We stand at a critical point in American history. Our thinking, attitudes, and quarrels have collided with hard realities in the 21st century. A multi-generational record of short-sightedness, ineptitude and irresponsibility, tells us of deepening societal degeneration at every level, social, economic, political.
Self-respect cannot wait for things to change that we have no control over. We are each capable of responding to the world around us with dignity and creativity, and we must.
For this reason, I have proposed a challenging strategy for your consideration. And it is an extremely difficult proposition.
Unfortunately, I do not believe we have a choice.
The wide-ranging needs we have as Americans—for resolving shared problems, for meeting local needs, for envisioning a decent future—all depend on a willingness to create genuine community.
Why is this?
If we are to reverse the slide toward chaos, we must first acknowledge a core responsibility upon which everything depends. This is the imperative that we build and protect trust.
True community exemplifies the need for trust. All constructive relationships depend on trust.
Social stability, justice, and effective governance all depend on trust.
Without the assurance of trust, liberty and justice will remain elusive, and the fabric of this nation will continue to disintegrate.
The integrity of trustworthiness will be essential for building a future we can believe in.
The American founders warned that this could be a problem. (See previous post, August 23).
Patrick Henry was among several quoted by Charles Murray in his important book, “Coming Apart”: “No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue.”
“Everyone involved in the creation of the United States,” writes Charles Murray, “knew that its success depended on virtue in its citizenry–not gentility, but virtue…. In their various ways the founders recognized that if a society is to remain free, self-government refers first of all to individual citizens governing their own behavior.”
Clearly there can be no integrity where neither citizens or civil servants care for trustworthiness.
And, here we are today.
The strategy proposed here rests on the principle that trust can only be learned and lived in the active relationships of genuine community.
Community—true community—disciplines us to develop trustworthiness and dependability by necessity. Human beings cannot gain virtues in a vacuum. This can only be acquired in personal relationships—where dependability matters and each can see the integrity of the other.
And, there are additional reasons why a free society depends on community. We can investigate these going forward. We depend on community for much more than physical survival in a crisis.
Community is the seat of civilization. It is the basic unit comprising human societies, the structure in which justice, social order, and cultural identity are grounded.
It is in family and community that the individual learns values, finds equilibrium, and gains a sense of belonging. Community encourages members to express their unique identity, character, and creativity.
So it is that community, when endowed with the full engagement of its’ citizens, becomes the substructure for freedom and security. No other institution is capable of serving this purpose.
Among the historic roles of community is to anchor the diversity of institutions, associations, and organized functions that we call civil society.
Why is this so important?
Without diverse opportunities and choices for meaningful involvement, the individual becomes disengaged and disoriented, set adrift, vulnerable to dishonest, despotic and predatory influences.
The absence of such mediating institutions thrusts the individual into a vulnerable reliance on an increasingly pervasive and autocratic central government.
Finally, in closing, (and as I said to you on July 26), please remember that integrity is the highest attainable value—a quality of moral soundness. Trustworthiness is the substance of that value, and responsibility provides the constructive action with which we make it so.
This can only be learned as we mature in real human relationships, working to find safety and to build the future.
There is no middle ground. Either integrity and responsibility are wholly present or they are compromised. Without them no civilization is possible.
You may watch for the next post on or about September 22.
Note to new readers: A project description, an introduction to the coming book, and several chapters in draft are linked at the top of the homepage.