We are confronted today with increasing danger and instability. In rebuilding the dynamic balance between freedom and stability in the United States, there are many negative forces and potential threats to be acknowledged.
We must act carefully and not throw away our inheritance.
Americans have been provided with a simple and carefully considered model for governance that has protected us from most forms of excess for 200 years.
Our politicians have complicated things, but the basic principles are plain and straightforward. Where partisanship or bad judgment have corrupted good governance, the unique structure of our republican form of government has always guided the return to reason, however tough the medicine or jarring the upheaval.
Sometimes all we see are the threats to principle or the dysfunction of institutions. But the constitutional structure we have inherited has a durable balance that will always recover.
To correct serious problems such as we see today, it will be necessary to keep our purpose in perspective. And surely our immediate purpose includes the safety of our families and the ability to address pressing material problems in cooperation with our neighbors.
A balance is necessary between local and national. We have allowed our personal responsibility to slide and permitted distortions to develop.
Ours is a nation of both principles and laws. This provides a degree of stability and allows us to listen to one another respectfully – if we so chose.
The Constitution provides us with a structure within which to manage our affairs and restrain abusive behaviors. It was not intended to outlaw foolishness, and it has not. Rather it was designed to permit a nation to emerge and prosper while protecting minorities from the majority, the majority from minorities, and the government from itself.
The framers of the Constitution recognized that our liberties can only be defended by confronting the natural human propensity to impose ourselves on one another whenever possible. Without some degree of federal power, they believed that the natural rancor of politics would lead to the oppression of minorities, wars between independent states, and vulnerability to external threats.
However, this centralized power must be constrained by a vigilant citizenry. We must take responsibility for making the structure work as it was intended. A balance must be ensured by citizens who understand the meaning and purpose of this unique form of governance.
If we seek to build a world where prosperity is possible, where our children can be safe and personal freedoms are respected, it will be necessary to first create a stable environment for addressing problems, resolving conflicts, and building effective institutions.
In my view, this can only be done in the context of organized, self-possessed and forward-looking local communities — our own communities.
Community is the seat of civilization, made genuine because it is personal. It is in our local communities that we engage one another face to face, cementing trust, tending to needs, learning patience and responsibility. Here it is among friends and neighbors that we can find the confidence to envision the future and look forward from the disorder of the present.
Our strength comes with diversity and our readiness to rise above our differences to build a vibrant, welcoming and free-spirited society. This is the essence of our heritage, our humanity, and the source of the nation’s greatness.
Trust and responsibility don’t just appear by good fortune. They are formed in the trials of necessity and hardship, and inspired by commitment and purpose.
Beyond the boundaries of family, community is that place where immediate needs present themselves and must be resolved. As government loses its capacity to manage, we will have no one to look to except ourselves.
Americans have abdicated personal responsibility for this aspect of civilized life for a long time, and we have done so at our peril.
It was not always this way. Prior to the American Revolution and for close to 100 years afterward Americans gravitated easily, even impulsively, toward decentralized local governance and an independent frame of mind.
They managed their own affairs in cooperation with their neighbors and accepted regional autonomy as a natural condition.
I believe the time has come to accept responsibility for what we have been given by those who came before us.
Next week: Freedom and Stability in Governance