Walter Berns
Walter Berns
Making Patriots
ISBN: 0226044378
Making Patriots
Samuel Johnson once remarked that "patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels," but is he right? Recent events such as the bombing of federal buildings and the formation of threatening militias in the name of patriotism suggest that he may have been on to something. But the United States has also seen its share of heroes: patriots who, over the course of history, have willingly put their lives at risk for this country and, especially, its principles. And this is even more remarkable given that the United States is a country founded on the principles of equality and democracy that encourage individuality and autonomy far more readily than public spiritedness and self-sacrifice.

Walter Berns's Making Patriots is a pithy and provocative essay on precisely this paradox. How is patriotism inculcated in a system that, some argue, is founded on self-interest? Expertly and intelligibly guiding the reader through the history and philosophy of patriotism in a republic, from the ancient Greeks through contemporary life, Berns considers the unique nature of patriotism in the United States and its precarious state as we enter the twenty-first century. And he argues that while both public education and the influence of religion once helped to foster a public-minded citizenry, the very idea of patriotism is currently under attack.

Berns finds the best answers to his questions in the thought and words of Abraham Lincoln, who understood perhaps better than anyone what the principles of democracy meant and what price adhering to them may exact. The graves at Arlington and Gettysburg and Omaha Beach in Normandy bear witness to the fact that self-interested individuals can become patriots, and Making Patriots is a compelling exploration of how this was done and how it might be again.
—from the publisher's website

TRANSCRIPT
Making Patriots
Program Air Date: August 19, 2001

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Walter Berns, where did you get the idea of writing a book called "Making Patriots"?
Professor WALTER BERNS (Author, "Making Patriots"): Where did I get the idea? I suppose when I began to reflect on such things as pa--parades in the city of Chicago when I was a youth and I began to think that there are more patriots and--receiving a better patriotic education when I was young than young people are today, and I began to reflect on the--the absence of any kind of patriotic education in the universities where I spent most of my life. That's an answer.
LAMB: How long were you in Chicago?
Prof. BERNS: Well, I was born in Chicago a long time ago. As I say in the book, one of my earliest memories was watching patriotic parades on Memorial Day on Michigan Avenue. And to give you an idea how old I am, I can remember the survivors of the Indian army walking down Michigan Avenue, struggling down Michigan Avenue with their standards and the--the bands playing and so forth. That--that was, you know, in--in the late 1920s. There were still soldiers alive at that time.
LAMB: Where did you go to school? Where--what about your college?
Prof. BERNS: Right. The city of Chicago and I went to the University of Iowa and then Reed College out in Portland, Oregon, for one year, and then the London School of Economics and then back to the University of Chicago for three or four, five years to get my PhD.
LAMB: Did you spend time in the service at all yourself?
Prof. BERNS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. From the very beginning of the war to the end of the war in the Navy. My father was in the Army in World War I, and he saw to it that I went into the Navy in the Second War.
LAMB: Why--why--why do you think that either patriots or patriotism is--is not as visible as it used to be?
Prof. BERNS: Well, it has a great deal to do with education and what--what young people today are not taught. They're taught social studies rather than American history. They have no knowledge, I think, of the--the--of the--the founders of this country. They don't read biographies. And some of the polls reflect or reveal a shocking ignorance of historical events. One of them is something to the effect that only half of the people in high school today can place the Civil War within 10 years of its actual time. That's hard to believe, isn't it? But the polls do this and say it and discovered it.
LAMB: Why is this happening?
Prof. BERNS: Why is it happening? Why didn't it happen in my day? I may be--as a citizen of Chicago, Illinois, I may have been more aware of Lincoln than people elsewhere, because Lincoln, of course, was a citizen of the state of Illinois and very much a figure in--in Illinois and, of course, a figure in my--in my education. We--we were expected to memorize such things as the Gettysburg Address. And that's just like a Shakespeare sonnet. That was part of the education. And that doesn't happen now, at least I think.

