Here is, to my mind, the best appreciation of America in recent times by an old friend and colleague, the late Henry Fairlie, of The New Republic. A British emigre, Henry was a bohemian, idiosyncratic, Oakeshottian Tory, foe of neocons, and lover of democracy, curmudgeon, lover, bon-vivant and utterly independent, as all the best journalists are. Read the extract below. And buy Jeremy McCarter's wonderful new collection of some of Henry's greatest pieces - journalism at its finest and crispest and bravest. Here's an extract from his essay for July 4 in 1983: titled "My America" on the cover, it's a classic:
I had been in the country about eight years, and was living in Houston, when a Texas friend asked me one evening: "Why do you like living in America? I don't mean why you find it interesting--why you want to write about it--but why you like living here so much." After only a moment's reflection, I replied, "It's the first time I've felt free." One spring day, shortly after my arrival in America, I was walking down the long, broad street of a suburb, with its sweeping front lawns (all that space), its tall trees (all that sky), and its clumps of azaleas (all that color). The only other person on the street was a small boy on a tricycle. As I passed him, he said, "Hi!"--just like that. No four-year-old boy had ever addressed me without an introduction before. Yet here was this one, with his cheerful "Hi!" Recovering from the culture shock, I tried to look down stonily at his flaxen head, but instead, involuntarily, I found myself saying in return: "Well--hi!" He pedaled off, apparently satisfied. He had begun my Americanization.
"Hi!" As I often say--for Americans do not realize it--the word is a democracy. (I come from a country where one can tell someone's class by how they say "Hallo!" or "Hello!" or "Hullo," or whether they say it at all.) But anyone can say "Hi!" Anyone does. Shortly after my encounter with the boy, I called on the then Suffragan Bishop of Washington. Did he greet me as the Archbishop of Canterbury would have done? No. He said, "Hi, Henry!" I put it down to an aberration, an excess of Episcopalian latitudinarianism. But what about my first meeting with Lyndon B. Johnson, the President of the United States, the Emperor of the Free World, before whom, like a Burgher of Calais, a halter round my neck, I would have sunk to my knees, pleading for a loan for my country? He held out the largest hand in Christendom, and said, "Hi, Henry!"
--July 4, 1983
Buy the book of his priceless essays and read the rest of this one here.