A Proposition

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The future of the American idea has of course to do with the question of permanency. It is here and there observed that the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and those who signed it were schooled enough in history to acknowledge, though they did not endorse, the proposition (Lincoln’s word) that the ideals hailed in that declaration were adventitious in our history.

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The American Idea
Scholars, novelists, politicians, artists, and others look ahead to the future of the American idea.

I would doubt any claim that the American idea is finally validated by historical and human experience. It is, for men and women of my perspective, judged to be secure in warranting perpetual loyalties. But ours are loyalties to an ideal, not to a revelation, and this must have been the reason, even if he was not conscious of it, why Lincoln referred to the American “proposition.”

By the measure of fragility, surely the doctrine of human equality is most at risk. Yet it is that proposition in American ideal­ism that most sublimely transcends science, asserting as it does a distinction that elevates Homo sapiens beyond the reach of science and evolution.

I plead the continuing relevance of the American idea, but acknowledge that I do so moved mostly by proud possessiveness, and of course grounded in the bulwark of Christian faith.

William F. Buckley, Jr. is the founding editor of National Review.
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