Americans today face a critical moment in time, arguably as profound as any in our history. The list of concerns is long: Economic instability, social disorder, belligerent partisan antipathies, extremist violence, failing infrastructure, environmental degradation, and growing threats from cybercrime and microbial diseases, among others. This extraordinary confluence of emerging crises suggests an oncoming period of complex challenges.
The fear of social disorder and violent extremism is troubling everyone, but at this writing economic and monetary instability threatens to have the most immediate, personal and profound impact. And, it is this that will trigger or exacerbate all others. It is not an exaggeration to say that working people, those who put the rubber to the road in the real world, have been aware of continuing economic deterioration for a long time.
For Americans of all persuasions, expectations for the future have been steadily eroding. Freedom of opportunity, social justice, a comfortable retirement, and our ability to seek personal goals have all been brought into question. To many the future of the nation as a unified and coherent people appears uncertain. Anxiety gnaws at self-confidence.
We are experiencing the present adversity as an American crisis, and it is. But it is taking place in the context of a great turning point in the human story, a transitional period when an unprecedented number of monumental crises are converging across the globe. Our own crisis is inextricably intertwined with the affairs of the world.
Never has there been a greater need for the stability of the American vision.
Pivotal questions concerning the meaning of civilizational progress are confronting the world with increasingly disruptive effect. If Americans are to serve in a constructive leadership role, it will require that we have a coherent sense of who we are. Leadership requires a firm basis from which to lead, and something attractive, coherent and practical to offer. An awareness of historical context is essential. What is our place in the world? What spirit, perspective, and principles can we bring to the table?
Like Athenian democracy in ancient Greece, America is an example of the way a new consciousness and a new society can erupt into history suddenly, distinguishing itself conceptually with new ideas and a new narrative. The United States came into being at the culmination of the Age of Enlightenment in Europe. Our history and national consciousness have been influenced profoundly by the radical transition in social, political, and scientific perspective brought about by Enlightenment thinking, and by its’ still unfolding consequences. For some 200 years, American society has been an evolving expression of this way of thinking. We take this for granted, but are we prepared to examine it?
Without passing judgement, I do believe it essential that we consider our present challenges with an awareness of this context and its’ attendant questions. Among the most critical, in my view, are questions arising from the denial of metaphysical reality, and the rejection of religion and spiritual reasoning by the dominant culture. The foundational religiosity of political order in the Middle Ages was secularized by the Enlightenment, and yet survived to embed itself unconsciously in the new social and political models of the modern age. How has the human need for meaning and ethical guidance reconfigured itself in a society bereft of religious grounding? What happens when spiritual needs and religious forms of thinking are subjected to manipulation by extremist ideologues?
Responding to such questions is beyond the scope of this book. We should, however, be aware of these issues as we face the future, whether we have answers or not. It is important that we have a realistic understanding of how things came to be the way they presently are.
I am a ninth generation white American with a deep love for this country. Most readers will recognize that I am a religious person. However, many of you are not religiously inclined. It is my intention to present ideas, propositions and principles that every American might find practical and compelling. Explicitly religious or metaphysical perspectives are represented in only a few places. Neither do I offer partisan views or suggest ultimate goals. Fundamental values and a shared purpose must be determined by the American people. Rather, my purpose is to suggest qualities of character, attitude, and responsibility that can bring us through a profound turning point in our national experience.
The intentions of this small book are not grand. It does not represent a particular political philosophy or religious faith. Both our strengths as a nation and certain unavoidable issues are outlined in Chapters 1 through 10. The concept of liberty is addressed specifically in Chapters 8 through 10. I then propose a strategic course of action in the second half of the book, the purpose of which is the survival of the United States as a constitutional republic. A concept of constructive action is offered and a pragmatic strategy, which I believe to be the only possible means for bringing us through a long and debilitating crisis, and out the other side to build a future we can all respect and believe in.
The strategy proposed on these pages is a direct response to the unprecedented conditions of the 21st century. Its’ mission is to ensure the ultimate survival of the United States as a constitutional republic. The purpose and goals supporting this mission involve the necessity that Americans rise above our differences to engage meaningfully as self-possessed, responsible and trustworthy human beings. And, they focus on the unique capacity of local community to serve as the focal point for security and problem-solving in the midst of social disorder and economic disarray. It is only in collaboration with our neighbors that we can create a safe, mutually supportive environment. Those with whom we work closely are those with whom we can build mutual trust and genuine dependability.
This is an extremely challenging proposition, and the effort to bring it fully to fruition may require decades of determined effort. However, I do not believe we have a choice. It may be the only viable path to restoring justice and a stability we can depend on.
