In commemoration of America’s celebration of Independence Day Gil Bailie posted a link on the Cornerstone Forum’s Facebook page to a book review written by Tim Rice of Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story, by Wilfred M. McClay. I haven’t read the book, which Rice describes as a more thoughtful and fair alternative American history text than what most secondary school students are offered these days. Howard Zinn’s victimology of american self-loathing being one example. However, I have read Walter McDougall’s Freedom Just Around The Corner, which is not a text book overview of American history to 1828 but a Bailie-esque reflection on the people and events that led to the American founding until the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (who both died on July 4th, 1826). It is Bailie-like in that McDougall begins his reflections with a review of Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man, which I’ve also read, and makes reference to Melville’s novel throughout his work, the title of which is taken from a Bob Dylan lyric in his song Jokerman.
I think of all this as I am now visiting friends in Jerusalem. On the 4th of July we attended a ‘festival of light’ in the Old City, a rather strange laser and special effects laden display on the ancient walls attended by many thousands of the denizens of the Holy City and its surrounds. The vibrant energy of the crowd reflected all the various ethnic, religious, socio-economic, and age groups from the Arab security guards checking the attendee’s bags for bombs (my Israeli host pointed out to me the paradox of this) to tattooed youth and Haredi families pushing infant laden strollers. I thought the closest thing to this in America might be New Year’s Eve in Times Square – but this was a warm evening with street buskers and food vendors everywhere.
A relative texted me a question, “How does it feel to be an American on the 4th of July in Israel?” I must say I feel very much at home here in the only democracy in the area. Israel is not without many of the same pathologies of democracy as my home country but the cultural roots that bind the soil to its inhabitants run much deeper here in ways difficult to describe. Freedom…real freedom, and its blessings may always be ‘just around the corner’.