And then as to the--our--our particular situation, now surely the Vietnam War had something to do with our--our present condition. We didn't have a Vietnam War when I was growing up. We had World War I and then, of course, the Spanish-American War, which was not really much of a war, and the Civil War. The Civil War was very much a--a part of our--our life. I mentioned in the book the--the state song of Illinois. Unlike most state songs, it really does focus on the Civil War; again, perhaps because of Lincoln and Grant. After all, he came from Galena, Illinois, and Logan. `And when the Southern hosts came through, pitting gray against the blue, there were none more brave than you, Illinois, Illinois.' We sang that. It was the state song. We don't do that anymore, I guess.
LAMB: Do you have to have war to have patriotism?
Prof. BERNS: That was a question I hoped you wouldn't ask because, of course, it reflects on our present situation. Do we need another war in order to--to revive patriotism? I'll answer to this extent: It sure helps if it's a good war, unlike the Vietnam War.
LAMB: So what happens to us if we don't have patriotism as a country?
Prof. BERNS: Well, of course, if we don't have patriotism, if we don't have wars, we don't need patriotism--patriotism so much. On the other hand, we still--we still need patriots who think of the country and think of their fellow citizens and are willing to make sacrifices for their fellow citizens, even if they're not in wartime. We need public spiritedness and a war, of course, is a--a great way of inculcating that. It's interesting that Lincoln understand that, too, in that--that final paragraph of his first inaugural, most of which is trying to persuade the Sou--Southern states not to secede from the Union. He ends up by, `I'm loathe to close. We are not enemies, we are friends. We are not enemies, we must not be enemies. Passion may have strained, but must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic cords of memory stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearts known all over--all over this broad land will yet swell the course of the Union when it--when they are touched as they will be touched by the better reaches of our nature.' I'm--I--I quote that in this context because, of course, he says memories of battlefields and patriots' graves ref--relying on them and that--of course, that means wars. And, of course, what he did was to use the, in Gettysburg, use the graves at Gettysburg to swell the course of the Union.
LAMB: Where did you--or when did you memorize that?
Prof. BERNS: The Gettysburg Address I memorized when I was a schoolboy. But this--this other one, I don't know that I have memorized it. I--I've come close to it. And I've just--I'm just struck by it. It's such a beautiful passage and it's such a--an unlikely statement to be made by a president of the United States. And only a Lincoln could do it and then only under c--under certain circumstances. You know, the interesting thing about Lincoln is even when he was 28 years of--old and--and made that speech to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield--it was a speech entitled "The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions"--he knew that these institutions were threatened and ma--might not be perpetuated. And he set out to understand the threat and then to figure out how they might be perpetuated. And as I--I do in the book, I put that speech, that early speech, with this last paragraph of the first inaugural and then the Gettysburg Address--it's--all of them, they fit together. You know, the legend is that he--he scribbled the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope on a train going to Gettysburg. That's--it could be true, but he--he had been thinking about this, literally thinking about it for years. And that didn't--the Gettysburg Address simply didn't come out of the tip of his tongue at the last moment.
LAMB: How long have you been thinking about "Making Patriots"?
Prof. BERNS: This book, not so long.
LAMB: But what led up to it? The background and the information?
Prof. BERNS: I wrote, in a preface to a book that I published about a dozen years ago, something to the following effect like Moilere mis--What was his name? He had to be reminded that he was--Jerdan was it? He had to be reminded he was speaking prose all his life? I had come to realize finally I'd been--all my political career, been writing a defense of liberal democracy and American liberal democracy. So this book is merely a continuation of other books I've written. And in a way, it's--it's--it's my career as a--as a university professor.
LAMB: Where did you teach?
Prof. BERNS: Mostly Cornell. I ended up here at Georgetown as a university professor, but Cornell is principally where I taught.
LAMB: And what did you teach at Cornell?
Prof. BERNS: The Constitution of the United States. Like other colleagues in the department, w--each one of us had to teach an introduction to American government, but then we went off in our special ways, and my special way was the Constitution of the United States. And I taught that and I taught courses on Abraham Lincoln. Of course, it was on the founding of the United States, which I taught twice at the University of Chicago when I went there, especially for that purpose.
LAMB: One of the things I did when I read your book was write down almost every name that you mentioned from Rousseau to Socrates, names of people that had something to do with what our founders here had read and all that get up to speak.
Prof. BERNS: Yeah.
LAMB: And I want to ask you about them. Rousseau comes up a lot. Who was he and what impact has he had on what we are as a country?
