Americans Should Be Thankful for the Gift That Is Our Country, and Its Legacy of Freedom

November 24, 2021 | Yuval Levin
About the author: Yuval Levin is the founding editor of National Affairs and Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC. He has been awarded a 2013 Bradley Prize for distinguished contributions in the fields of scholarship, journalism, and public service.

Upon arising, devout Jews immediately say a short prayer that begins with the words “I thank You, Living and Everlasting God,” and it has often been remarked that the Jews take their name from the biblical Judah—who happens to figure prominently in the upcoming Sabbath’s Torah reading—whose name in turn derives from the word meaning to give thanks. Thus the underlying attitude of the holiday of Thanksgiving is compatible with intrinsically Jewish ones. Yuval Levin, in a 2013 speech, reflected on the political importance of gratitude, and in particular gratitude for “the great gift that is our country.”

[W]e can . . . never forget what moves us to gratitude, and so what we stand for and defend: the extraordinary cultural inheritance we have; the amazing country built for us by others and defended by our best and bravest; America’s unmatched potential for lifting the poor and the weak; the legacy of freedom—of ordered liberty—built up over centuries of hard work.

We value these things not because they are triumphant and invincible but because they are precious and vulnerable, because they weren’t fated to happen, and they’re not certain to survive. They need us—and our gratitude for them should move us to defend them and to build on them.

The American idea of progress is the tradition that we’re defending. It is made possible precisely by sustaining our deep ties to the ideals of liberty, and equality, and human dignity expressed in our founding and our institutions. The great moral advances in our history have involved the vindication of those principles—have involved America becoming more like itself.

And in any society, the task of sustaining those kinds of institutions for the next generation is the essential task—the irreplaceable precondition for everything else. That is the work first and foremost of families, and of communities. It can also be the work of educators, and of legislators. The work of democratic capitalism and of our constitutional order.

They are all connected by the need to sustain the great gift that is our country, and when we fail to see them as connected—when for instance we think we can advance our economic agenda at the expense of our concerns about the culture—we risk losing that gift altogether.

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