This week, the Newswire asked, “What does it mean to be American?” Four Xavier students responded.
Unlike other nations, America was not created for power or want. It was founded on an idea and abides by a set of principles that center on freedom. But where does this freedom originate, and what does it constitute?
Many countries have freedoms, but they are granted by their governments and man. What makes us unique is that the idea of freedom transformed us into a country of ideals. America’s founders sought truth and held them to be gifts granted by our Creator, not our government.
Truth sanctifies freedom because it validates its Endower and expresses honesty, devotion and loyalty, ideals that Americans embody. Citizenship is a result of freedom and crucial for exercising the liberties and duties we partake in. From voting to running for office to simply participating in your community, the social responsibility and public spirit we exemplify are uniquely inspired. Good government hinges on participation and the promotion of good values within society. The love of freedom and the ability to practice it is part of the American lifestyle.
There is an incumbent responsibility in being an American. It requires that we have self-control, embody virtue and practice diligence in both. To be an American requires that we acknowledge something transcendental — something more powerful than us. We must recognize that principle directs thought and Providence guides action.
Alexis de Tocqueville said when visiting America in the 1830s, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” By this he meant the best protection of our freedoms is faith and gratitude toward the Creator who gave them to us. It means to be vigilant in the conservation of those responsibilities which deem us citizens.
Being an American means to never be shortsighted and always consider the consequences of our actions. It compels a great deal of self-restraint and responsibility. This calls us to temper ourselves, respect the past and advance with caution.
As Americans, we should be wary of ideas that could threaten the freedom we hold.
Modernity poses a lot of dangers to our liberty. Its disregard for the past, insistence on fact over truth and increased apathy contributes to moral decay, decreasing public spirit and the collapse of American culture. These results also have consequences of their own in the form of corruption, statism and the demise of liberty. Complacency only leads to subjection, thus making the citizen a subject.
This does not have to be that way forward, though. If we stay true to the idea of freedom and work to produce and preserve an ideal — the transcendental goal — then we can pass along a great gift to future generations. We are as much a part of the past as we are the present and the future.
A vital duty of an American is to learn from the past, reflect on the present and prepare for the future. Tocqueville warned, “When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.” Being an American calls you to put others before yourself, think critically, read and participate in civic and social institutions in your community. It also means admitting when we’ve fallen short.
I would also like to remind everyone that the freedom we enjoy today has not come without bloodshed and sacrifice. The founding generation fought tirelessly to free themselves from British rule and establish an effective form of self-government, and generations since have paid the ultimate sacrifice for the love of freedom.
This is not something we take lightly. It is crucial that we remember those who have paved the way for freedom and show gratitude. For if we forget those who came before us, we forsake the legacy that comes with being American.
It’s every American’s responsibility to stand up for freedom in its ideal sense and to guard it against those who wish to do harm. We must preserve the idea of freedom and the ideal of America. Being American is not simply your nationality, it’s a piece of you, part of your being.
Cole J. Branham is a junior Philosophy, Politics and the Public and economics double major. He is the President of Xavier College Republicans.