More than grammatical regularity and attractive combinations of words are needed for meaningful communication.  You must have meaning!  Your emotions must be coherent.  And your words must be right.  A republic is not a democracy.  And republics aren’t democratic.  Republics are republican.  Except when they’re degenerate!

Words, right and wrong, are the bricks of the sentence-walls of the idea rooms in which we spend our days.  As a lover of architecture, I neither fear nor resent civilization.  Civilization means cities, and cities buildings, and buildings occupations.  I reside in a 100-year old house with splendid fenestration, especially in the dining room where I so love to write — when I’m not outside.  The sun comes first!  Sol invictus.  Whatever the costs of a house and the all-crafts work required for its TLC, I don’t want to live in a cave or a jail.  I’ve gone caving in a couple of states.  And I once fingerprinted a police detective in his prison.  Caves are amazing and dangerous.  Like jails.  But caves are no place to live.  Or jails.  Even if they’re both rent-free.

But despite the victory of civilization and its present world prevalence — wonderful! — humans are more than bodies in buildings.  Therefore you shouldn’t live in buildings.  You should live through them.  Otherwise the buildings will become your containers, and you the mere product packed in them.  Civilized humans are more than building-boxed contents, this end up, don’t over-stack.  Humans occupy the world with the words of their minds.  And humans occupy the universe with the ideas of their spirits.  On that point the Germans enjoy a word advantage over English speakers.  German has two almost identical words deriving from the word “Geist” or “spirit.”  “Geistig” means “religious” in the usual ritual and worshipful ways.  And “geistlich” means “spiritual” in the usual universalities of the human spirit.  These occur in philosophical and artistic relationships with reality, and any non-sectarian aspects of religion.

Let’s consider words a bit further.  We certainly use — or abuse — them enough!

In a standard classroom exercise, I ask what “jealousy” means.  Students invariably reply, “Jealousy means envy.”  “Correct today!”  I say.  “But completely wrong otherwise.”  I explain that, until recently, jealousy wasn’t a synonym of envy, but a very different word.  Whereas envy is a vice, jealousy is a virtue.  Envy consists of resentfully desiring someone else’s goods — possessions, relationships, honors — without striving to acquire them yourself.  In contrast, jealousy consists of protectively possessing that which you already happily have.  Jealousy is a virtue of love.  Envy is a cancer of the heart.

The problem with reducing jealousy to a synonym of envy is this:  jealousy has no back-up synonym of its own.  If “jealousy” becomes a substitute for envy, then jealously itself could be lost.  How could you say you’re jealous without the virtue of the word?  Humans’ minds see things with concepts, concepts are known by their names, and names are words.  If a unique word is lost, its thought might go unrecognized, and the idea itself might even become unthinkable.

The solution to this contemporary and merely temporary loss of the virtue of jealousy is to end the vice by jealously using the word again.  I’ve been jealous of my time from at least the age of 6.  Of course I didn’t know at the time that I was jealous.  I didn’t know the concept or the word.  And, more likely, my time was jealous of me.  But now I know I’m jealous.  And I’m glad.  And I’ve never envied my time.  Instead, I rigorously relish it with my fullest and best affection and self-possessing love.

In contrast with “jealousy,” a word which is easily recovered, English suffers from an apparently permanent impoverishment with its single word for “spiritual.”  But English in turn has an advantage over German.  Compare “you” — a word good for every social situation — with the dual words “du” and “Sie” in German, or “tu” and “vous” in French, or “thou” and “you” in Quaker and old Shakespeare English.  The paired words make for a ritualistic and stiff bifurcation tending to a polarity of two meanings.  Modern and nonchalant American English, in contrast, provides for a fluid continuum of unlimited significance.  Such nuance requires only the will to signify your subtlety with your unlimited intonations.  And the same is true with “spiritual”:  a word not exclusive to religion, but available for all cosmological affiliations and universal affections.  Users need not apply for a social concept permit.  Just speak the universe!  And don’t forget humanity.

