Conservative Colloquium

An Intellectual Forum for All Things Conservative

What It Means to Be American

Posted by Tony Listi on April 20, 2008

In discussing the issue of illegal immigration with a liberal friend of mine, a very interesting and important question was posed to me: what is your definition of “American”?

True conservatives recognize that America is more an idea, a creed, than anything else. For practical purposes, America is also a place, a distinct area of territory. But even those who live within its physical boundaries as legally recognized citizens may be less American, in a sense, than those outside its borders who share the American creed. America is more than a place or a government certification of citizenship.

Thus, subscribing to a specific set of beliefs is what makes an American at the deepest level. What are these beliefs? They are embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as originally intended and interpreted by the Founding Fathers who framed these documents (and their Christian roots). And because conservatism, by definition, seeks to preserve the principles of America’s founding, the American creed is the conservative creed.

One of the most important of these beliefs is the rule of law (yes, even immigration laws). Two other important beliefs are the right to the fruits of one’s labor and to minimal taxation used only for public interests that cannot be satisfied any other way (both of which go together). Therefore, certain government run services and wealth redistribution, which illegal immigrants often take advantage of, are not American in a very profound sense. Another important tenet of the American credo is suspicion of government and government interference. The corollary and logical outgrowth of this is a belief in very limited government. And the logical implication of that is a belief in freedom, including the free market.

Therefore, those immigrants, legal and illegal, who do not accept this creed are a threat to America. This is why the English language must be preserved, assimilation must be a top priority, and multiculturalism should be opposed.

Of course, the implications of my definition of “American,” automatically implies that liberals are in some sense un-American because they do not hold to this creed as it has been written and passed down through the generations. They are opposed to limited government, the free market, etc. And they have already hurt America because of the semi-welfare state that they have created over the past century or so. Therefore, one might say that liberals’ un-American activities (creating the welfare state and insisting on multiculturalism) are really at the heart of what is wrong with the situation of illegal immigration. If government were more limited, illegal immigrants would not be able strain and/or drain public treasuries. If government were more limited, then government employees would be less able to socially engineer the country away from its roots.

4 Responses to “What It Means to Be American”

  1. Anon said

    What right do the founding fathers have to determine the course of the next 300 years? They are men, not gods, and it seems highly suspicious that they out of the founding fathers of all 200+ nations on the world managed to walk in on the truth.

    The founding fathers envisaged a world that had slavery in it. A world that didn’t have antibiotics and vaccinations and so on that made large scale healthcare effective. They didn’t realise that large monopolies and companies exerting political strength could emerge and distort any free market. They didn’t know about the possibility of mass media, and it’s ability to allow a few well-funded voices to sway the public debate. They didn’t understand that wealth disparities could grow so large that inheritances of the rich can in fact make it impossible for poor people to meritocratically enjoy the fruits of their labour – because after all, in the land of the American dream, social mobility statistics, measuring the possibility of the poor to rise to the top by their own efforts is one of the worst in all developed nations.

    America as envisaged by the founders does not, and cannot exist in the modern age. Certainly, we should all obey the rule of law, but the honest truth is that the law can be changed. And actually, neither conservative nor liberal amendments can magically restore the original republic, and nor do we really want to.

    America as seen by the liberals is the dream – of life, liberty, opportunity and equality for all. It’s these goals and how well we achieve them that are important. Conservative values like limited government, free market, assimilation, the body of laws as they currently stand and so on are not actually values, but merely tools to reach these ends, and should be adhered to only so far as they help achieve the ultimate ends. Certainly liberals concede that often government interference is bad, that often the free market has the best results, but we observe that this isn’t always the case, and when it isn’t, something different should be tried.

    The trick is to not hate America, but observe that America is improvable, that history isn’t a continuous line of victory, but full of mistakes and missteps that should be corrected.

  2. foospro86 said

    Why should it seem “highly suspicious” that this group of founding fathers found the best system of ordered liberty? Do you have some sort of preconceived bias against them?

    No they aren’t/weren’t gods. I never said that. It is the wisdom of the Founding Fathers as embodied in the Constitution that should continue to guide America for as long as it exists. Unlike the French revolutionaries, they looked back in time and studied what worked in Greece and Rome and Britain, and what didn’t. They built upon the wisdom of their ancestors. One merely has to look at the history of the West and the rest of the world to recognize the greatness that was achieved at Philadelphia. The checks and balances, separation of powers, an acknowledgment of God and his moral order, etc. These are just some of the great things that define the American governmental system.

    ::sigh:: Why do people not actually read the Constitution and understand it better? Have you ever read the Federalist Papers?

    If you look at the Constitution carefully, it does not explicitly distinguish between free and slave (the term “person” is used for slaves as well as citizens). Moreover, it set a deadline for the end of the slave trade! The Constitution does not distinguish people by race either; it is color-blind.
    Slavery was tolerated as a compromise, and it is clear from the historical record that slavery was controversial then and that the Founders from the northern states meant for it to be abolished eventually. Note that the northern states abolished slavery soon after the Revolutionary War. The fact of the matter is that the Constitution and Declaration of Independence envisaged a world without slavery! (Jefferson’s writings tell us he recognized slavery as an evil.)

    What do antibiotics and vaccines have to do with the Constitution?

    Yes they did! They realized that different factions would try to take over government and use it for its own private interests (e.g. NAACP, AFL-CIO, AARP, and other lobby groups. Ever read Federalist #10?
    Besides the best medicine against monopoly is not to substitute it with another monopoly (government)! The best medicine is more competition, which means a freer market!

