What makes a nation great? This is the core question we are faced with every presidential election. The party out of power claims that we are not great, and only they know how to make us great. The party in power claims that we are mostly great, and only they know how to make us even greater. After enough of these cycles, we may begin to believe that neither party has a full and rich understanding of greatness, much less a clear path to achieve greatness.
The greatest misunderstanding we Americans make about greatness is its object. True greatness is not a measure of accomplishment, but of virtue. A people may achieve many things, but absent justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope, and love, those achievements are hollow. It is virtue that enables achievement, giving a people the inner communal strength to persevere through tremendous difficulty and opposition. But where virtue is forsaken, the end is near.
In his book, The City of God, Augustine refutes the belief that mass conversion to Christianity led to the destruction of Rome. In the aftermath of the sack of the Eternal City, the critics of Christianity laid the blame at the feet of the Church and its extermination of the worship of the Roman gods. Augustine moves at a leisurely pace as he confronts, and demolishes, these assertions.