Now let’s look at a couple of particular religious words.  Until recently, non-believers in the West were called pagans, a designation apparently satisfactory to everyone.  Indeed, non-believers even reveled in the Greco-Roman implications of the pre-Christian times into which they sought to be reborn — as in the Renaissance.  But, alas, “pagan” derives from “pagani” which means peasant:  late up-country hold-outs in the hick outback of the Empire who finally converted from Olympus to Christianity — from Jupiter to Jesus — in the 9th century 500 years after Constantine’s political conversion and imperial edict!

History wasn’t slower back then.  Of course I know the American commonplace:  “History moves so much faster today!”  But political history moves in generational increments.  And because those increments only narrowly vary within the bounds of the biological calendar of generational reproduction, history always moves at about the same speed.  What was slower back then was governmental advertisement.  Constantine has no Goebbels.  And if he did, he had no radio towers!  Not to mention movies, TV, and social media.

Now consider a more significant word:  “atheist.”  We can easily infer with concept logic that “atheist” is a reactionary word.  Atheism takes it meaning from theism.  In a republic, the idea of anyone taking their identity from the opposite of anyone is not only unattractive:  it’s un-republican.  It would be as if members of the Republican Party referred to Democrats as Unrepublicans.  The defective contemptuousness of that classification and its implied second-class citizenship are as obvious as they are unacceptable.

Philosophically therefore I refer to myself as an entity in only two simple ways.  With reference to contemporary states, I call myself a citizen — and that of the United States.  And in any larger picture up to and including the universe, I call myself a man.  And that’s what I am:  an American human being.  After that, all references, even in noun form, really only refer to what I do.  Thus I‘m not a religious being of some kind or another, but an American man who engages religion and spirituality through various dispositions.  And that’s the best universality, not only from the viewpoint of the American Republic, but from the perspective of philosophy.  In both Aristotle and existentialism — philosophy old and new — humans are what they do.  And doing is a passion and an action, not a membership and a mantra.  Lesson:  Don’t let humans fool you into proudly naming yourself with their derivative nouns!

As for nationalism and religion, a standard accusation of the Cold War was that Moscow was running a state religion.  In this “people’s religion,” Marx, the Manifesto, May Day, Lenin’s tomb, Trotsky, the last class war and the end of history served as replacement proxies for, respectively, prophets, holy books, holidays, pilgrimage sites, false prophets, Armageddon and heaven. The only difference was that the USSR, with its “modernist false spirituality,” was profaning ancient religious verities with its “manufactured human worship.”  The Protestants, of course, had the same problem with the Mariolatry of the Middle Ages.  Even Mark Twain noticed that.  Indeed, Twain thought Mary — the Virgin, not Magdalen — was the main deity of medieval Catholicism.  Of course he was laughing.  And therefore, of course, he was serious.

Meanwhile, contrary to what you said in your last post, I doubt the Soviets ever considered Marx a substitute for God.  Marx is the Moses of the USSR.  Marx led the workers of the world to the overlook of materialist happiness.  I suggest again that the “God” of communism is a concept:  “Freedom.”  Freedom from hunger, war, squalor, oppression, and boredom.  Just because the peasant generals of the Soviet Union had cubic heads on barrel chests with round little ears doesn’t mean the Muscovite dialecticians were religious idiots!

Ironically — or coincidentally or dialectically — the same accusation of human worship has been internally leveled at the West by various western religions — or at least religions practiced in the West.  As we’ve seen, there’s no way to construe the Lincoln Memorial — on its own engraved and graven terms — as something other than a piece of religion.  And since it’s a national property, the Memorial stands in violation of the 1st Amendment.  Should it be torn down?  No!  The great mistakes of the past have merits if only as landmarks of the wrong ways taken.  Even the Soviets restored the tsars’ palaces.  Besides, many false monuments have merit as art.  And if they don’t, they have the merit of their magnitude.  To create a great endurable is not as easy as most people think — or don’t think — as they live unthinkingly amidst great civilizations.

