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 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, unique to the United States, which allows us to hold firm to the diversity of values and ideals that Americans hold to be decent, right, and worthy?
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 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 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 precisely 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
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? Is someone pulling our strings? 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, distrust, and a continuing degeneration of values and 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 was dominated by the conflicts engendered by this confusion. And now in the 21st century we are reaping the whirlwind. How can autonomous individuality embrace the responsibility required by a free society?
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 a finite existence? In this chapter we consider the ground of freedom, what it means, and the morality and constructive vision it depends on. What does freedom mean to autonomous, self-possessed individuals in a fragmented society? How can we seek authentic morality on the path to genuine personal freedom? Resolving problems rationally, acting responsibly, and exercising discipline – all these empower us to transcend the constraints and limitations we encounter in our lives, opening the way to a future we can respect and believe in.
Chapter 9: Political Freedom
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 the lives of others? How has the evolving dominance of social philosophy and the social sciences influenced the fears and distrust we see in political society today? And, why have concerns about freedom in America been so completely dominated by an obsession with “rights”?
Part II: The Courage to Build Anew
Chapter 10: The Individual in Society
Here I argue for the fundamental role of local communities in providing stability and security in our lives, and as the foundations for a free society. In community we can find a sense of belonging through personal responsibility and constructive action. We have the choice as individuals, whether to simply yield to that which confronts us, or to step forward as mature adults – autonomous, resourceful, responsible. Family and community are the building blocks of society. The clash of differing opinions and conflicting values is explored here as a natural and potentially constructive force. Building genuine strength in communities depends on reaching out across our differences to create the trust and dependability necessary for sustaining us in times of trouble.
Chapter 11: First Principles
Constructive action and shared sense of purpose are concepts offered here to describe the practical means for seeking a positive future. Forward motion is essential, yet impossible without unity of purpose. The strategic approach of “constructive action” is founded on the principle of refusal to hurt or do harm – that is, purposeful action pursued in a spirit of honor and respect. Local community is the only place where we have the freedom and opportunity to translate these principles into action, and to join with our neighbors in building a safe and productive future characterized by trustworthiness, dependability, and moral responsibility.
Chapter 12: 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 13: 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 14: 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: Practical Steps Forward
Chapter 15: Genuine Engagement
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 16: 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 support productive working relationships.
Chapter 17: 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 18: 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 19: 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.