If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxas. Viking. 272 pages. 2016
The author, one of my favorites, writes of the promise of liberty for the new nation as was laid out in the Constitution. He states that although the current situation in America is grave (more about that at the end of my review), much of the promise has already been fulfilled.
The book title comes from a quote from Benjamin Franklin. In response to a woman about what kind of nation the Founders had given the American people, he replied “A republic, if you can keep it”. Metaxas asks if we can keep it and if so, how?
He writes that America was founded on the idea of liberty, and that America exists for others. Its mission is to the rest of the world. Our exceptionalism is for others. He writes that the concept of self-government was a new idea.
Metaxas writes of the “Golden Triangle of Freedom”, a concept that Os Guinness (to whom the book is dedicated), developed in his book A Free People’s Suicide. This is the concept that Freedom requires Virtue; Virtue requires Faith; and Faith requires Freedom.
Metaxas writes that America’s Founders knew that communities that took their faith seriously tended to be virtuous in the way that self-government required. Faith in turn requires freedom, because unless people are free to practice whatever faith they choose, that faith is coerced by the state, and therefore not real faith at all. He writes that unfortunately, as a nation, we have largely forgotten the ideas on which our country was founded upon.
He writes about what it means to be an American, and that most people wrongly understand the concept known as the separation of church and state, and also believe that it is in the Constitution, which it is not.
He writes about the role of British preacher/evangelist George Whitefield in forming America, a fact that was new to me. He indicates that Whitefield showed that different denominations could co-exist in the new country. Whitefield taught that each person was equal in the sight of God, and that each person could have a direct relationship with God through the new birth. Metaxas writes that some call Whitefield the “Spiritual Father of the United States”.
Throughout the book Metaxas writes of heroes such as Paul Revere, George Washington, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln. He states that in the past fifty years, we have moved to the veneration of heroes in America to the suspicion of them.