There’s a conservative alternative to the destruction of the lapses of the past:  and that is their forthright identification and unabashed acknowledgement.  Obviously Lincoln shouldn’t be enthroned in a temple like Ramses.  Americans don’t worship humans or anything else political.  In my Republic, I even object to the idea of the genius or the great man.  There are few enough humans who do anything greatly — like Washington.  But to be a great human would mean doing everything a human can do — and doing it greatly.  And no one does that.  Meanwhile, the pretense to such a preternatural accomplishment suggests saintliness.  And with the acclamation of saintliness comes human worship and another temple — another preposterous monument with a memorialized mortal inside mummified in marble.  In contrast to such fossilizations of eternity, Lincoln was a man:  indomitable, weary, worn, victorious and bawdy.  I prefer my immortals alive.

And now let’s look at your “greatest country” concept.  I like the way you recognize the pre-critical childhood acquisition of your inner idea of America:  that it came from your pre-conscious upbringing and probably equally mindless American K-12 education.  But now, upon reflection as an adult, you’ve consciously chosen to affirm that world view with your own volition.  Such onset-of-adult public affirmations, common to primitive tribes, also occur in major religions — as with Confirmation or Bar Mitzvah.  It’s an interesting question whether a country should have such a national rite of passage and world affirmative ritual.  America plays the national anthem before professional sports for similar and much less significant purposes.  And 1st Amendment athletes have recently been read the riot act:  “It’s a free country.  You’re free to be fired!  Show some respect for a minute.  And play ball!”

As for you specification of America as “the greatest country,” I don’t disagree with you.  I can’t disagree with you.  I don’t know what you mean!

Of course I understand your idiomatic English.  But I’m being critical, not coy.

Consider novels.

But before we do, notice that “greatest” could mean “biggest,” or it could mean “best.”  Or it could mean both.  Jupiter was known as Best and Greatest to make sure the Romans got the point of the Jovian potency right.

Now, when great literature was recognized and even popular — before writing was liberated in America’s universities, and all works became revolutionarily or revoltingly equal — everyone in common parlance said Tolstoy’s War and Peace was the greatest novel.  Of course it might not be Tolstoy’s greatest novel.  Anna Karenina might be.  And I consider Resurrection to be Tolstoy’s greatest novel — at least in dramatic technique and technical control.

Furthermore, is Tolstoy really the greatest Russian novelist?  I think Turgenev is.  And I’ve been told by a Russian woman — tête-à-tête — that the “the best” Russians all think Turgenev is the best.  What my Russian meant by “the best” she left unsaid.  She wore malachite.  Yet clearly the meaning included her — as well as me as an honorary Russian lover of the arts.

As for the greatest novelist, I prefer Conrad above all others.  But if you asked me what his greatest novel is, I wouldn’t answer you.  I might suggest you read Nostromo first.  And Victory and Chance and The Secret Agent and The Arrow of Gold and a few other titles I would ardently overwhelm you with in a rush of recollective ecstasy.

Do you see where this leading?  If not, keep following me.  And if you do, then lead yourself!  And be your own first follower.  Being able to follow yourself is the best leadership practice.  And the best education is to teach.

A college classroom of summer language students — advanced high schoolers and a couple of retreads – were once asked as a German exercise,  “Who is your favorite classical composer?”  Obviously Puccini and Ravel weren’t welcome possibilities!  Upon Beethoven’s name being proposed, everyone emphatically voted Yes!  Except me.  I insisted on Brahms.  After class, my Russian friend said — yes, it was she:  we were the retreads — “See, everyone thinks Beethoven is best!”  She’d studied Beethoven’s sonatas in piano lessons in Moscow under a Tchaikovsky International Competition winner.  I told her that most of our “fellow” students probably knew little or nothing of Beethoven’s music, but in America it’s safe to vote for Beethoven.  No one will probably call your bluff and test your musical knowledge because they have so little themselves!  At first she was gently incredulous, and even elegantly indignant.  No one would fake an opinion about art in Russia!  Well, I assured her, America isn’t Russia!  And of course she politically knew this.  She was a recently naturalized American citizen.  The problem with Americans, I explained to her in a social upgrade to her “Ellis Island” civics drill, is that everyone in America has a right to know everything, they just don’t always get around to knowing it!  Her growing interior sadness, as vast as like the endless steppes in the expansive and apprehensive Russian soul — what horde will next appear over the horizon? — confirmed her recognition of that fool’s truth.  Whereupon I perkily insisted once again, “Brahms is better than Beethoven!”  And we got on with our hot Cold War of the arts.

