A.J. DiCintio
December 22, 2012
Christmas, morality, freedom, and despotism
By A.J. DiCintio

As greetings of "Merry Christmas" resound throughout the land, we would do well to read (or read again) the reflections on the season of The Great Gatsby's Nick Carraway as he contemplates his decision to leave the East.

As readers of the novel know, Nick's poignant memories regarding the December train trips of his youth are not the result of an upper middle class young man's voyage to the land of Emotional Blubbering in a pitifully superficial attempt to "find himself" but are part of an understanding of himself within a serious moral dimension.

Therefore, as his recollections prompt us to recall our memories of the time of year when Christmas sweeps across the beautifully varied, vibrantly diverse, exceptionally good nation that is the United States of America, we ought, like Nick, perceive more than festive images to focus on how Christmas' intrinsic moral message applies to how we live our lives.

When we do so, we'll understand that just as morality determines the fate of individuals, it does the same for a nation; for just as people who have "lost" their "moral compass" have put their lives at risk, citizens who have lost a devotion to the common morality that binds "many" into "one" put the life of a free, prosperous nation in jeopardy.

As a matter of historical fact, in September of 1787, the 81 year old Ben Franklin made just that observation in his speech before the Constitutional Convention's final vote.

"[I] believe further that this [proposed constitution] is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other."

Here, then, are excerpts which properly delight us with Christmas imagery of a past American era and prompt us to recall our own.

However, as we read them, let us also recall that Americans of the twenties were arrogantly reveling in a "roaring" materialism they believed would continue forever and realize that like Nick we must allow the moral dimension of Christmas to guide our behavior, including being as brave, honest, and publicly truthful as Ben Franklin was when he warned that a "corrupted" people who have turned their backs on the moral demands of individual responsibility inevitably "need despotic government."

"One of my most vivid memories is of coming back West from prep school and later from college at Christmas time.

I remember the fur coats of the girls . . . and the chatter of frozen breath and the hands waving overhead as we caught sight of old acquaintances, and the matchings of invitations. . . and the long green tickets clasped tight in our gloved hands. And last the murky yellow cars of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad looking cheerful as Christmas itself. . .

When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it . . . unutterably aware of our identity with this country. . .

That's my Middle West — not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feeling of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family's name."

© A.J. DiCintio

 

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A.J. DiCintio

A.J. DiCintio posts regularly at RenewAmerica and YourNews.com. He first exercised his polemical skills arguing with friends on the street corners of the working class neighborhood where he grew up. Retired from teaching, he now applies those skills, somewhat honed and polished by experience, to social/political affairs.

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