How can America overcome its egotism?

Let’s assume, just for a moment, that the great political leaders of the past were not cynical, deluded or deceptive when they talked about morality and religion. Let’s posit that, at least in some instances, they were not just striking poses but making arguments.

Early in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union address in an atmosphere charged with menace. Germany had just occupied the Sudetenland. Kristallnacht was recent news. Roosevelt was beginning to prepare Americans for the exertions of a global war.

Yet FDR did not begin his address by talking about rearmament. “There comes a time in the affairs of men,” he said, “when they must prepare to defend not their homes alone but the tenets of faith and humanity on which their churches, their governments and their very civilization are founded.” At that moment of national testing, Roosevelt felt it necessary to clarify and reaffirm the transcendent commitments that undergird self-government.