Prof. BERNS: Little im--impact directly. In the first place, what he--what he was was a political philosopher in the 18th century. And he reflected on--on the--the modern thought; for example, the thought of the enlightened Hobbes and Locke. And he had some misgivings about the--their understanding of these things and wondered about whether it would finally succeed. And among other things, he--he thought about religion, thought about the--the difficulty that religion had posed, and for example, especially in the 17th century England, the religious wars, the civil wars there, and he concluded that what was needed was a--a civiled religion, and--and in a way, a--a religion without priests. And by civiled religion, he meant a religion that something like the ancients. Athens and Sparta had their own gods and he--he saw that as a kind of solution, too, where there would be no contest between that which is God's and that which is the state's and then put them together. And I quote him to that effect and use him for that purpose.
LAMB: Who followed him?
Prof. BERNS: Well, in--in a way, it's--I'd have to go back on what preceded him--who preceded him. For our purposes, John Locke preceded him. And John Locke was the principle political philosopher who influenced the Declaration of Independence, for example, and certainly influenced the--our thought on the division of church and state. He wrote a very influential piece on toleration that Jefferson quoted, and Jefferson wrote notes in the margin of it. And interesting enough, his notes on the margin of Locke's letter on toleration are still extant. We can--we can find them. And his reflections on Locke's letter on toleration found their way into the famous Virginia statute on religious freedom, which is a major--Bernard Bailyn thinks it's the major historical document in our history, and there's much to be said for that. I myself would say Declaration of Independence, but a strong case could be made for this Virginia statute, because our separation of church and state is--is surely a--a major aspect of American principles. When we say, as we do on our every dollar bill, novus ordo seclorum, a new order of the ages, what we really mean by that, I think, is largely separation of church and state.
LAMB: Wh--John Locke lived when? Where did he come from?
Prof. BERNS: He was a 17th-century English political philosopher. Wrote, for our purposes, something called the "Second Treatise of Civil Government," which certain phrases from that treatise are to be found in the Declaration of Independence. Americans quoted it time and again. He, in a way, is a--the political philosopher underlying our--our Constitution and--and the Declaration of Independence.
LAMB: Who else would Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and these folks have read?
Prof. BERNS: Oh, well, they--they would have read Montesquieu. They refer to him as a celebrated Montesquieu. He was--this is an 18th-century Frenchman, somewhat earlier than Rousseau. He wrote "Spirit of the Laws" and a--in a certain section of it talked about the separation of powers, and we reflected on that.
LAMB: Do you think, for instance, that James Madison read Montesquieu and...
Prof. BERNS: Oh, yes.
LAMB: Well, I mean, read him and said, `Yeah, that's the way I think' and then just--you found his--Montesquieu's thesis right into the Constitution?
Prof. BERNS: No. Well, tha--that's the way I think. That's hard to say. But there's no question but that Montesquieu influenced him as well as others--Hamilton, for example. Oh, sure, they--they read these people and they reflected on them, took some things that they wrote and discarded other things, I suppose. But largely, in terms of principles, they accepted Locke's treatise, for example.
LAMB: What about Rousseau? Did--where did he live?
Prof. BERNS: Well, Rousseau died just before our Declaration of Independence. So he didn't really figure that much. But he did reflect on modern principles of political philosophy and, for example, cast some doubt about the--the possibility of a decent government being established on those principles. And he has a--a much more influence on people today than I think he did at the beginning. He, for example, coined the term bourgeois, as we understand it. And when our academics speak contemptuously or our--our painters and writers speak contemptuously of the bourgeoisie, then they're speaking in Rousseau's terms. Rousseau understood the bourgeois. Of course, the term itself is an--was an old term. But bourgeois--but Rousseau gave it its modern meaning: A person who takes care of themself, thinks only of his own business and doesn't take care of the public good. And when we complain about our capitalists who sell things to China, when we're concerned about selling secrets, defense secrets to China, we, to some extent, rely on--on Rousseau, because he anticipated that sort of thing. As--as Marx--Marx followed him, but in many ways, Marx was influenced by Rousseau. I'll just leave it at that.
LAMB: Wh--what do you think of Karl Marx?
Prof. BERNS: Karl Marx was a--a major figure and a major thinker. He was also wrong. He was, you know, seriously wrong when he thought that nothing happens by chance in history and it was inevitable that--just as it was inevitable that--that the--the Communist revolution would supersede the feudalism, in due course--feudalism is a thing of the past and then the--the--socialism would supersede liberal democracy and capitalism, and in due course, the social state would with--would wither away. And this was all laws of history. Well, it didn't work out that way. I mean, the Soviet Union, which was the--this--the socialist state par excellence, didn't wither away. It just simply collapsed out of its own contradictions.

