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But it's one thing to pursue genuine national interests through foreign policy, quite another to cook up schemes just to give government something to do and the American people somethingto rally around. Harking back to the progressivism of Theodore Roosevelt and New Republic co-founder Herbert Croly, Messrs. Kristol and Brooks seek the promise of American life in collective pursuits directed from Washington according to their own cultural prejudices. They have embraced Croly's claim that it is not enough to allow America's future to emerge "merely by virtue of maintaining intact a set of political institutions and by the vigorous individual pursuit of private ends." Or, as Mr. Brooks put it in the Standard, if Americans "think of nothing but their narrow self-interest, of their commercial activities, they lose a sense of grand aspiration and noble purpose."
Yet when Americans express grand aspiration and noble purpose in their commercial activities he ridicules them as "cosmic capitalists" or calls for "restricting the use of technologies" that "violate American decency."
Without the high stakes of U.S.-Soviet conflict, national-greatness conservatives are desperately seeking the moral equivalent of the Cold War. Their pursuit is in vain, for Americans go to war reluctantly and are happy to be at peace. At this point in our history, American nationalism is a secure ideal. Its meaning evolves, certainly, but no one who has ever been abroad--or spent much time outside the Beltway--can doubt its vigor. It is absurd to think we require central direction to feel American.
Americans don't need to concoct grand national struggles merely to prove their mettle. They prove it every day, in their own private pursuits.
This article was published in the September 25, 1997 Wall Street Journal.