The Irony that Our Creed Is Our Culture: On Reno, Lowry, and National Conservatism

"It will also help us if we remember that liberalism and love are not entirely as unmixable as oil and water. When Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg in 1863, he spoke of America as a nation, but one “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” This is surely as liberal a description of the American polity as any Lockean could have devised. As he uttered those words, though, he was looking over a cemetery filled with 3,500 Union dead, fully a third of them unknowns. They were clerks and farm boys, blacksmiths and lawyers, deckhands and bricklayers, Boston Brahmins from the 20th Massachusetts, and Irish Catholics from the 69th New York. They were not like the Duke of Wellington’s “scum of the earth” at Waterloo, who had taken their shilling and their chance, and died. They had volunteered. They had fought for an idea, an idea that was their country, an idea that was their family, and one that they—yes—loved.

Is America a creed or a culture? Reno and Lowry’s books are both healthy reminders that Americans do, in fact, need to have a culture, that the culture needs to have heroes, and that historians need to delineate them for us, or else they stand as nothing more than spavined Machiavellian cynics. The irony, though, is that our creed is our culture."