You--you know, what--what do I think of Karl Marx? It's not sufficient simply to say that he--he was an evil man because, of course, he wasn't an evil man. Lots of evil people picked him up and used him, and Stalin was an evil man. But Marx wasn't. Marx was a--was a major thinker. He was simply wrong in certain respects. Besides, what I think about Marx doesn't make any difference.
LAMB: Why not?
Prof. BERNS: Well, it's irrelevant. Marx is now irrelevant. Marxism is dead.
LAMB: But for how long was he relevant?
Prof. BERNS: Well, for a large part of the 19th century and--and well into the 20th century, and we, of course, fought a Cold War and the consequence of which was we put an end to Marxism.
LAMB: What would you like to have your students, who you--do you have any idea how many students you've taught in your life?
Prof. BERNS: Thousands, if you count the people in the introductory courses, for example, Government 101 at Cornell. There would be well over 100. Well over 100. And I used to have a little over 100 in the constitutional law at--at--at Cornell.
LAMB: How many years were you at Cornell?
Prof. BERNS: Ten. As a matter of fact, I had an interesting experience. When Janet Reno was appointed attorney general of the United States, she went back to Cornell. And I hadn't known that she was a Cornell student. But she went back in Cornell and--and said something about how much she was influenced, especially by two people: one, a chap in literature; and me. And I never--I wasn't aware that I had her in a--a con-law class. But I kept all my course records, in part because I'm--for years was being asked to write letters of recommendation for students. I simply kept them. And I looked back in the--1959, there indeed was Janet Reno. She was a good student, but I couldn't remember, which I found strange because the idea of a 6'2" inch woman, even in a large class of 100 students, I ought to have remembered her. But I didn't. But there she was.
LAMB: What do--what would you want the students that you taught to say about you?
Prof. BERNS: About me?
LAMB: About you and the way you taught.
Prof. BERNS: Oh, dear.
LAMB: What would make you the happiest?
Prof. BERNS: That I had given them reasons to love this country, I think.
LAMB: Why? Why is that the motivator for you?
Prof. BERNS: Well, I th--I--as I say in the book, the United States--or America is the one essential country, and I quote Lincoln, of course, as the last, best hope of Earth. And he thought that was so, and I think it's so. And we are, as I say, the--the one essential country. We had to defeat the fascists and the Nazis in World War II, and it was largely our--our doing that that victory was won. Britain could have done--could not have done it alone. And we were essential in--in the Cold War.

