A Nation Without a Chest

A Nation Without a Chest
Tamas Kovacs/MTI via AP

In The Abolition of Man, the author and lay theologian C.S. Lewis explains the importance of the “chest” in man. He describes the chest as the “middle element,” an intermediary “between cerebral man and visceral man.” It is the “magnanimity” and pluck without which “by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.” And as it goes with man, so it goes with the nations of man.

Present debates over America’s history and self-conception often swing between a strong sense of nationalism rooted in a particular culture, place, and identity on the one hand and a rejection of that particularized nationalism in favor of universal ideals on the other. These two poles represent the visceral and the cerebral ideas of the nation, respectively. Throughout its history, America has ebbed and flowed between exclusive and inclusive senses of itself, but the story has always been a national story.

Harvard historian Jill Lepore argues that we have slowly abandoned the national story at our own peril. In her new book, This America: The Case for the Nation, Lepore advocates a reformed liberal nationalism as an alternative to the rejection of the national story by the Left in general and left-wing historians in particular.

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