Emphasizing family and principle

John McCain was finally laid to rest on the first Sunday of September at the U.S. Naval Academy. Before he left us for that beautiful City, he left for us a letter.   

Yes, that means there’s another recently published letter to which we ought to pay attention.  While this letter may not be as (potentially) important as Archbishop Viganò’s letter, we American Catholics also have duties to this nation and its political order.  

The letter highlights a few lessons which can help sustain the excellent form of our American republic. Though McCain never had the opportunity to deliver a formal farewell address, we ought to consider his final letter as worthy of such a station in national memory.  

The point most essential for our time is McCain’s mention of family.  Our best statesmen are the ones with a strong moral sense and good convictions. This starts in the family. He writes that he would not trade his mistakes (or successes) for anything. “I owe this satisfaction to the love of my family.” His first love was of that to which he was first rightfully obligated. This love grounded and sustained him.  

Indeed, the family and the goal of preserving a culture which understands family to be the first, essential association must guide our legal and political decisions. Especially if we hope for future statesmen like John McCain. We should have this hope because McCain knew how to properly love the nation.  

His unique love made his service better. His patriotism was not a base or unthoughtful and blind allegiance. “I’ve made mistakes,” he writes, “but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them.” It was informed by knowledge of the good in light of the bad. It was cultivated with humility and elevated through courageous action. 

These virtues shine through in these words: “Ten years ago I had the privilege to concede defeat in the election for president.”  

Who would write that? Certainly neither the most recent loser of a presidential election, nor the winner.  To them, politics is defined by power. To that end, anything is acceptable. By contrast, McCain understood that for politics to operate well and to contribute to the common good, it must be primarily about principles. These serve to oblige and limit for the sake of the good. For McCain’s election defeat, he knew that it wasn’t simply a democratically elected executive and a peaceful transition of power which contribute to the justice of this regime. He knew, also, that good and virtuous conduct in public and private life is essential to that justice.

We would do well to understand how the character of John McCain––fallen and flawed, loving and gracious, principled and courageous––means that our mourning of him shouldn’t fall into party lines. He was loyal to ideals and not to fleeting moments. He was loyal to principles and not to particular cases or people.  

Our mourning and our appreciation are not partisan because remembering John McCain is not about remembering him as the Republican senator, it is about remembering him as the statesman embodying great values.  One need not be a “fan” to appreciate his significance. A unified sense rightfully marks our mourning and appreciation.

The words of 19th century American poet Wallace Bruce fit this moment well: “Who kept the faith and fought the fight; The glory theirs, the duty ours.”

Nick Marr is a junior from San Diego, CA. He lives in Knott Hall and studies history and political theory. As a 10 year old, he argued with a Supreme Court justice about who was a bigger Notre Dame fan. You can reach him at nmarr@nd.edu.