Saturday, August 2, 2008

Religion's Role in American Nationalism and Providentialism

by Brad Hart

In a recent post by fellow blogger, Tom Van Dyke, we briefly discussed some of the specifics behind the "Christian Nation" phenomenon and its role in the development of American nationalism. In the following video, Dr. Ron Edsforth, a history professor at Dartmouth University, expounds upon the doctrine behind American nationalism and how it has been influenced by religious providentialism. Dr. Edsforth emphasizes how religion has instigated an abiding and passionate belief in many Americans that our nation's history is centered exclusively on divine intervention and inherent superiority. As Dr. Edsfourth put it:

American nationalism, what Americans call "patriotism," is grounded in this belief that Liberty and Empire are uniquely reconciled in the history of the rise of the United States to world superpower status. Most Americans who tell this history, tell it in the language of "Manifest Destiny," while excluding from that history the voices of others who see it differently.
Dr. Edsfourth's insight is an excellent way for us to continue our discussion on American providentialism and nationalism.

In the video, Dr. Edsfourth reads Joseph Warren's famous poem, Song on Liberty, or Liberty's Song, which serves as an excellent example of one of America's first nationalistic pieces of literature/music. The poem gained even greater praise after Warren's death at Lexington & Concord. It is easy to see the roots of American providentialism and nationalism in Warren's epic poem, which states:

That Seat of Science Athens,
And Earth's great Mistress Rome,
Where now are all their Glories,
We scarce can find their Tomb;
Then guard your Rights, Americans!
Nor stoop to lawless Sway,
Oppose, oppose, oppose, oppose,
My brave America.

Proud Albion bow'd to Caesar,
And num'rous Lords before,
To Picts, to Danes, to Normans,
And many Masters more;
But we can boast Americans!
We never fell a Prey;
Huzza, huzza, huzza, huzza,
For brave America.

We led fair Freedom hither,
When lo the Desart smil'd,
A paradise of pleasure,
Was open'd in the Wild;
Your Harvest, bold Americans!
No power shall snatch away,
Huzza, huzza, huzza, huzza,
For brave America. :

Torn from a World of Tyrants,
Beneath this western Sky,
We form'd a new Dominion,
A Land of liberty;
The World shall own their masters here,
Then hasten on the Day,
Huzza, huzza, huzza, huzza,
For brave America.

God bless this maiden Climate,
And thro' her vast Domain,
Let Hosts of Heroes cluster,
Who scorn to wear a Chain;
And blast the venal Sycophant,
Who dares our Rights betray.
Preserve, preserve, preserve, preserve
My brave America.

Lift up your Heads my Heroes!
And swear with proud Disdain,
The Wretch that would enslave you,
Shall spread his Snares in vain;
Should Europe empty all her force,
Wou'd meet them in Array,
And shout, and shout, and shout, and shout,
For brave America!

Some future Day shall crown us,
The Masters of the Main,
And giving Laws and Freedom,
To subject France and Spain;
When all the Isles o'er Ocean spread
Shall tremble and obey,
Their Lords, their Lords, their Lords, their Lords
Of brave America.
Anyway, enjoy the video! FYI, skip the first 11 minutes of this video, since they are nothing more than introduction.


bad Jim said...

Joseph Warren died at the battle of Bunker Hill. Widipedia adds a detail which was new to me:

"His body was exhumed ten months after his death by his brothers and Paul Revere, who identified the remains by the artificial tooth he had placed in the jaw. This may be the first recorded instance of post-mortem identification by forensic odontology."

Brad Hart said... are right. Thanks for the correction!

Tom Van Dyke said...

I would admit that Warren's poem seems a little too romantic and a bit out of place in the Founding milieu, which seemed to favor philosophical argument over emotion. It seems more appropriate to the 1800s, as the Founding myth crystallized and was manifest in stuff like The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

I do have trouble imagining Jefferson and Madison and Washington singing The Battle Hymn in 3-part harmony.

Pinky said...

I appreciate the video.
It is very good for me to see these different views of our history.
The entire idea of manifest destiny is so appropriate to the present time. An excellent issue to put on the tables in the dominant media.
Thinkers like George W. Bush can, very much, be well intentioned; but, there is a danger that they get hornschwaggled by multinationals that do not have the best interests of American democracy in mind.
History is important in that it gives us the benefit of past experience, right? It's much more than just some academic pursuit in which some person is more accomplished than another?
Is that true?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Not among "professional" historians [or philosophers]. To them it's bloodsport and survival. We buyers must always beware.

Fortunately, we "amateurs" are free to simply seek the truth...