* where the term "Grandfathers" is used
in this essay, it should be
assumed to include the feminine. That is, "Grandfathers" is a metaphor
for "wise elders".
It is not my intention to investigate this social wealth in detail, but rather to examine certain particular jewels and see where their appreciation will lead us. Principle among these treasures lies the idea of the Grandfathers, an idea found all over the world in various forms.
The social life of the group was always dependent for its order and direction on the wise counsel of its older members. Mostly in our literature (or films) we have portrayed this social guidance as having authoritarian and arbritrary characteristics. Only recently (c.f. Dancing with Wolves) have there been hints of the true dimensions, the depths of individual freedom and democracy which inhabited America's tribal cultures. The Grandfathers needed no autocratic authority, for they were in fact wise. The respect was genuine, not artificial, and their authority was real, based on trust and practical success in life.
The Grandfathers counselled, but never compelled. Why would they need to do otherwise? They knew from their own lives that compulsion leads inevitably to rebellion. What they gave came from self honesty, humility and a profound and deep religiosity. To not listen was observably foolish. To obey was unnessecary. Their advice was followed because it was clearly valid, and never forced or coercive. Most often, in fact, advice was never given. The Grandfathers merely spoke what was in their hearts, and what they would do or not do, what path they would take. Others followed because to do so was to go with goodness and to walk in the light.
At its core the idea of the Grandfathers has a deeper and more difficult mystery. It is an understanding of the world that conceives that the dead have not left us nor lost interest in our lives. Rather, the most spiritually mature ancestors are actively available to provide guidance and advice, if we but prepare ourselves in the right way to receive inwardly the quiet wisdom offered. This is an idea, by the way, not significantly different from the role the Saints are said to play in human existence according to the doctrines of Roman Catholicism.
It is to honor both the idea of the wise
counsel of elders and as well
the ancestral heritage that whispers quietly in the awake soul, that
essay takes its name. To those readers who may unknowingly be confined
in the conceptual straight jacket of certain odd prejudices still
on the scientific world view, I counsel patience. Scientific reason has
an insufficient grasp of human nature; and without the cooperation of
Arts and Religion, science (Reason) itself cannot be a basis upon which
to restore health and vitality to our civilization. Do not make the
of prejudging this essay because of the implications of its unusual
Our world desperately needs wisdom, from whatever sources it may be
When I was sixteen years old, I first came awake to politics. The year was 1956 and Eisenhower and Nixon were battling Stevenson and Kefauver. Having already acquired a romantic vision of America, through reading the many books in the Landmark juvenile American history series, I was deeply disturbed by the rhetoric of that political campaign. It seemed empty of all the idealism I had, in my naivete, expected to find. Since that initial experience I have painfully watched as the dialogue of politics has further deteriorated. Unwanted and increasing despair has filled my soul every four years, while I listened to the dissonance in the song of many of our leaders as they mislead our people with lies, obfuscation, and meaningless irrelevancies.
The rightous Song of the Grandfathers is not to be heard in the political campaigns. There is no sense of the need for wisdom, no open council of elders; all is done in secret, with hidden motive and hidden purpose. We have so far forgotten it, so far lost wisdom from its central place in the ordering of our lives, that today all we really can feel is a subtle and anguished experience of emptiness. We feel the void, but cannot find our way to what is missing.
And not only the individual political leaders are unable to find their way to wisdom, the process itself works against wisdom's discovery. For true wisdom lies not just in ideas but in the means as well. It is the council of elders - the circle of wisdom-seeking speakers - that finds its way to the needed understanding. No one alone, no President, no Pope will enable us to meet and resolve our difficulties. It is the community of voices that must be heard, each to the other and each for all.
This essay is my response to this emptiness in our political dialogue and is driven by the pain, the rage and the dispair I feel as I experience our leader's amazing lack of responsibility, and the equal frustration I feel at the tolerance of far too many of our leading citizens toward the tragic and continuing deterioration of our political and social existence.
