For more than two hundred years the United States has stood before the world as a beacon of hope, as a source of creative energy and as an evolving expression of political freedom, social diversity, and economic vitality. People everywhere have been attracted to the vision it represents. Yet, the extraordinary challenges that confront the American people today mark a turning point and a defining test of America’s place in history.
We have entered a dark time. Confronted with economic instability, social disorder, and widespread distrust, it can be easy to forget the unique stature of the United States and the unfolding role it has played in the progress of an ever-advancing civilization. Our economic well-being as a nation has been weakening for decades, and the generosity of spirit for which we have long been known has dimmed. Confidence in the future is shaken.
There is more than enough blame to go around and we all know about it. What is essential, however, is that we recover our traditional spirit of generosity and resilience. There is truth in the unity of our national character—in our humanity and the dignity that has always given us courage and self-respect.
Few have expected what we are seeing now. The future has been altered in unimaginable ways. Even so, America is blessed with a constitutional order that respects the individual, seeks to protect both minorities and majorities, and makes room for diversity, innovation and creativity.
The genius of the United States Constitution lies in a simplicity that imposes minimal restraint and allows maximum freedom—all the while requiring moral responsibility and functional cooperation.
It is a legal document, carefully crafted in structure and intentionality. But it is far more than a simple contract. It embodies a vision and a trust. It was prepared by men who cared deeply about the future and about Americans as a people.
The Constitution presents itself today as the gift of an inheritance. The freedom it promises is anchored in the wisdom of its legislative order, the protections it ensures for the individual, and the means with which it enables constructive change. These are among the essential elements of a civil order that provides Americans with stability and the opportunity to forge a rational future.
The American Founders recognized that the liberty secured through constitutional order will only be as strong as the citizens who make it so.
In what form must this strength manifest itself?
The unique character of the Constitution depends on moral responsibility and the basic virtues we all know about: Truthfulness, trustworthiness, justice, forbearance—and a prudence that respects the interdependence of these virtues. This expectation of the future is written into the fabric of the American idea.
Yet we are confronted with unsettling questions in the 21st century.
A multitude of severe crises have brought immense pressures to bear. Will civil order be torn apart by resentments, distrust and frustration? Will the nation survive as the constitutional republic envisioned by its founders? Do we have the fortitude and grit to learn the lessons and reaffirm the vision that will lead to a genuine American renewal? We are living at a pivotal moment.
Will Americans embrace the spirit required of us by the founders, which alone can lead to unity of purpose? Or will we succumb to a rigidity born of insecurity and fear?
Neither philosophical convictions or the correction of mistakes can be addressed effectively until we answer this question in dialogue, as well as in our own hearts. Civil disarray and social degradation will remain with us until it is.
Do we believe in the American tradition of good will—the expectation that people of differing persuasions can unite around a common cause? Do we have the patience to rebuild a national unity that transcends the differences that always exist among a free people?
Or, to put the question another way, will we do what is necessary to make the United States of America whole and to prepare it for the future we deserve?
You may watch for the next post on or about August 1.
Note to readers: This post is lifted from Chapter One, “American Crucible”, in the forthcoming book. The entire chapter is available in draft at the top of the homepage: http://www.freedomstruth.net.