And I think we're still essential in two respects: one, to--to serve as a model of a liberal democracy; and then secondly, to defend liberal demo--the liberal democracy around the world. And that, we have to do. And we're constantly given examples of that, and it's a--a constant battle. To what extent do we get involved in Kosovo and so forth? And I can understand all the reasons why we might not want to do so. Currently, the one is Macedonia with the Albanian and the fights there. All kinds of reasons why we should not get involved in that, and, of course, the argument is: W--to what extent is our national interest involved in it? But, in a way, our national interest is involved wherever liberal democracy exists and wherever it's threatened.

And it's interesting then--What?--12, 13 years ago, Tiananmen Square and the Chinese thing, they--they built a Statue of Liberty modeled after ours. And that's--and that's interesting, these Chinese students. There was a--I gather there was a discussion as to whether the--the--the human figure should be Chinese with exocanthic eyes or Western eyes, and it was decided it really didn't make any difference. And it didn't, of course. But I just find it interesting that--that our influence there is reflected in this simple fact of the Statue of Liberty.
LAMB: As you know, we got the Statue of Liberty from the French.
Prof. BERNS: Oh, yes, I know. And it was a repli...
LAMB: And you can s...
Prof. BERNS: It was a replica of an ascendent...
LAMB: Right--right now.
Prof. BERNS: ...of a smaller version--smaller version of it, yeah.
LAMB: And the reason I bring that up, do you think they have any--do we have any more claim to democracy and freedom than the French do?
Prof. BERNS: Oh, sure. Oh, sure. There's an old joke involving an American in Paris, well familiar with Paris, who has to go someplace, and he goes to the head of the (French spoken) and opens the door and says, `Gadanor'--or whatever, and--and the cab driver didn't want to go there at that time of day. And he goes down the whole line, and no cab driver will take him there. And he--at the last, he--he says, `This is the sort of attitude that will put the end to the Third Republic,' and the cab driver says, `There'll be a fourth.' Now to bring it up to date, there'll be a sixth--or a fifth or a sixth.

If you--if you look at French history since their Revolution, which more or less the same time of ours, we've had one great struggle, the Civil War, of course, but one Constitution, really.
LAMB: You tell a story about going to Brazil back in--What?--1987?
Prof. BERNS: Yeah. Yeah. And it was interesting there.
LAMB: Wh--why were you there then?
Prof. BERNS: I'd been invited to lecture on constitutionalism at a time when they had overthrown some military--military rulers, and they were beginning to talk about a constitution, how to write a constitution, what was essential in the writing of the constitution. So I was there as someone coming from the United States. And--and in this one place, the University of Recife, I had finished and somebody got up and s--and denounced not me, but the chap who had invited me, a local Brazilian. `Why did you invite an American?' he said. `They've had only one Constitution. Why didn't you invite--invite a Bolivian? They've had 100.' He said, you know, `They've had greater experience in writing a constitution; therefore, get someone from that place.'

And I enjoy that story because, of course, the essential thing is to concentrate on our success and whether our success might be a model for the Brazilians. And we really have had only one Constitution.
LAMB: Why do you think that's the case?
Prof. BERNS: In part, because, A, it's a good Constitution; B, we were--and Tocqueville makes this point, of course--we were not surrounded by enemies--powerful enemies. And compare our geographical situation with, say, Poland: Russians on one side and Germans on the other. And throughout the greater part of our history, we--we simply didn't have that--those kind of enemies on our borders.

Secondly--or thirdly, we had a great country, a great continent, which was rich, and we could reap its rewar--rewards. But f--mostly, as I--what I started with, it's a good Constitution. It was written by people who understood politics, understood modern politics, understood human beings, what moves them. And beyond that, of course, we're lucky. Tocqueville made that point, too. He said, `You Americans are lucky. You were born equal instead of having'--how does that go? `You were born equal instead of becoming so,' comparing us with the French.