Fortunately, I am not an academic, a politician, a newsman or an otherwise practicing writer. Experience has taught me that concentration in a discipline often makes for a narrowness of vision, and an inability to see beyond the limits of one's assumptions. Thus, I believe the reader will find that, freed of the constraints of a single discipline, whatever this essay may appear to lack in scholarship or literary merit will be more than made up for in a richness of fresh ideas - a feast for the mind. Having spent over thirty-five years in the pure (almost mathematical and musical) contemplation of political and social realities, I have been quite surprised myself to discover what could be understood once the illusions and preconceptions inherent in our current political dialogue were set aside.
Sometimes I wish that I were more aggressive by nature, more inclined to forcefully sell what has taken so much pain and so many years to learn. But like the Grandfathers, I know too well that such methods in the end bear malformed fruit, if they bear any at all. How often have we heard that all real learning begins with the acknowledgement of ignorance; that the first task on the path to wisdom is not the acquisition of knowledge but the cultivation of humility? Not often enough it seems, when our culture wanders socially backward, entranced with pundits, columnists, and other talking heads, whose only purpose seems to be to fill the air with random noise and the confusion of shouted opinions. Point and counterpoint? One might as well dig wells beside the river.
In a delightful little movie called CHAC, the leaders of a small agricultural tribal village in central America become disatisfied with their own shaman's failure to end the drought they are experiencing. They keep giving him money, but all he does is stay drunk and make promises (sound like any politicians we know?). In the end the village elders call upon the services of a real wise man who lives alone in the mountains, and whom they fear.
He agrees to make it rain, but requires of the elders (and one young man) that they all travel together first to the "mother of waters". On their journey they stop for a night beside a lake, rich with fertile marsh land and filled with fish. The elders can't understand why the wise man has taken them there. Too obvious of course is the idea that the elders could simply move the village to the lake. The wise man cannot tell them this, if they cannot see it for themselves, which they do not. The best solution is then missed and the film ends with the rains made, but at an unnecessary and tragic cost.
If there is one characteristic of our
modern way of life, it is this
blindness to the obvious and the refusal to change patterns of
In the Song of the Grandfathers can be heard a vision of the means to
renewal and vitality; but who has will to hear and the courage to
"Washington is a town whose only industry is the making, shaping, processing, and marketing of words. Words to define how citizens should conduct themselves. Words to direct and limit industry. Words to calm friends and warn enemies. Words to throw at one another in the halls of Congress, or in front of devouring cameras. Words that in the end can kill, or impoverish, or imprison, or empower. And also recycled words - on editorial pages or inside the pages of legal briefs - dissecting other words, assessing implications, making distinctions, arguing their true meaning as if the words were holy writ. Words without poetry or music, whose mastery brings money and authority. (former Secretary of the Navy, James Webb, in his novel Something to Die For.)
"In the beginning was the Word..." (the
Gospel of St. John, 1:1)
Set out above are some apparently different ideas about the role of the word in human existence. They are not contrary, but represent rather a spectrum of points of view. In the first, we are given sage advice, should we wish to evolve ourselves or our civilization. In the second, we are shown (by one in a clear position to know) just how little this advice is acted upon in the centers of political power. In the third, we are invited to recognize a genuine mystery, something our materialistic age has far too strong a tendency to pretend does not exist.
In what follows, an attempt is made to show how, by a common effort to engage each other via the word, our people, in fact any people, can through effort and struggle bring about a healing of our mutual social and political existence.
The goal of political life ought to be the health and vitality of society, both inwardly in the individual soul and spiritual existence and outwardly in the shared material circumstances.
Toward this goal words are a power. But their power is not in the abstract symbolism of the letters and sounds. No. Words are a carrier wave for something else, for the light and the heart of the human being who uses the word. It is human intention that fills out the word and enables it to be so ripe with meaning. Human goodness, beauty and truth live in the words and through them bring about communication.
Words can bridge the gap from one human being to the other, light and warmth filled, sun-like in splendor. Words mediate true brother and sisterhood, true human communion and are the only means to real human community.
Who can doubt then that we desperately need today a more mature and moral application of the power of the word in human affairs? We have the old adage, "...that the pen is mightier then the sword." But we also live in a culture which says: "money talks" (and as well the counter-image: "talk is cheap"). The talk-dialogue of recent Presidential campaigns is a debasement of the power of the word, and reveals an almost total impoverishment of ideas among our political leaders. The disgusting, trivial and divisive themes of modern presidential politics are a thin mask covering a tragic spiritual emptiness.