    There is no “mass media” anymore! Conservatives and technology have smashed it. Because of talk radio and the internet, the media is now more fragmented than ever before. There is no monolithic media establishment anymore that can sway the American people one way or another. The American people can now decide for themselves what to believe. Freedom of the press and of speech reigns supreme! This very blog is just one example of that.

    People have more social mobility in America than in most countries around the world. See:
    The rich don’t prevent the poor from making something of themselves. A government-monopolized education system that doesn’t prepare our children to develop marketable skills is the real problem. Government intervention distorts the market and hurts those that it intends to help.

    Modernity does not void the wisdom of limited govt. contained in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. If anything, the modern age has shown us the horrors of government: fascism and communism. I and all true conservatives would be happy to uphold the original American Republic. We don’t necessarily need new amendments! How about taking the 10th Amendment seriously?!

    You are not giving the Founders the credit they deserve.

    Sure, means to achieve our values. But the conservative means works better than government virtually each and every time.
    Yet conservatives do not value equality as liberals value it. We value equality before the law, an equality of process. Liberals value an equality of material condition, which is necessarily an equality of misery and poverty.

    The mistakes and missteps of American history have always been liberal “innovations” that deviate from the Founding Fathers intentions of limited government and the free market.

  3. Tina Cook said

    Our Founding Fathers did not follow Christianity. They were actually Deists and that is why they wrote the Separation of Church and State. There is quite a bit of writing on this subject from our Founding Fathers. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jesus, it’s his followers that I take issue with. They want to stick their personal religious beliefs into politics. Well, where does that leave the other 80% of the Earth’s population? This is one thing that really bugs me about the right wing is that they want to claim Jesus all to themselves. Only Republicans are true Christians. That’s crazy talk! That’s more dividing lines among the masses. Of the people that are Christian in America, I would say it is very unfair, and unjust to have your political beliefs intertwined with your religious beliefs. Republicans say they are against abortion, but for the war. They do not want public funding to go towards abortion, that’s murder. Well, the Democrats would say this, maybe some are for abortion, maybe some are not for abortion, but all of them are against public funding of war, that’s murder. Killing is killing. The thing we have in common here is death. My family members die in the war, your family members die in the war, gay straight, black white, old and young, they all die in the war. So let’s leave God out of this thing about Founding documents and Founding Fathers beliefs, because our nation was set up after everyone fled Europe, due to what else, but the installation of a religious ruling party. This is a free country for people to believe what they want, speak, if they want, bare arms if they want. What the heck happened? At what point did the Right-wing high-jack Jesus. I’m not democrat or republican, I am in the middle . On the same note I’d like to say why haven’t the Democrat attempted to high-jack Jesus? I’ll be glad to explain why. In order to keep people busy and at each others throats and totally unaware of what the other hand is doing, it is necessary for both political parties to be, or at least, appear to be very different. So while the right and the left are arguing about God, abortion, gays in the military, gay marriage and 900 other religious based piles of crap, big brother is passing bills and legislation through Congress at 3 a.m. at lightning speeds. Dems and Reps are signing off on allot of the same bills and they are not doing the work of the people, none of them. Wake up and smell the corruption. What would Jesus do? I believe he went down to the church and knocked over the tables of all the vendors adulterating the sacred grounds. He fought with the corrupt business/religious leaders. Don’t be fooled into voting based on what your preacher tells you . Religion is not just big business but it is also a means of control and manipulation. God gave you a brain, please use it. Do your own research. Don’t fall for things people say and they back it up with scriptures. Those people are just trying to use the fear of God to get you to act the way they want you to act, to vote, to disagree with others. All this based on an agenda to bring God into the argument. Just remember , our Founding Fathers wrote the separation of church and State for a really good reason. And they were not Christian followers.

    • Tony Listi said

      Please have mercy on your readers and use paragraph indentation next time.

      No, the Founding Fathers were not mere Deists. It is true that a few of the famous ones were not orthodox in their theological practices and beliefs, but all of them subscribed to the Christian moral code. The very fact that Washington and Jefferson were very harsh in their penalties again sodomy and abortion is proof enough of this:

      Here’s a good resource for the views of the Founders on Jesus and Christianity:

      It is impossible to separate politics from religion:
      This link also addresses your cliche reference to the “separation of church and state.” That phrase is NOT in the Constitution. Only ONE founder wrote it (Jefferson) and that was in a private letter. Moreover, the separation of religion and politics, is intellectually impossible. Religion makes claims about the origin and nature of man, including his natural rights. Just because one is an atheist or agnostic doesn’t mean one doesn’t have religion. Everyone has religion because everyone has a view about the origin and nature of man and about his nautral rights. And natural rights are the basis of good, just, and moral politics. Natural rights are what the founders appealed to in the Declaration of Independence. It is impossible for one to be for or against the separation of religion and politics. The fact is that they cannot be separated, as a matter of reason and contemplation about what each sphere entails. The political order rests upon the moral order and the moral order upon the religious order. So the next time some preacher, pastor, priest, bishop, or pope starts talking politics, denouncing abortion and gay “marriage,” I don’t want to hear appeals to the “separation of church and state.” It is irrelevant. What you are really saying is that you want a separation of the Christian religion from American political discourse, which is un-American historically and philosophically dangerous. You would rather substitute a leftist, collectivist, libertine, secularist pseudo-religion for Christianity as the basis of moral judgment, natural rights, and law. Such a substitution would be immoral, unjust, and terrible for the spiritual and material well being of all Americans.

      “Republicans say they are against abortion, but for the war.” A baby is completely innocent; a terrorist is not.

      The issues of abortion and marriage are directly related to the positive rights of children and need no religious justification or rationalization:

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