Every moviegoer remembers the sign: “Keep your change. Tipping is un-American.” It is on the cash register of the roadside diner that is the setting for The Petrified Forest. It is a strange expression. We don’t say “un-French” (and hardly ever say “un-English”), and when we do, we mean only that something is not typical of the national character. For something to be French, it must be witty or stylish or off-color: “It’s a general rule, though your zeal it mav quench, if a family fool tells a joke that’s too French, half a crown is stopped out of his wages.”

To be un-American, however, is to be undemocratic or elitist or class-conscious. In The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce spoofed American chauvinism by defining un-American as “wicked, tolerable, heathenish.” In our national myth, as understood by one presumptuous immigrant (Crévecoeur), “He is an American, who leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced.” This was 80 years before the American Caesar tried to persuade us that our nation was “dedicated to the proposition.” Another presumptuous foreigner was closer to the truth: “Americans . . . would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom,” and we have been forging the chains of equality since Tocqueville’s time. Henry Luce’s “American Century,” in this sense, was really the “Equality-Century.”

In the 1950’s, leftists made fun of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee because they hated their country; conservatives defended the committee because they had already appropriated the Jacobin-leftist view of America as an idea and not a nation. Once that door is opened, then all the Henry Luce-John F. Kennedy-Bill Bennett bunkum about this glorious democracy comes bursting in like a legion of devils to occupy what had once been a nation.

This truly is the American Century, a century of equal slavery for all, of gulags and gas chambers, of Dresdens and Kosovos, a century in which the real filings of everyday life are replaced by sham liberty, sham equality, and sham human rights. “Shine perishing republic.”