Liberty and the American Idea: Rebuilding the Foundations
Part I: Freedom’s Truth
Chapter 1: American Crucible
Will the nation survive as the republic created by its founders, or be torn apart by the fear and hostility we feel all around us? Do we have the fortitude and grit to learn the lessons and reaffirm the vision and principles that will lead to a genuine American renewal? This book brings together the history of ideas influencing the United States with a strategic proposal for bringing us through a long night of hardship and into a future we can believe in.
Chapter 2: A Confluence of Crises
In recent decades Americans have witnessed a steady deterioration of moral responsibility and concern for values, a systematic bankrupting of the economy, growing evidence of the degradation of the natural environment, and dangerous aging of physical infrastructure. And now, early in the 21st century, we find ourselves unexpectedly confronted by a startling confluence of new crises. We are awakening to an historic turning point, suddenly called upon to rethink our commitments, our ways of thinking and doing, and our relations with one another. Will we rise above our differences to re-engage our national vision and identity? Are we prepared to build an American future in which we hold firmly to the values and ideals that Americans have long considered decent, right, and worthy?
Chapter 3: Finding Our Strength
The strength of a nation can only be realized when the structural order of society frees the individual to think and act independently. Diversity and independence are essential because in a complex reality wise decisions are only possible with the open interaction of differing opinions, rather than from ‘group-think’ or consensus. What is the cause of prejudice and how does it threaten local safety and cripple national effectiveness? Here we look at the pragmatic benefits of integrating diverse knowledge, perspectives and experience into our vision and our lives.
Chapter 4: Freedom and Order
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 made a determined effort to see the end in the beginning, a vision that has led to relative stability for more than two hundred years. The protections the Constitution provides for both minorities and majorities, and the discipline it requires for responsibility and cooperation, remain firmly in place despite every upheaval. We now stand at another historic turning point that calls for a similar visionary maturity.
Chapter 5: The Will to Freedom
The new ideas and views that emerged with science and materialism in Europe during the “Enlightenment” were charged with hopefulness – the vision of rational governance, confidence in the human capacity to master and control nature, and confidence in the human will to freedom. The belief that all human problems could be resolved by reason and science alone displaced religion as the dominant “world view”. This radical thinking came to dominate western culture at precisely the time that the United States of America was inventing its’ social and political identity. Despite contradictions and inconsistencies, these ideas had a powerful effect on the emerging American character.
Chapter 6: Confronted by the Past
Since the end of the Second World War there have been articulate voices from across the political spectrum arguing that Americans have lost our way. What are they seeing? What have we been thinking? During this time America has made great strides toward building a more just and inclusive society. Yet, the darker aspects of our past adhere to the present. Materialism, racism, distrust, and a continuing degeneration of personal values and moral responsibility have dominated the past half century. Who are we really, and who do we want to be?
Chapter 7: Freedom and Individualism
For several hundred years the most accepted philosophy of freedom has been that of individualism. Yet the idea of individualism has led social philosophers in widely differing directions – as divergent, in fact, as freedom from all government control to the extremes of the centralized totalitarian State. The 20th century saw total war, mass murder, and endless conflict engendered by this confusion. Now in the 21st century we are reaping the whirlwind. Can autonomous individuality actually come to understand, accept and embrace the tough responsibilities required by a free and civilized society?
Chapter 8: Justice, Privilege and Rights
The gruesome legacy of the 20th century teaches us lessons that must never be forgotten. Given our present circumstances, I offer the reader several important questions to consider: Recent history has taught us much of what we need to know of the ease with which good intentions and utopian visions of a perfect society can lead to tyranny and the crushing of liberty. Have we learned of the dangers of selfish attitudes toward personal freedom or the arrogance of imposing our view of truth on others people? How has the rising dominance of social philosophy and the social sciences influenced the fears and distrust we see around us today? And, finally, why have concerns about freedom in America been so dominated by an obsession with “rights”?
Chapter 9: Freedom’s Truth
Why does freedom depend on personal discipline and responsibility? How can we understand the significance of the limitations placed on us by a finite existence and a civilized society? In this chapter we consider the ground of freedom in the structure of justice and the daily conflicts of conscience this presents as we navigate the boundaries of order and morality. What should freedom mean to autonomous, self-possessed individuals in a fragmented society? Where does authentic morality intersect with genuine personal freedom? Resolving our problems rationally and responsibly–while honoring the intrinsic order at the foundations of human existence–will open the way to a future we can respect and believe in.
Part II: The Courage to Build Anew
Chapter 10: The Individual in Society
Here I outline the historic role of community, both in providing order, safety and stability, and in supporting personal identity and self-respect through the diverse associations of civil society. Family and community are the primary units of civilized societies. In community we can find a sense of belonging through personal engagement, responsibility, and constructive action. We have the choice as individuals either to yield to that which confronts us or to step forward as autonomous, resourceful, responsible adult people. The clash of differing opinions and conflicting values is explored here as a natural and constructive force. Building genuine strength in communities depends on reaching out across differences to create the trust and dependability necessary for sustaining coherent resilience in times of trouble.
