Many see New Year’s Day as a starting point. It is a moment focused on the future. Beginning January 1, you can turn over a new leaf, making resolutions to improve yourself and your life. We often joke about how quickly many of these commitments flounder by February, if not before. However, many other times they stick, bettering us during the year ahead.
This New Year’s, Americans should consider looking backward before they look forward. They should consider their past in planning their future. They should focus on return as opposed to progress.
This return should take several forms. First, we must return politically. We have strayed far from our Founding principles. Our view of liberty denies the centrality of self-government according to virtue, instead indulging in self-realization that really enslaves us to our passions. Our understanding of equality, moreover, denies the validity of merit in the name of “equity.” Equality as asserted today then rejects human nature, including the essential distinction between men and women. Instead of equal but distinctly complementary, we make sex a distinction without a difference and a fluid one at that.
A true return would begin with fidelity to our Constitution — the practical product of the Founders’ values. A renewed federalism, separation of powers, and commitment to the Bill of Rights all must take place over and against current trends. But the return would go further and deeper. It would seek to recapture the spirit and fundamental beliefs of those men and women, especially regarding liberty and equality. It would rediscover the laws of nature and of nature’s God that Jefferson spoke of in the Declaration of Independence. It would retrieve the ordered self-government on which we lived and thrived for so long. It then would engage in the statesmanlike task of application, finding how those principles, structures, and documents speak to conditions today.
Second, we must return spiritually. More and more, we drift toward two rejections of organized, traditional religion. The first rejects the supernatural entirely in favor of a materialistic secularism. The second abandons the organized and traditional part, trading them in for a smorgasbord spiritualism that syncretizes aspects of various faiths around the feelings and preferences of the individual putting them together. Material secularism reduces us to temporary globs of cells drifting in the universe. It robs us of meaning, purpose, and even workable principle for conducting a good life. Spirituality ultimately subjects truth to our own feelings and distances us from the fellowship of others with common affirmations. It, too, robs us of meaning by making us the measure of ourselves.
Looking backward here means retrieving our fathers’ piety. An old hymn contains the refrain “Faith of our fathers, holy faith/We will be true to thee till death.” This fidelity must come from remembering the truths that faith contained and continues to offer. America never had a national church. But our society held from the first a belief in the God who created us, gave us laws for our good, and providentially watches over the affairs of men. And many, many of our forebears held that this God was that preached by Christianity, a God who rules but also saves, a God who in His mercy and grace not only redeems us but shows us how redemption might work between our fallen selves. That prospect shows that we must return not just for its truth, but also for organized religion’s goods to ourselves, especially our souls. It holds important personal possibilities for the millions who have left their parents’ faith in particular. It might temper our listlessness and our materialism. But it also holds great political boons as well, giving an ultimate, divine source for justice and a way of understanding how that justice can include forgiveness and the repair of broken relationships, including political ones. It retorts to the woke forces of self-righteousness that seek heaven on earth but one with no eternal glory beyond. It affirms our common creation in God’s image, from conception to natural death.
Third, we must return communally. Our time involves unparalleled capacities to connect economically, politically, and socially. However, we suffer disconnect and loneliness at levels unknown to past generations. A severe individualism wracks the minds and hearts of many among us, including at times ourselves. It wracks us because we were meant for community, not its fake parallels online. “It is not good for man to be alone” God said in Genesis. So, He made Adam a helper, a companion. Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, says we are communal by nature, built for participation in marriage, friendship, and political society.
Return here would begin with and in the home. The most essential of these communities is the family. We must relearn the goods of lifelong, loving commitment between spouses. We must regain the appreciation for raising children, both for our personal good and that of our society. Beyond the family, we need renewed sense of local community and national patriotism. The first binds us to our immediate neighbor. We must be invested in each other again, helping, encouraging, loving. The spiritual return to organized religion should be a way to find again this bond locally. The second binds us to our fellow citizens, pointing back toward political renewal. In America, we are blessed in that we can love our country not just because it is ours but because it is good. Even in our hard times, we still can affirm that and work to restore where it no longer shines as bright as in olden days.
This New Year’s, we of course will consider what 2023 will bring. So, not looking to the future is nearly impossible and certainly not advisable. But that future, that forward looking would benefit from the lens of the past. Let us renew by restoration. Let that restoration take place in our politics, our faith, and our communities. Let it begin with us. Let it begin this New Year’s Day.