Despite the somewhat melancholy feeling that I had reading it, there was still cause for hope. As Maclin writes:
Something must fill the vacuum at the heart of the secular constitutional democracies. It might be said that the struggle for Christians at present is not so much to preserve the past as to shape the future, except, that as far as the faith is concerned it is precisely by preserving the past, ever giving it new life in our own hearts, that we shape the future.
It's been hard for me over the last few years to give myself wholeheartedly to America; the Founders achieved great things, and would surely be dismayed to see what we have done with them. And yet, neither are they without sin:
And that is the fundamental flaw in the constitutional democracies that have been erected since the 18th century. Those rational men, “wiser in their generation than the children of light,” thought they could avoid quarrels over heavenly matters by constructing a system which excluded such things. But what those rational men had done was to remove the only rational foundation of any social system: an agreement about what is important. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in this world are good things, as those who are deprived of them will attest, but they are not the purpose of life, and those who try to make them so are possessed by that sad unfocussed hunger that now seems so characteristic of life in the West.
So are we really little more than products of our environment, doomed to follow the course which we have? I don't think that's what he's saying, for even if we were born in sin, woe be to those who take if further.
We cannot have, in the long run, a system of government which professes to be indifferent to the purpose of life. Even in the practical realm, the realm in which such a system is alleged to be supreme, disintegration will eventually come where there is no principle by which right action can be determined. We find ourselves now in a climate where the only accepted principles of such determination are narrowly utilitarian and frequently lead into a web of contradictions which can only be escaped by a purely arbitrary exercise of power.
This, then, is where we are today. Perhaps the principles of the Enlightenment were flawed, for they were missing key ingredients. But there can be no doubt that the formula has been contaminated, the recipe poisoned. The Founders were great men with great ideas who had the distinct honor of living to see those ideas become a reality. To a man, they thought of those ideas as a legacy to be handed down to their decendants in the form of an inheritance. For too long we have been the spoiled dilettantes who have wasted that inheritance. But the actions of the madcap heiress in the screwball comedies we love seldom cost people their lives along the way.
We are optimistic people in the long run; we know that we cannot fail when we link ourselves to the promises made by Our Lord, and while we struggle with the reality, we keep our eyes on the prize. We know that individuals can make a difference; that change ultimately comes from the conversion of hearts, not the passing of laws. As for the future of America, we are somewhat less optimistic. Our hope lies in combining the vision of our Founders with the truth of Our Lord:
It is not the place, and can never be within the power, of government to compel anyone to be saved, and the attempt to have it do so is productive of mischief. But it is not unreasonable to expect that government should refrain from placing obstacles upon the path to salvation, and from encouraging people to leave it, and that it should restrain its citizens from so endangering their neighbours. We will have to begin with the conviction that whatever structures we establish have as their ultimate purpose to nurture and protect that smile of simple delight.