What he meant by that, the--and this really does answer your--your qu--your first question having to do with the French Revolution. The--the F--after the French Revolution, there were aristocrats, some monarches, the sons of monarches and a whole body of aristocrats who had been dispossessed of their place and their property and were sullen and were anxious to come back and regain their place. And they made that effort, for a large part, in the 19th century, whereas we were born equal without becoming so. There were some aristocrats here. They went back to England, some of them--some of the Tories. Others went to Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, sort of territory that was really made for them. But they were few in number, relatively speaking, and they left. And the only people left were we democrats, and that made a difference.
LAMB: If you're a black American watching this, you would say, `We didn't get that deal.'
Prof. BERNS: That's true, and it took a long time. And that, of course, is the--is the major aspect of our history. And I think it's important for students to go back and understand that issue as it was in the beginning, see the difficulties it caused and--and see how that problem was overcome. The Constitution, you know, doesn't use the--the word `slavery' doesn't appear in the Constitution until the--the 13th Amendment abolishing it. Frederick Douglass understood this very well and--and understood the difficulties of overcoming that original sentiment.

Originally, you know--there's no real--there's really no doubt about this. Everybody, including the leading Southerners, were anti-slavery. They understood the incompatibility of slavery and the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson, for example, understood this very well indeed. Unfortunately, Jefferson really did nothing to overcome it. Washington freed his slaves. And had it not been for the cotton gin and had it not been for the opening up of the Western lands, making slavery possible, making cotton possible there--but I--you know, I do think it's necessary for us to go back and read that history and understand the incompatibility of the principles and what happened and the difficulty of overcoming slavery.

For an example, how many of us appreciate the difficulty the Founders had? People are--sometimes condemn the Founders for not abolishing slavery or for accepting the Constitution without abolishing slavery. Well, had they done what modern critics say, there would have been two United States: one United States of Southern America, call it the Confederate States of America, and then the United States. And what would have been the consequences of that? Almost all the black people in this country, at that time 90-some-odd percent of them, lived in the South, and almost all of them were slaves there. What was hope for them?

Hope consisted in the Union, and the--the Founders understood that and Lincoln understood that, so that he sometimes is--are condemned for saying that his first task was to preserve the Union and, secondly, to emancipate slaves. He understood very well, and Frederick Douglass understood this very well. The condition for emancipation was the Union.

If the Confederate States of America, in 1860, had been allowed to go the wrong way, as a Confederate States in 1787 had gone the wrong way, the--the slavery would have been a part of that original Constitution, and there was really little hope for emancipation under those conditions. And, first, you preserve the Union--first, you get the Union, in 1787, with the prospect that, in due course, slavery w--will be abolished. And then in 1860, 1865, preserve the Union as a condition of emancipating slaves. That was true.
LAMB: How much of what's happened in our country can the white person take credit for vs. the black, like Frederick Douglass and many others, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, up to Martin Luther King? I mean, if the black hadn't agitated for their freedom, do you think the whites would have ever given it to them?
Prof. BERNS: Probably no. But a condition of their agitation, really, was that--the principles of the Declaration--you know, it's--Martin Luther King Jr., for an example, it's not by chance that he delivered his great speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. What--where--what other place in this country was it appropriate for him to make that speech? There. And, of course, to think of Lincoln is to think of the Declaration of Independence. He made a career of that when he opens the--the--the--the Gettysburg Address with saying, `Four score and seven years ago.' Well, he's speaking 1863; 1863 minus four score and seven, 87, is 1776. Gets us back to 1776, those principles.

It's those principles that--that they're anti-slavery principles, and they were violated and forgotten in the beginning--or certainly violated--and there was a prospect that they would be violated again, especially in the 1850s when Stephen Douglas of Ill--of Illinois was largely responsible for the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which opened up these Western territories to slavery by--with--under the principle of popular sovereignty. And Lincoln insisted, `If you say popular sovereignty, which is to say you allow the people of the territories to be free or a slave, that's a violation of the principle of the--of the--the Declaration,' and he would not stand for it. And he went--went back into politics because of it, and he fought--became president because of it and he fought the Civil War because of it, and he won the Civil War. And the result was the freedom we have.