Do you see now the three problems with your specification of America as “the greatest country”?

First problem.  There has probably never been a single best anything in any category of human activity.  Humanity is so grand — human greatness and imagination are so ample and expansive — that humanity can’t be mastered and catalogued by any one personality or world disposition.  Chopin or Beethoven?  Choose!  How silly.  For lovers of classical music, they’re both superlative.  And you needn’t love one or the other to recognize their excellence.  True, I once had a prof who professed a greater fondness for the pellets of Webern than the symphonies of Beethoven.  But that was only a deconstructionist affectation.  And he was an affectation in need of deconstruction.

Second problem.  All such rote platitudes — “the greatest this or that” — are only the social insurance policies of the lazy.  No, I’m not suggesting you’re lazy!  Your articulate knowledge is a certain counter-indication of that.  But the subterfuges of the lazy can word-seduce even the loathers of sloth.  It’s been my philosophical experience that anything humans say — and therefore everything — needs diagnostic analysis and therapeutic critique.  If that sounds like a lot of work, it is!  And it also means the father lode of philosophy is inexhaustible.  For even if you ever catch up with reality, new things will have happened in the meantime.  That means more world thought — and more power wonder — for philosophers to enjoy.  And notice that if the new isn’t just more, but also different — and in a great civilization it will be:  science, art, technology, taste, spirituality are always changing, evolving, and even progressing — then all the past will require a new configuration and re-signification.  Only the present can signify time.  And that’s because only the present can give the past its life back — and the future its conception.

Third problem.  Greatness is a cluster concept.  The “greatest” is not an attribute of one person, place or thing, but of sets of the best.  For example, some of the sets of the best people are artists; scientists; soldiers; statesmen; entrepreneurs; philosophers and lovers.

Let’s look briefly now at America as “the greatest country.”

Does America have the best eating habits based on the finest ingredients?  I’ll plead the philosophical 5th to protect me from those guilty of connoisseuricide and many less mortifying if sickening misdemeanors of taste.

Does America have the best city lifestyles based on aesthetic zoning codes, beautiful land use, architectural splendor and pedestrian joy?  Look at that inverted word “pedestrian”!  Tell Thoreau he was “pedestrian” every afternoon!  I’ll plead the philosophical 5th on that.

Does America have the best conversations?  Conversation is that spontaneously great and always available everyday joy-of-life pastime.  Ditto the 5th.   But I’d love to hear from you about your dorm peers:  of the conversational range, depth, wit, insight and panache of their collegial colloquies.

Finally, outside of astronomy, does America take the universe seriously?  Or is it culturally guilty, both casually and fatuously, of cosmocide?  Ditto that ditto!

Now, before you despair or, worse, self-deconstruct — don’t do that!  that’s suicide for socialists — and before you think me cynical or, worse, bitter — my only bitterness is in my beers — let’s ask:  Does America have the world’s best bread and the world’s greatest beer?

When I was your age, bread in America — outside of mostly ethnic German enclaves — was a soft sponge-like white foam covered with a brushed-on brown trim known as the crust.  And beer was a foolish fluid, thin and trivial, for perspiration replacement purposes.

A few decades later it’s now possible in American bakeries and cafes, and even in supermarkets, to buy almost-German quality bread.  Is American bread the best in the world?  No, German bread is still better in both variety and quality.  I lived in Bad Honnef on the Rhine which had its own city bread:  Bad Honnefer Stadt Brot!  Every loaf was an astonishing work of art.  Bread in Germany is as good as Beethoven is in music.  Or rather Brahms!  But as for beer, with the rise of the craft brewers, America now has the best beer in the world.  And I’m taking both German and Belgium beer into account.

