My idea of national greatness has the strongest affinities with the vision of Theodore Roosevelt. I believe in busting trusts because it serves a free market, and requiring more of the rich because they owe more to a society that helped them get and keep their riches. I believe in using our national might to settle disputes abroad – TR won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in activating the International Court of Arbitration and in settling the Russo-Japanese War – and to build the global infrastructure, like the Panama Canal. Roosevelt himself made mistakes, as any leader does, and some of them were beauts. But, to my mind, Theodore Roosevelt best embodies the spirit of what I think of as National Greatness.
When I first registered to vote, I registered as a Republican, quite against my family’s tradition, because I was under the spell of that wonderful biography of the first president Roosevelt, Mornings On Horseback. I soon discovered, though, the same thing that many would-be followers of TR found: the Republican Party was no home for us. This is why Franklin Roosevelt, who took his famous relative as a model, became a Democrat. Since the 1970s, though, the Democratic Party has not been a home for those who believe in the national greatness of America.
Centrist movements within each party keep trying to make an institutional space for a Rooseveltian politics. David Brooks, who has done the most to promote the idea of a national greatness agenda, has said that he wishes there were a party led by John McCain and Joe Lieberman. Two blogs I read regularly, and are linked to this one, are New Donkey and the Bull Moose – that latter, obviously, an explicit attempt to promote a politics in the manner of Teddy Roosevelt.
You may be wondering why a blog about families is talking about national greatness – make that National Greatness. It is because I think that families, wonderful and important though they are, are not ends in themselves. In fact, I think that any life, and any institution, can only really be great if it serves an end greater than itself. This is the wisdom of the seemingly paradoxical idea of “servant leadership.” It is perfectly possible to have strong families which serve only themselves, undermining the other institutions of society, and ultimately undermining society itself. This is the conclusion of Edward Banfield’s classic The Moral Basis of a Backward Society.
The best kind of strong families serve to make the nation greater. And a great nation best serves the world.