Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

America-Worship and the Presidency

In this election season, Martin Marty has offered some sage advice for candidates contemplating an inaugural address. Work done by Michael Bailey and Kristen Lindholm traces changes in inaugural addresses over the decades, with recent addresses increasingly reflecting a "new element of divinity," which "is nothing less than an idealized version of American democracy itself." Marty extracts an insightful critique from their findings:

What [Americans] heard in the first half of our presidential history is very different from what has come up ever since. Originally, inaugural addresses, prime-time summations of presidential philosophies and intentions, had three main elements: 1) modesty; 2) American exceptionalism; 3) accent on "the operations of the Constitution."

No more. Instead, bipartisanly, with boosts from Woodrow Wilson and climax in Ronald Reagan, over a century of talks abandon "civic education," often to partisan or universal acclaim. The three marks now are: 1) immodesty about limitless America; 2) American universalism; and 3) "paeans to America." What the authors' counting and listening turn up amounts to something that prophets in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam would have summarized in a simple term: idolatry of the nation. . . .

Since FDR, "God is still invoked, but America's real faith is faith in America: not in the government, not in the Constitution, not strictly speaking, in the people (though this comes closer), but in America as Idea. The American way is God's way," and offers a "glimpse of perfection." . . .

One would believe, or like to believe, that there is some hunger for return to the earlier style of inaugural addresses. There must be some market for moral and civic education and not worship of nation and, hence, of self. Serious question: could a candidate be elected who doesn't address the public this way?



Vischer, Rob | Permalink

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