The details of this strategy are addressed in the second half of the book. The inevitable concerns and questions, issues and challenges, posed by citizens must be considered with courage and visionary wisdom. It is clear that our concept of community has to change. This is a plan of action that can go nowhere unless and until we agree on a realistic understanding of what is required.
Too often “community” in America means a group of like-minded people intent on preaching, asserting, admonishing, or proclaiming. As a free and united democratic society this will get us nowhere. Neither will we find safety or ultimate prosperity by retreating in fear behind the walls of a self-imposed state of siege. Nothing will change if we insist on confrontation rather than understanding. The future will remain crippled until we take on the hard work of building genuine social and economic viability in a diverse, pluralistic society. A secure community depends on our learning how to listen effectively, to encourage and attract, and, in short, to forge a degree of functional unity amidst diversity and the turmoil around us. So it is that the nation depends on community.
Nowhere on these pages will the reader find any suggestion that we compromise our values or give up personal views. Rather than abandon our values and views, we should discipline the manner in which we utilize them. It is important that we maintain the integrity of our personal identity while learning the skills of living and working together effectively. Each of us carries a perspective that contributes to the character and wisdom of the whole – but which can only be made practical if we refrain from allowing ego or emotion to overwhelm the context in which we find ourselves.
Values are not casual ideas or choices; many are deeply rooted in our interests, needs, and culture. If we are to live together, certain essential values must be shared; others will challenge our patience, but not our personal integrity. We will never agree on all our values. This is a reality of the human condition. We must learn how to work with this, to influence one another when possible, and to live together with grace and charity.
There will be no possibility of sharing our values or influencing the perceptions of others without rubbing shoulders. Only a stable platform for civil discourse will allow genuine listening and understanding. This is why community is a function of civilized order. We have entered an extremely difficult period of time when responsibility for our families, friends and neighbors – and for the survival of the United States as a constitutional republic – will depend on how we think, act, and manage our affairs.
Local community represents that unique geography where the safety and security of our families can be addressed, where resolving local problems, meeting shared needs, and building trust can become possible. And, it is here that we will learn the skills of civility, cooperation, and decision-making that will be essential if we are to move forward on a broader front as a nation.
I will not minimize the challenges. Most Americans have little or no experience with genuine community. The proposed strategy will be extremely difficult. This book will provide basic practical guidance, and I hope to add a second volume with far greater detail. But, I expect courage, loyalty and fortitude from Americans. The future will depend on emotional discipline, a more even temperament, and a generous attitude. Elitist presumptions, partisan bludgeoning, and authoritarian force won’t fly.
Our own comfort, and possibly our survival, will depend on the recognition that diversity among our neighbors will be essential – diversity of experience, of knowledge, of technical and problem-solving skills. There will be things we need to learn how to do, and we must support one another in this. We will learn how to work together to meet critical needs, how to master group decision-making, and how to understand the concept of conflict transformation, all of which we will consider later in the book. The necessary resources are available for those ready to extend themselves.
I challenge you with the conviction that we can do this together. History is a process of learning from tests, rethinking our questions, and when our ways of living are no longer adequate we trade them in for something more adequate. We will come through a dark time and out the other side stronger and wiser than we went in.
My emphasis on local needs and community safety does not ignore the larger picture. I do not discourage engagement in the broader society or its partisan dramas. However, I view genuine community to be the sole means for securing order and safety. It is the means for regaining a civility that can lead, ultimately, to effective governance, reconstructed institutions, and a coherent vision for the future.
A framework is offered here consisting of a way of seeing and being that we can each interpret independently and comprehend with our own minds. Rather than presenting a masterplan, the book provides a springboard for inspired thinking and constructive action. Readers are encouraged to use the book as a starting point, to investigate further and to engage in dialog and collaboration with friends and neighbors.
We must find our way in the coming years with grit and grace, navigating through complex and interacting crises. We have entered a transition that can be expected to dominate much of the 21st century. The outcome will depend on our character as a people and our ability to quickly recognize the unprecedented structural changes in social, economic, and material realities that will confront us at every step along the way.
Necessity presents us with stark, uncomfortable choices. We can give free reign to anger and disillusionment, allowing ourselves to be dragged down to a demoralized helplessness. Or we can determine to stand firmly together as a people, rising above our differences to meet the challenges that confront us.
Will we accept the destruction of civil order, a rending of the very fabric of the Republic, and retreat into a state of siege? Or, will we stand bravely together in the face of danger and loss, to recover the vision of dynamic governance and creative potential that Americans have long struggled valiantly to realize?
We could easily allow our spirits to be dragged down by the missteps and misdeeds of the past. We might easily feel overwhelmed by the unexpected shocks of the future. Let us instead rise above uncertainty and fear honorably and courageously, and step forward to rebuild the foundations of this American nation.