It happened today - June 17, 2015
On June 17 back in 1885 the pieces of the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York, a gift from France. Which alone can seem incongruous given the foreign policy quarrels the French and American governments have had in recent years. In his 1996 book Rants Dennis Miller wrote “the French hate our guts. I cannot believe they actually gave us the Statue of Liberty. They must’ve been throwing it out anyway. Because these people detest us. They look at us and we are one, big, collective Jethro bearing down on them, rope belt and all.”
Indeed some French statesmen, like snobs everywhere, do look down on America, despising it as a land of hillbillies. And to some extent it is, but in a good way. An important strand of American popular culture, as David Hackett Fischer explains at great but highly entertaining length in Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, comes from the “Borderers” who settled not just Appalachia but much of the backcountry from Pennsylvania to Georgia, bringing with them plain speech, plain manners and a rough-hewn sense of social equality, opportunity and pragmatism that the world not only needs more of, it frequently admires.
Which is the amazing thing about the Statue of Liberty. It was assembled (from some 350 pieces in 200 crates – I guess you had to like jigsaw puzzles and not fear heights) and dedicated in 1886. Which wasn’t necessarily a great time for America. Barely two decades away from the fratricidal slaughter of the Civil War, divided politically, economically and above all racially, suffering the “Great Depression” that lasted from 1873-96, uncertain of its place in the world, its politics corrupt and mediocre, its culture mocked… well, you get the idea. And yet the statue immediately became a globally famous emblem and remains one to this day. During the Tienanmen Square protests of 1989 the “Goddess of Democracy” holding, um, a torch was deliberately designed not to look too much like the Statue of Liberty, an effort that speaks volumes about just how far the light of the “Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” is clearly visible. And clearly the Chinese regime today fears the example not of Canada, or of France, but of America, which despite everything remains the land of liberty and opportunity the statue symbolizes, as indeed it did in 1885.