In other words, abominable bread and absurd beer have been corrected by upgrades in American taste of both producers and consumers.  The liberal and democratic affectation that taste is a chaos beyond reason — remember the lazy Latin tag:  de gustibus non disputandum? — is disputed here with live ammunition.  Beethoven is greater than the Beatles.  Bang!  The Beatles, however, are better orchestrators and colorists than Beethoven ever was.  Rock on that, Beethoven!  Meanwhile, consider fortress democrats.  Those are liberal folk who economically cower in gated communities with security cameras everywhere and private schools with door-to-door transport.  “Don’t walk, dear!  It’s dirty, unsafe, and pedestrian!”  Liberals might spiritually celebrate chaos.  But fortress democrats don’t randomly pick their restaurants which later they mean to brag about.  No, such democrats consult taste experts who publish lauded metrics of liberal vanity and even familiar missals of liberal uplift, however meretricious they might be.

You see?  There was no need to despair.  Even better, it’s now obvious that American despair is an oxymoron of emotion.  And that’s not an intellectual naiveté, but an indomitable fortitude.

The American inadequacies listed above can all be corrected the way bread and beer have been amended so as even to excel superlatively.  Most of these weaknesses are the result of commercial convenience and consumer laziness.  They’re nothing a good soul coach can’t sweat out on the world field of winning reality.  Even conversation can be learned as a technique if perhaps not as an art.  Aristotle could have specified that.  But what’s to worry?  I laugh at despair and hope!  And art is where you find it — or it finds you.

Now let me gladly agree with your remark that America is “the greatest country” by listing a few select sets in which America readily belongs with the greatest and best.  Hey, let’s have a shoot for the truth!  I’ll try Aletheia today.  It’s the motto of our college.  Let’s aim for the bullseye of the truth and especially the bull.  Of course, most students graduate never knowing what it is.

As a country, what is America best at?

One, America is big, bold, and unbounded.

Two, America is energetically decentered, discovery incessant, and democratically nonchalant.  (On that third point, see my Republic.)

Three, America is totally open to the universe.  The American frontier of the human spirit wasn’t closed by some barbed wire in 1890.  Other countries, though, have since tried that technique on the spirit of their citizenry.  And their bodies.

Four, America is more diversity-seeking and difference-celebrating than any other nation on the earth, now or in the past.  Liberals insistently and incessantly claim the contrary, but that’s just the punishment-guilt regime of their epistemologically shameless will to power.

Five, America is unregimented and—  Hey, wait a minute!  Do we have the appropriate permit to say that?  Have we been recently thought-regulated, word-reviewed, and speech-approved?

Bang!

Whoa, good shot!  Veritas, huh?  Magnum Veritas?  “Good for 1st Amendment black hood fascists and red dress despots of conscience and consciousness.  Extreme long range.  No respecter of persons, parties, or pretense.”  I’ll have to try that load sometime.

Notice that all five of these great traits are made in America.  Furthermore, they’re the cultural inventions of the new American greatness.  But that means they could just as well be neglected, forgotten, and lost to humanity as unpredictably as they were found, cultivated, and made to flourish.  Meanwhile, no one can do them like America can.  But of course.  We invented them!  They are us.  But that which we make, we can also break, including ourselves.  Rome created a nonpareil pan-Mediterranean civilization — and lost it.  And any and all attempts since then to recover it have been failures or fakes.  Likewise, all imitations of America will be failures and phonies, too.

And, now finally, six, what is best of all in America?  The spirit.  As Hegel would heavily say with some contortionist logic, and as the Germans spritely do say with “Zeitgeist,” the spirit of the world times resides in America.  Many countries are nicer places to live in.  A man of himself and a great sailor was once offered a permanent visa to Niceland, and even citizenship.  Odysseus robustly declined the nice life, and got on with his Odyssey.  He liked great things even more than prettiness and pleasure.  And he liked them even at the expense of meager social compensation and heavy domestic costs.  And so do I.

I can’t imagine doing my philosophy anywhere else in the world.  And that’s because it wouldn’t be possible.  The spirit of humanity is in America now.  And heavenly beer and almost-German bread are kept ready to hand in my home.  Indeed, I keep my cellar amply stocked against any spiritual thirst philosophy might cause me by any afternoon’s end.  Seven days a week.  It always does.

And now I have only great complaint to level against America.  Our cities look like the Germans bombed us rather than we bombed them.  And being a poor and defeated people, we never got around to rebuilding our civilization because we didn’t have the spirit.

Words, right and wrong, are the bricks of the sentence-walls of the idea rooms in which we spend our days.

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