Chapter 11: First Principles
Essential principles and precepts, both for creating genuine community and for recharging social and economic vitality, are reviewed here. These include, 1) the role of civilized virtues and values in a free society, especially those explicitly identified by the Founders; 2) the need to transition from the superficialities of materialism, modernity, and mass society to engage fully with one another in genuine human relationships; and 3) a concept identified here as ‘constructive action’, which can guide a rational and respectful approach to conflict. As a first principle, constructive action informs us as a way of thinking, seeing, and engaging in relationships. It is not to be confused with the procedural methods of ‘conflict transformation’ described in the next chapter. We live in a fragile time when instabilities and uncertainties threaten to pitch us into the darkness of extremism and chaos. Safety and stability will depend on comprehending and accepting essential principles. It will be ordinary citizens, determined and courageous, who hold the line where fear and reason part.
Chapter 12: Conflict Transformation
It is rational to believe that well-organized local communities, blessed with a diversity of experience, perspective, and learned skills can bring us safely through a time of severe crises. But, is this actually possible in the America we know today? In this chapter we will address the current toxic environment dominating public discourse in America. Utilizing a systematic and proven approach known as ‘conflict transformation’, we will consider the functional dynamics of politicized conflict and social alienation. A pragmatic approach is offered which leads to recognition of the basis for truth in the life experience and perceptions of those who differ from us. And, we will seek to identify common ground upon which to ensure safety, organize collaboration, and grow productive activity. To move forward we will need to understand that relationships are the basis of both conflict and its long-term solutions. Success will depend on a readiness to build relationships that are truthful and trustworthy. It will be necessary to seek understanding as real people-in-relationship.
Chapter 13: Conflict and Community
Every community will need to be prepared to deal with disagreements and differences, however emotional or significant they might be. Conflict is a natural function of relationships, as are the solutions that facilitate or resolve conflict. Without relationships there would be no conflict, and yet it is in relationship that we learn, grow and mature as human beings. Navigating the inevitability of conflict will call for a positive and constructive attitude, and for learned skills. Here we address the practical everyday dynamic of community building. Guidance is offered for addressing the circumstances we can expect in both new and mature communities.
Chapter 14: Stepping into the Future
Our future will depend on the initiative, courage and quiet leadership of ordinary citizens. Each of us is called to determine our personal role and to acquire necessary skills. Guidelines are provided here for initiating and sustaining effective community-building. New skills, tactics, and ways of thinking will be addressed. Access to additional resources will be offered. Sustaining forward progress will require personal initiative and a positive frame of mind. The effort of every individual is needed—to grow self-confidence and resolve in the face of negative attitudes, disorder, and insecurity.
Chapter 15: Organizations and Groups
Guidelines are provided for working in small groups. Tools for managing small group decision-making and navigating diverse viewpoints are provided. We must learn to leverage our differences rather than bow to them. Guidance for constructive consultation is presented which generates far more comprehensive and effective outcomes than can be produced by either consensus decision-making or voting.
Chapter 16: Security Begins at Home
Security depends on the conditions we put in place around us, and therefore upon our ability to forge dependable, trustworthy relationships. Consequently, security depends fundamentally on personal posture and mental attitude, on our ability to communicate, and on our success at building a strong, healthy community in which to live. These are foundations on which protective skills depend. Practical methods and guidelines are offered for dealing with threats.
Chapter 17: Constructive Empowerment
Constructive action and personal empowerment will not be possible in a vacuum. We live in society and cannot act effectively as ‘lone rangers’. Here we further explore the concept of a gentle leadership that empowers and inspires, facilitating decision-making and coordinating action without forceful domination of a community or organization. And, a systematic process is offered for transforming conflict to support productive working relationships.
Chapter 18: Tools for Teamwork
Further guidelines are provided for working in groups and managing projects. Practical methods are outlined for planning, problem-solving, and organization-building while transcending personal differences. This will include procedural tools and practices that can smooth collaboration, encourage personal empowerment, inspire proactive leadership, and energize communities. A reference list of accessible resources will be made available.
Chapter 19: Final Thoughts
The idea is offered that human society is, like physical universe, governed ultimately by an inviolable metaphysical structure. If recognized, understood, and respected this reality can inform our judgment, guide our actions, and ground our relationships. Defined by the structured equilibrium that characterizes justice, this foundation allows us to see with our own eyes, exercise responsibility more effectively, build stable communities, and conduct our lives with confidence.
Appendix 1: Bibliography
A list of books and publications of interest to the practical-minded and organized according to the chapters of the book. This will include a wide range of topics and perspectives.