our schools and universities, where most Americans assume the basic curricula continue to be taught, Mr. Lowry points out, “history itself has begun to vanish from our education system. Courses in American history are often not given in many universities, replaced instead with courses in gender, race, class and environmentalism.

“Worse,” writes Mr. Lowry, “there has been a deliberate effort to trash America’s statesmen as exemplars of racism, sexism, and classism.” In 2014, Mr. Lowry points out, “the College Board’s new curriculum for Advanced Placement United States History … didn’t mention James Madison or Martin Luther King Jr, but did manage to name-check Chief Little Turtle and Mercy Otis.”

A sufficient number of historians and scholars were able to convince the College Board to modify their curriculum, which they did with bad grace. As the scholars put it, the curriculum was “‘so inattentive to the sources of national unity and cohesion, that it is hard to see how students will gain any coherent idea of what those sources might be.’”

And what do the “race, gender, and class obsessions of American historiographers prepare us for today? To win a campaign against heteronormativity? To beat ourselves up endlessly and dethrone historical figure after historical figure over white privilege? To be constantly watchful for the baleful effects of toxic masculinity?”

The new anti-nationalist approach to history is also profoundly ungrateful to our forebears, denying the importance of their sacrifices and successes and their roles in building the nation they passed on to us, a nation that has more than once been called the hope and envy of the world — a proposition that continues to resonate as millions of people still try to get here, and few try to leave, usually unless pursued by the law.

“If centuries of adventure, drama, striving, and achievement aren’t to be wiped away in a ‘great forgetting,’” writes Mr. Lowry, “the country needs an Americanizing campaign of civic and history education, suffused with a belief in the country’s uniqueness and greatness.”

“And it should be grounded in the fact that we are a people.”  

• John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).

• • •


By Rich Lowry

Broadside Books, $26.99, 280 pages

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