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
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 vision, and our understanding of the world around us? And, how can we keep our vision and our principles alive?
Chapter 7: Freedom’s Truth
How do Americans understand freedom? Why does freedom depend on responsibility, and how conscious are we about accepting responsibility for our own actions? Where do our values come from, and why do our own personal values sometimes come into conflict with one another? In this chapter we think about the ground of freedom, what it means, the morality and constructive vision it depends on, and the challenges of living it.
Chapter 8: 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 amidst the constraints of a fragmented world? Resolving problems, acting responsibly, and exercising discipline – all these empower us to transcend the constraints and limitations we encounter in our lives and in nature, opening the way to a future we can respect and believe in. How can we seek authentic morality on the path to genuine personal freedom?
Chapter 9: The Individual in Society
We have a choice as individuals, whether to simply yield to that which confronts us or to stand on our own as mature adults – independent, resourceful, responsible. Family and community are the building blocks of society and a reality that depends on us, our opportunity and our responsibility. Building genuine community depends on each of us to reach out across our differences, to form friendships that develop trust, and to be supportive in times of trouble. It will take time and patience, creative thinking and new skills, and we will do it because America is too important to lose. The future of humankind depends on it.
Part II: The Courage to Build Anew
Chapter 10: 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 11: 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 12: Stepping into the Future
Our future will depend on the initiative, selfless leadership, and courage of ordinary citizens. The genuine effort of every citizen is needed to the best of our ability – to grow our self-confidence and resolve in the face of negative attitudes, disorder and an uncertain future. A lengthy period of transition will be necessary to rebuild social stability. This will require patient commitment and a mature attitude from each of us, as well as the acquisition of learned skills. To confront the turmoil at hand will be a daunting task. 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 13: Social Stability and Constructive Action
Chapter 14: Principles of Economic Stability
Elementary economic principles are reasonable and not hard to understand. However, the discovery that the foundations of economic prosperity are grounded in moral responsibility may be resisted by many. The righting of the direct relationship between ethics and economic stability will allow us to refocus effective policy, construct a dependable future and avoid repetition of a disastrous past. Emphasis must be on both citizen and business confidence. Businesses depend on predictability, fairness, and the genuine integrity of price discovery in the marketplace. This is the true meaning of free markets, and it will depend on social stability and consistency of economic policies. Many citizens do not give sufficient attention to economic governance, but are no less vulnerable than business owners.
Chapter 15: True Prosperity
How do we define prosperity? Until recently our sense of well-being, capacity for contentment, and attitude toward moral responsibility 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 in constructing a future we can respect and believe in?
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.