Now you asked me would slavery have been abolished without the--the agitation of the black people. I said probably not. On the other hand, there were all kinds of people in this country who--who were agitating to abolish slavery. Just think of the--those people in New England, William Lloyd Garrison and the others who, beginning in the 1840s and culminating in the 1850s, were anti-slavery people. And they played a major role in the--in the emancipation, and they were--and they were white people.
LAMB: Go again to all your list of thinkers, and we haven't--you know, Edmund Burke and Martin Luther and Horace Greeley. I've just wri--written down everybody that's--that I could that you wrote about from--you mentioned Alexander Hamilton and Jefferson Davis and Henry Clay and Thomas Paine and Adam Smith, all these people.
Prof. BERNS: All these people, yeah.
LAMB: If--if you had to put your finger on one or two of them who have had more impact on things like what got us to where it's a freer country today than, say, it was 220 years ago, basic principles that allow the Constitution...
Prof. BERNS: Yeah.
LAMB: ...to live, who would it be in history?
Prof. BERNS: Well, Madison, surely. He's--he's known rightly as the father of the Constitution, and he's also the father of the Bill of Rights. It was largely his doing that the Bill of Rights was adopted, later on; Hamilton, because of his influence over economic matters. You know, Ha--Hamilton is largely forgotten in this city. There's no great monument to Hamilton. There's a statue of him outside the--the Treasury Building. But other than that, there's no great monument, whereas Jefferson's all over the place. But Hamilton was a great soldier. He had a--played a major role in the de--defeat of the British in the Battle of Yorktown, the last battle, and, of course, he was a major figure in the first administration of George Washington, setting down the terms of the Bri--the--the American economy, really. And that's a--has a lot to do with our subsequent history, our--our--our subsequent prosperity.
LAMB: But back up from that, though. I mean, James Madison--who's the greatest influence on James Madison?
Prof. BERNS: Well, to some extend, Locke, surely. And...
LAMB: By the way, where'd Locke get it? Is it original with him?
Prof. BERNS: Well, certain things came from Hobbes, Thomas Hobbes.
LAMB: When did he live?
Prof. BERNS: Fifty years or so before Locke, and he wrote in the early part of the 17th century. And he was--Hobbes really was an originator. And, you know, it was--you know, it--it was Hobbes, followed by Locke, who talked about the state of nature and the rights that men enjoy, natural rights in the state of nature, how it's necessary to leave the state of nature for civil society, which is done by a contract. All that is American doctrine, but all of that comes from--directly from--from--from Locke, but indirectly from Hobbes.
LAMB: Where did Hobbes live?
Prof. BERNS: Well, he lived--he was an Englishman.
LAMB: Are there others?
Prof. BERNS: Other Englishmen?
LAMB: Other anybodies that you think that--be--behind all these words.
Prof. BERNS: Well, to some extent, David Hume, a Scottsman, had a great deal to do with commercial activities, as did Adam Smith. And Adam Smith's great w--work, "The Wealth of Nations," was published the same year as--1776, as our Const--as our Declaration of Independence, and these people had read Smith and studied Smith.
LAMB: When did he live?
Prof. BERNS: Well, the latter part of the 18th century into the early 19th century, another Scottsman.
LAMB: What about Thomas Paine? What do you think his role's been in all of this?
Prof. BERNS: Well, he was a great, in a sense, journalist. John Adams didn't like him. He was a propagandist, and there's no denying that his book, "Common Sense," m--I--I--I--I mentioned it in--in my book how many copies it--it sold, an exceedingly large number of copies, over 100,000 copies, I think, which was a large number of--of--it's only a little pamphlet, but i--it's a large number of pamphlets to be sold in the United States of 1780s--1770s, '80s. Yeah, Thomas Paine, a great propagandist and, in--in that way, co--contributed to the--the beginning of the United States.
LAMB: Why do we see so often people like you mention Edmund Burke, and who was he?
Prof. BERNS: Well, Edmund Burke was an Anglo-Irish statesman and writer. He was a friend of the American Revolution; complained about the fact that the Bri--the British tried to suppress the American Revolution. And in addition to being--being a statesman, a member of Parliament, he was a profound man who wrote serious political works. And I don't know that any of his work had any influence on our Founders, but certainly a lot of people since then have been writing and being--had been influenced by Burke.
LAMB: Why do you...
Prof. BERNS: Con--conservatives refer to Burke as one of their f--founders, in a sense, political, influential people.
LAMB: Why do you write about William McGuffey?
Prof. BERNS: Because he wrote a gr--he wrote books that millions--literally millions of Americans were educated with. They were schoolbooks, and millions of copies of these books were from the 17--from 1830s, and they were still being used in the 1920s.
LAMB: McGuffey's Reader.
Prof. BERNS: McGuffey's Readers, yeah.
LAMB: Have you ever seen them?
Prof. BERNS: Oh, sure. Oh, sure. When I was writing this book, I had all of them and the various editions of them. Oh, sure.
LAMB: What'd they look like? What were they--why were they so popular?
Prof. BERNS: Well, they were little primers, and they're easily handled. A child could stand up and read them and was expected to stand up in class and to read from them and hold them easily, not like holding an encyclopedia. And they consisted of lessons, moral lessons largely. The first edition were more forthrightly Christian, and the last edition was less Christian and, in a way, moralistic. That was, I suppose, inevitable because you got into trouble because not every American was a Protestant. The Catholics had their own schools, and--and so they were not in the public schools and had their own books.
LAMB: Was that a financial decision on his part, to sell more? I mean, he took the Christian part of it out and...
Prof. BERNS: Someone suggested that might have something to do with it, but I don't think so. He, himself, was a--a Methodist minister and a professor. And I think the situation--the--you know, the--the world changed; the American world changed, the schoolchildren changed and you had to accommodate a greater variety of--of interests, religious interests. It would--there would be Episcopalians and Baptists and Presbyterians and so forth, and there might be some quarrels about certain, you know, Christian doctrine.
LAMB: You write about Martin Luther. What impact did he have on us?
Prof. BERNS: Well, Martin Luther, of course, had very little direct impact on us in the United States. He had a great impact on the world, however, when he tacked his thesis on the wall and started the--what we call the reformation.
LAMB: What about Nathan Hale?
Prof. BERNS: Ah, Nathan Hale. I called him the--the--the way of the prototypical American patriot, who, in the very beginning, when on the sc--the scaffold about to be hanged by the British in 1776 said he--famously he regretted he had but one life to lose for his country. And as I say in the book, his alma mater, Yale, erected a statue. It's there in the old campus--there still. I don't know whether a typical Yale student recognizes it nor pays obeisance to it, but at a time, I suppose, they did.
LAMB: What about King George III?
Prof. BERNS: Well, King George III was the--was the enemy. We, in the Declaration of Indence--Independence, attributed all kinds of terrible things to him and--which gave us the justification for revolting against him.
LAMB: You say that America has never gone to war against any other liberal democracy.
Prof. BERNS: Yeah.
LAMB: Why'd you make that point?
Prof. BERNS: That, I think, is true. I'm not the one who started--the originator of that. It was--it was understood from the very beginning. In fact, Hamilton talks about it in--in The Federalist papers, how commercial countries are not likely to be warlike. He thought, nevertheless, they would be. But it was understood from the beginning, and there's some truth to it, that liberal democracies devoted to a commerce, as ours is, are likely to trade more than go to war.

