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?
Chapter 2: A Confluence of Crises
In recent decades Americans have witnessed a steady deterioration of moral responsibility and loss of concern for values, a systematic bankrupting of the economy, growing evidence of the degradation of the natural environment, and the dangerous aging of physical infrastructure. And now, early in the 21st century, we find ourselves unexpectedly confronted by a startling range of new and extraordinary crises. We are awaking to an historic turning point, suddenly called upon to rethink our commitments, our ways of thinking and doing, and our relationships to one another. Will we rise above our differences to re-engage our national vision and identity? Are we prepared to build a future we can respect and believe in?
Chapter 3: The Power of Diversity
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 wise decisions are only possible with the open interaction of differing opinions, rather than from ‘group-think’ or consensus. Here we look at the pragmatic benefits of integrating diverse knowledge, perspectives and experience.
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 individuals and minorities, and the discipline it requires of the majority, 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 trust 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 the same time that the United States of America was inventing its’ own 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
How have we been influenced by Enlightenment thinking, the rejection of religious perspective and the radical transformation of values that took place immediately before and after the founding of the United States? How are we being influenced by the past? What unconscious beliefs and assumptions are influencing us? How do differing understandings of individualism impact social philosophy and political differences.
Chapter 7: Coming of Age
Since the end of the Second World War there have been articulate voices 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 dark aspects of our past adhere to the present. Who are we really, and who do we want to be? How does freedom depend on ethical principles, a common social and economic vision, and our understanding of the world around us? And, how can we keep our vision and our principles alive?
Chapter 8: Freedom’s Truth
How do we understand freedom? Why does freedom depend on responsibility? Why should we accept responsibility for our actions? How do we understand the significance of the limitations imposed upon us by society and a finite universe? In this chapter we think about the ground of freedom, what it means, and the moral responsibility it depends on.
Chapter 9: Political Freedom
Two common views of political freedom are described and the significance of their implications reviewed. Can either or both be pursued while avoiding destructive consequences? Given a diversity of definitions, perspectives, and expectations for freedom, how is effective governance possible? How can political collaboration take place in a contentious political order? And, finally, what is the significance of the United States Constitution, especially under extreme conditions of social stress and conflict?
Chapter 10: The Freedom Within
At a time of social turmoil and distrust, the challenge of seeking freedom in our personal lives can be a vital matter. What does freedom mean to us as self-possessed individuals in a fragmented and deteriorating society? How can we seek authentic morality on the path to genuine personal freedom? Resolving problems, acting responsibly, and exercising discipline – all these empower us to transcend the constraints and limitations we encounter in our lives and in the world, opening the way to a future we can respect and believe in.
Chapter 11: The Individual in Society
Local communities are the one place where we have the freedom and ability to build foundations for the future. We have a choice as individuals, whether to simply yield to that which confronts us or to step forward as mature adults – independent, resourceful, responsible. Family and community are the building blocks of society. The sources and influence of conflicting values is explored here. Building genuine strength in local communities depends on each of us to reach out across our differences, to create the trust and dependability necessary to sustain us in times of trouble.
Part II: The Courage to Build Anew
Chapter 12: First Principles
Constructive action and shared sense of purpose are concepts offered here to describe the only practical means for seeking a positive future. Forward motion is essential, yet impossible without unity of purpose. And the strategic approach of “constructive action” is based on the principle of refusal to hurt or do harm – action taken in a spirit of honor and respect – with the intent of winning the hearts of Americans.
Chapter 13: The Foundations for Security
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.
Chapter 14: Stepping into the Future
Our future will depend on the initiative, courage and quiet leadership of ordinary citizens. The effort of every individual is needed — to grow self-confidence and resolve in the face of negative attitudes, disorder, and insecurity. Each of us is called to acquire new skills. We live in a fragile time, when the instabilities of society and uncertainties of mind threaten to pitch us into the darkness of extremism and chaos. It will be ordinary citizens, determined and courageous, who hold the line where fear and reason part.
Chapter 15: True Prosperity
How do we define prosperity? Our sense of well-being, attitude toward responsibility, and capacity for creativity were considered essential aspects of being human. Under current conditions of material limitation and ethical degradation, how can we build safe communities, seek a shared vision, and join with one another to construct a future we can respect and believe in? The critical roles of trust. dependability, and moral responsibility will be addressed here, which are among the essential requirements of both freedom and prosperity.
Part III: Building the Foundations
Chapter 16: Moving Forward
An approach is offered for those ready to engage with their neighbors to build trust and address the challenges we face in our communities. Getting everyone on the same page means learning how to work together constructively to address local problems and felt needs. Advice is provided for working with difficult people.
Chapter 17: Constructive Empowerment
Constructive action and personal empowerment will not be possible in a vacuum. We live in society and cannot act effectively by ourselves. Here we explore the concept of gentle leadership that empowers and inspires, facilitating decision-making and coordinating action without dominating a community or organization. And, a systematic process is offered for transforming conflict to allow productive working relationships.
Chapter 18: Leveraging Our Differences
Guidelines are provided for working in groups and for organizing projects. Tools for group decision-making are outlined for both large and small groups, including a form of constructive consultation that generates far more comprehensive and effective outcomes than can be produced by either consensus decision-making or voting.
Chapter 19: Tools for Teamwork
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 20: Epilogue
The idea is introduced that human society is, like physical reality, 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 unity and balance that characterize justice, this foundation allows us to see with our own eyes, exercise responsibility 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, views, and perspectives.