As we look forward from the current state of disorder, dependable local communities will be the only stable condition in which we can prepare for the future.
Community is the seat of civilization, made real because it is personal. It is in local community where we can engage with one another face-to-face, building trust, tending to needs, learning patience and responsibility.
Our strength comes with diversity and depends upon our readiness to rise above our differences to build a welcoming, all-inclusive society. This is the essence of our humanity, our heritage and the source of the nation’s greatness.
These things don’t just happen by coincidence. They are formed in the trials of hardship and necessity. They are given character by our vision and purpose.
Like marriage, a commitment to community forces us to mature as adult people – emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Perhaps this is why so many avoid participating fully.
There are, however, other reasons for committing ourselves to local responsibility. Beyond the boundaries of family, community is the place to address the immediate needs we face, to engage in democratic decision-making and to solve problems.
Americans have abdicated personal responsibility for these aspects 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 local governance and an independent frame of mind. We managing our own affairs in cooperation with our neighbors and accepted regional autonomy as a natural condition.
Civil society flourished in nineteenth century America, a vibrant force documented admiringly by Alexis de Tocqueville in his 1840 volume, Democracy in America. Americans created an immense variety of civic organizations to address every conceivable social need and activity. People did this on their own initiative, inspired by their sense of belonging and the spirit of the times.
An American return to community, both in spirit and as a practical matter, is as important today as it has ever been. It can only be through engaging with our neighbors in all spheres of problem-solving that we will learn the skills for living and working productively as fellow citizens.
As Americans, we have been here before and we can do it again.
There are those who argue that the decentralist tradition of the American past represents an ideal to which we should aspire. This is an attractive vision. Yet, I think it should be plain for all to see that there must be a balance struck between a constituency of fully engaged local communities and a competent, benevolent and trustworthy centralized government.
At the present juncture, it is difficult to imagine a limited central government managed by mature adults who are responsible for protecting both our freedoms and our security. But, that is what we need. Without law there can be no freedom.
I believe that a valid and well-reasoned vision of limited government for the American future can only come from local communities. Those who understand trust, moral responsibility, and constructive action – and who recognize the very high stakes involved – will build the foundations for the American renewal with their neighbors.
We can only meet necessity through personal initiative and meaningful dialog. And, the most effective leaders will be those who serve with quiet restraint and minimal drama.
Building unity within communities is a gradual process that depends on each of us to reach out across differences of tradition, politics, and culture to influence the hearts and minds of our neighbors, to form friendships and to truly understand one another.
What is essential is that Americans stand together, making firm our commitment to such values as will guide a free and just nation.
This will take time. By necessity we must refocus our vision of the future in such positive terms that partisan politics will be powerless to resist.