And Humes, for example, talked about commerce and the softening of morals, and what he meant by that, among other things, for example, rather than fight duels, we modern men are likely to go to court and file for libel or slander rather than fight duels. And that's a softening of our morals. We're not so likely to go to war or to fight over certain things. That's true. And I do think it is true that n--no two liberal democracies have ever gone to war against each other. No?
LAMB: You also say there's--we're the only country in the world that would allow--our--our name, like there's no other place where you would say--you say he's un-American. But you wouldn't say he's un-French or he's un-Chinese.
Prof. BERNS: Yeah.
LAMB: Why is that? What does it mean to be un-American?
Prof. BERNS: Well, in the first place, as I say in the book, quoting Martin Diamond, an old friend of mine--and then, of course, G.K. Chesterton, an Englishman, too, made the same point before Martin Diamond did--we speak of Americanization and un-American, and there are no counterparts in other--any other language, and that's not--that's simply is--not simply a question of phonetics. We speak of Americanism, and--but the Swiss don't speak of Swissism, and that's not simply because it's phonetically undesirable.

We are--we speak of these things because, as Chesterton said, we're the only country that was founded on a creed, and that creed is in the Declaration of Independence. When--when we started and said and proclaimed at the beginning of this--that we were a new order of the ages, among other things, we were the first country that was founded on new principles that did not--that not turned to the rear, turned to its past and re--re--reflect on its history when--at the time of the founding. We were new, and these are new principles. And we were the first country to deliberately found ourselves on those principles, and that's what Chesterton meant when he said, `We're the only country founded on a creed.' That's true, at the time. Soviet Union was founded on a creed, too, but we were the first to--to found on a creed in that sense.
LAMB: Have you done--have you had any political jobs in your life?
Prof. BERNS: I've never been p--elected to p--public office. I have--I've served in Geneva as the US member to the Human Rights Commission. I've been--I served on another special session of the United Sta--United Nations Human Rights Commission, and I was a member of the National Endowment for the Humanities for six years, but I've never been elected to public office.
LAMB: What did--you know, trying to understand why the United States got kicked off the Human Rights Commission...
Prof. BERNS: Uh-huh, yeah.
LAMB: ...and countries like Sudan and others got on.
Prof. BERNS: Yeah.
LAMB: Can you explain all that to us?
Prof. BERNS: Uh-huh. Yes, I wish I could.
LAMB: And does--is--is--the Human Rights Commission mean anything?
Prof. BERNS: Well, there are those who say it means a great deal. I am not one of those. I don't think we ever did very much, in my experience, when I was on it. We...
LAMB: When--when were you on it?
Prof. BERNS: In the '80s. Yeah. I forget exactly...
LAMB: Ronald Reagan appointment?
Prof. BERNS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, although I think he had nothing to do with it. He appointed me to the National Endowment for the Humanities, but it was an assistant secretary of State actually who appointed me to the Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Commission i--identifies offenses against human rights in particular countries and issues reports and complains and so forth. I don't think that it has much to do with directing those defenses.
LAMB: Does it spend much money?
Prof. BERNS: It spends some. It's not a--it's not a major drain on our--on our economy.
LAMB: How big a staff do they have?
Prof. BERNS: Oh, well, like--I remember the--in New York, on a special occasion, I--my first day there, I had lunch in the UN a--UN cafeteria, and the prices must have been set in 1950 and they hadn't been changed since. It was--someone is subsidizing those--those prices, those lunches, and you--you know who. Yeah. The UN is, of course, overstaffed, and it's a--work in Geneva is sort of plush. Geneva is a--a very nice place to work, and the UN--the Human Rights Commission works in the League of Nations Building there on the shores of the lake.
LAMB: The National Endowment for the Humanities--what did you learn about government or anything from being on the Humanities board for six years?
Prof. BERNS: Well, the--the task of the--of the NEH, of course, is to strengthen the teaching of the humanities, largely in the universities, and it depends a great deal on who was chairman of the Humanities.
LAMB: Who was there when you were there?
Prof. BERNS: Bill Bennett and then Lynne--Lynne Cheney. The recent--in fact, he's still chairman, this man, Ferris, is more interested in folklore than he is the humanities, properly understood as I would understand it. I think it's very important for the universities to teach the humanities, and f--folklore is not a part of that curriculum, as I understand it.
LAMB: Let me ask you this. A lot of authors that sit where you're sitting have had their books underwritten by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Are we getting a fair deal on this, as a taxpayer?
Prof. BERNS: I'm only familiar with those works that were, in a way, subsidized during my time on the NEH.
LAMB: How political was it when you were there?
Prof. BERNS: Not--not political at all, really. We tried--not political in the sense of partisan. There--it was not--it was not--it was not partisan.
LAMB: Is there a certain kind of history that's being funded vs. others that are not being funded because of--for some reason?
Prof. BERNS: Well, we always had disagreements, and you're bound to have disagreements as to the kind of history or who's an important historian. There are complaints now today. I just got through reading one in The New Republic by a Princeton historian complaining about David McCullough's history and biography of John Adams. One would think that that's a very popular work and a very good work, and history--historians would not disagree. But they're--you know, they're...
LAMB: But not funded by the NE--NEH.
Prof. BERNS: No, no, not funded by the NEH. I can't identify any particular work that was funded by NEH during my time there, although, as I said, I do think we'd funded good works, good books that deserve to be funded.
LAMB: Do you think it's a good idea for the taxpayer to spend money on the NEH, the National Endowment for the Humanities?
Prof. BERNS: In principle, it is, but I once testified before Congress urging them to put an end to the NEH and the NEA, because everything depends on the chairman--who's the chairman at the time. And it's very easy to have a whole project corrupted and for the NEH and the NEA, especially, to--to fund things that we ought not to be funding. That's more readily discernible, I think, in the case of the NEA and all its troubles. It's--it's had--its--its troubles have been much more public a few years ago: you know, funding of these performance artists, including one of them who covered herself with chocolate. I can't remember her name, Karen something or other.
LAMB: Back to your book, with our remoming--remaining moments we have, who would you say, in your lifetime and all the studying you've done, is your favorite patriot?
Prof. BERNS: Oh, Lincoln.
LAMB: Without question?
Prof. BERNS: Without question.
LAMB: And...
Prof. BERNS: He was, by far, the greatest American, probably one of the greatest men in history.
LAMB: Why do so many people, on all sides of the political fe--fence, not necessarily agree exactly with that, but come pretty close to agreeing with that?
Prof. BERNS: You know, Lincoln has his--has--he had his enemies during his lifetime; fewer since then. The manner of his death, of course, contributed to his status, really, among us; you know, he was martyred. But I--I just think Lincoln was a genius, and I use that word sparingly--an astonishing intellect. And with a--and he understood his own capacities and tried to conceal them, of course, telling bawdy stories and pretending to be just one of the boys.

But much more than that, much--as I say, he was our poet, you know, and I--I--I mean that. His words inspire us. And as I say in the book, one can see that in these monuments, comparing--I use the--in the book, comparing the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial and the reception people have. I go to the Lincoln Memorial with some frequency, largely to be--to see what the--the response th--it has on my--my fellow citizens, how they respond to it. It's different from them--from the Jefferson. In the Lincoln memorial, they--they stand there, and they somehow sense the awesomeness of the place. And there on the walls, carved on the wall is the words of the second inaugural and the Gettysburg Address, and they read those words and see the seated Lincoln before them, and it moves them. And--and I've seen ordinary American citizens have tears in their eyes when they--when they stand in that place. That's the--the effect that he has on Americans.
LAMB: You said you taught at Cornell for 10 years. How long were you at Georgetown?
Prof. BERNS: I guess 10 years all told, but I--I--I began at Georgetown as an adjunct professor teaching one day a week or something like that, and then went there and became a university professor. And I was a university professor for five years or something like that, which meant I--I could teach what I wanted to teach and how often I wanted to teach and...
LAMB: What are you doing now full time?
Prof. BERNS: Nothing at Georgetown.
LAMB: But besides that, besides writing books, anything you're doing?
Prof. BERNS: Well, I've--I've--I've got a responsibility to write a piece on constitutionalism for a conference at the University of London in November. I'm not going to London because I refuse to travel on an airplane, but I'll send the piece there. I've got another piece that I have to finish. Oh, yeah, I'm--you know, I'm--I'm--I still work.
LAMB: Our guest has been Walter Berns, and here's what the book looks like, "Making Patriots." Thank you very much.


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