The broad sweep of history is Newt Gingrich’s favored terrain. In his new book, A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters, he walks from the grass at Bowling Green to the First Continental Congress with grace and confidence, then brings us through the centuries to consider the development and betrayal of civil society. He pauses to read love letters to America from new immigrants and foreign admirers, and also to hear a dying Tunisian street vendor’s heartbreaking plea for the rule of law. He shows us how faith and family hold the American tapestry together, and does not flinch from naming those who would see it unravel.
It is ironic that such a learned historian could have been undone by a bit of far more recent history, when a television host replayed video from just 18 years ago, and reminded Gingrich what he was saying about the concept of “individual mandates” back then. He’s a big-picture thinker, and in A Nation Like No Other, he makes it abundantly clear why such unconstitutional encumbrances as ObamaCare have no place in a free republic.
The fast pace of the modern news cycle gives a presidential candidate very little room to establish context, or share the lessons of history with voters. Talk shows and presidential debates are not classrooms. That’s a shame, because A Nation Like No Other is packed with the treasures of American history. If it’s meant to be an instrument of the Gingrich campaign, then he has created a sturdy platform from which to relaunch his candidacy.
Much of this book is a passionate, powerfully reasoned argument, and it includes a quote from Barack Obama about the concept of American exceptionalism—a quote Gingrich does not so much cite as target: “I believe in American exceptionalism the same way I suspect the British believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks in Greek exceptionalism.”
This is conventional thinking among the Left. A Nation Like No Other reveals it as the false intellectual vanity of people who have little knowledge of America’s unique history. “There is a determined group of radicals in the United States who outright oppose American Exceptionalism,” Gingrich writes. “Often convinced America is a uniquely brutal, racist, and malevolent country, these malcontents struggle to reduce American power and transform our political and economic systems into the kind of statist, socialist model that is now failing across Europe.”
Gingrich does not view American exceptionalism as chauvinism or bigotry. He takes pains to describe the unique nature of the American Revolution, and the drafting of our Constitution, which he sees as a gift we are destined to share with all mankind. He makes the case that America’s prosperity is a result of our exceptional combination of faith, family, work, respect for civil society and the rule of law, and commitment to a well-guarded peace. Other nations have these qualities to various degrees, but only in America have they been realized to their fullest extent, and combined to form a republic of unprecedented wealth, wisdom and compassion.
Gingrich is adamant about the importance of religious faith to the American understanding of liberty. After relating how the Great Awakening helped forge the American colonies into a nation, he writes that “true liberty had come to mean freedom of faith and conscience, while religion was deemed necessary to support liberty, a gift of God.” He sees that the true limits of the state can only be found by obliging it to acknowledge a transcendent authority, which grants each citizen rights that no democratic vote of a predatory majority can strip away.
“Faith gave the Founders context and meaning in their lives,” Gingrich explains. “Families gave them an outlet for expressing their understanding of the world, and the obligation and privilege to love and be loved in return.” He shows how duty and loyalty flow naturally from families—the “incubator of liberty”—to communities, and upward into states and nations.
He sees the importance of work in tandem with the right to own property. The American work ethic draws value from property, and the exchange of value becomes wealth. Preserving property rights requires the rule of law, which encourages the pursuit of opportunity by guaranteeing each citizen the full ownership of his achievements. “When these rights are secure, producers can focus on the areas where they have the greatest comparative advantage,” Gingrich concludes. Only confidence in the rule of law allows the efficient division of specialized labor, and encourages the risky business of innovation.
A Nation Like No Other describes the incredibly valuable, and yet fragile, resource of “civil society” as the buffer between citizens and the state. Charities and voluntary civic organizations become a check against government power, by “fulfilling roles that government is tempted to assume, and by cultivating habits of personal responsibility that make individuals more capable of challenging government encroachments in their affairs.”
Having laid out the components of American exceptionalism, Gingrich is dismayed to find each one of them under sustained attack by socialists. Naturally the Left despises faith that imposes limits on government power, family ties that hold the state at bay, laws that even the most powerful politicians must obey, and a civil society that flows into spaces they would prefer the government to occupy.
Gingrich cites ObamaCare as an affront to the rule of law, and asserts that as the most pronounced attempt to realign the relationship between American citizens and their government in a century, it does violence to the other pillars of American exceptionalism too. Gingrich views all attempts to undermine the core principles of American exceptionalism as “radical” by definition, because they are attempts to dilute or eliminate a birthright passed on to us from the Founding Fathers.
He concludes with a detailed and aggressive plan for making America a nation like no other once again, ranging from an insistence on the proper teaching of American history in classrooms, to prying the talons of government away from our economy with simpler and lower taxes, privatized services and diminished regulations. If the first portion of the book is a history lesson and the second is an argument, the third is a prescription. It is also a policy document, carefully expressed as a logical progression from the revolutionary principles Gingrich reveres.
The first of a new breed of Minutemen—and Minutewomen—have already taken the field, from Lila Rose’s humiliation of Planned Parenthood to Susette Kelo’s brave struggle against the abuse of eminent domain. Gingrich salutes them, and traces their footsteps all the way back to the brave souls who pledged their “lives and sacred honor” to end the abuses of a king who demanded far less than today’s bureaucracy.
A Nation Like No Other is exhaustively researched and documented, but it moves with the speed of a novel. It is a chronicle of the adventure of liberty, and an indictment of a government that was “not authorized to become the producer and director of the great drama that is America.” There really is something special about America, and even the most patriotic reader may conclude these pages with a new appreciation for the nation Newt Gingrich studies with such devotion and authority.
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