Esquire has selected Andrew Sullivan as one of their Americans of the Year. I’ll take it a step further and say he is the Greatest Living American.
Why? Here’s why:
I arrived here, and you had people brawling over everything that mattered, and just presuming to do so, honoring no protocol or pecking order, and showing precious little deference to position… This was so different from the land of my birth. This was the America of my dreams.
Of course, he was already American, certificate or not. He was as American as the first American, who was not American at all but who left a place far away and arrived in this new place as a very different person. That is, of course, the essence of Americanism, which is to say that the immigrant with a vision of America may be more American than the baby born on this soil ten generations hence.
But the minute he started talking about a right no one had ever seriously contemplated, most who heard him reacted with Who the fuck are you? You don’t know what you’re talking about, you and your little essays. And you’re English! And that is how Sullivan came to be an American civil-rights pioneer: In the end, he didn’t know enough about America, outside his beautiful idealized version, to realize that what he wanted to do was simply impossible.
I cannot recall the source, but there is a quotation that binds me to this broken country in the way Sullivan too seems bound. I heard it as attributed to Thatcher, which for the old Tory ex-pat seems appropriate. It reads, “The governments of Europe were born out of war and history, whereas the United States was born out of philosophy.” Sullivan embodies the incessant battle of being American, of fighting for what is right, not because you hate America, but because you give a shit about it and will accept nothing less than what this country and it’s people deserve.
More than anything, though, Sullivan defines the American experience because he is self-defined. Bordered by two countries and two oceans, a space has been carved on this planet for a person to be autonomous, to self-govern, to self-create. Through a simple blog, he has shared that generative process with the world. And every step of the way, he was opposed, derided, and ridiculed, even by the very people he was fighting for in a country that didn’t want him. Through his writings Sullivan, Mark Warren put it so well, “continues to argue himself into existence every day.”
Were someone to challenge your right to exist – your right to be alive and who you are, as you are, could you argue your purpose, your place, your right to be, could you defend yourself? Could you make the case you deserve to persist?
Think on it. Then do it.
Sullivan has insisted on his right to be himself for the past 20 years. And he has changed the face and heart of our country because of it.
Bioethics is controversial.
No one endorses the ideas or concepts explored here, not even me.
You will develop a strong opinion about something you find here. I want to hear it. Philosophy is a conversation.
popbioethics [at] gmail [dot] com
Long Form ArticlesWhy Mass Effect is the most Important Science Fiction Universe of our Generation