These every-four-year rites ought to be a vital ritual of renewal and regeneration, but they continue to be a forum of senseless name calling and cheap and thoughtless criticism. Clearly, in politics, the word's potential for "poetry and music" has not even begun to be realized.
There can be no question that this empty rhetoric is one cause of the apathy and social unrest in our society. Our leaders have nothing real to say to us, nothing which touches the heart or illuminates the world.
It is my hope to fill in this void in the dialogue of modern politics with something at once real, yet also imaginative - poetic and musical, perhaps even magical. For we need more than just new ideas, new understanding, but something which stirs the will. If we would begin the healing of those social ills whose inflamed symptoms we saw in the riots following the Rodney King verdict in Los Angles, then we must find a common inspiration - become moved as a community. For it remains an essential truth that no idea that does not enter into the will can lead to change.
One voice, however, can do nothing. As
the reader will come to realize
at the end of this essay, it is the dialogue of the community, of "We
People...", which is both the first step and, at the same time, the
result. For the dialogue is itself both means and end, simultaneously.
Too long now we have thought and taught that the power of the people
in the vote. That is not true. The pollster, the spin doctor, and
campaign advertising director have always known that it is the content
of the dialogue as it evolves which is determinative. The vote is just
the exclamation point to a long, and sometimes exhausting public
For far too long the politicians and their hired help have controlled
content of this dialogue. And just that long have the processes of
been lame. It is only when the People speak that real wisdom enters in,
and the life of society evolves instead of degenerates.
The roots of these symptoms (such as the riots, past, present and future) are deep, not just in American history, but in the whole of Western culture. As a fundamental axiom, we should recognize that these social events are always signs of the intangibles of human psychology. This is the reason, for example, that the Great Society failed (in a sense), because it's authors did not acknowledge and did not think their way through to the real depths of the problem. Without a true perception of how social life is shaped, out of the hidden elements of our inner life, there is no possibility of bringing health and regeneration.
At the least this means that something has been missing in the political dialogue, in the words (and ideas) by which we seek to bring out of the facts some degree of understanding and insight. The rituals of thought, in which politicians seem today to move as in a dream, live on the surface of events, never even seeking the depths, never yearning really for the meaning. When the motive is solely the pursuit after power, what then can one expect? Truth and meaning do not yield themselves up to opportunism and greed.
Long experience has taught me that the quality of an answer is very much dependent upon the quality of the question, and as well the question's impelling motive. High quality questions are, therefore, difficult to discover; we must work to find them. Mere opinion, while often necessary, is inadequate here. In the beginning thinking must move from question to question, as if unravelling a complicated set of riddles arranged like boxes inside boxes inside boxes. This essay follows such a path, but it may only seem like a downward spiral, as if one was diving deeper, ever deeper into an ever darkening ocean of understanding. The truth can be found, if one has the discipline, by keeping the light of intuition cloaked until the yearning is ripe - until one is pregnant with the earnest desire to perceive and to know. In our insanely rushing civilization, our judgements tend to be formed too fast. Wisdom is only found with time and contemplation; it is the product of effort, of work and craft.
Several years ago, in the late 1970's, as I struggled to recover from the blows to my idealism delivered by the Nixon years, I came to a surprising, yet obvious, realization. I had been reading Robert Marcuse's One Dimensional Man. Suddenly I understood that behind all political points of view stood an idea of human nature, always present, although often expressed in differing and subtle degrees of explicitness. This meant, among other truths, that political disagreement most often had its roots in these different concepts of the human being. And, as a consequence, that any fundamentally true and practical political ideas had to be based on a similarly true and practical understanding of human nature.
Along similar paths I have encountered a multitude of questions. Some of the very best were asked by George Will in his 1982 book, Statecraft as Soulcraft, a beautiful (but ultimately futile) attempt to adorn the political dialogue with the more profound ideas of Western civilization (Will is one political writer with some instinct for the "Grandfathers" of Western Civilization). He asked: What does it mean to govern? Does government have any responsibilities toward the inner life of its citizens? And behind this question is: What are the fundamentals of human nature as these play themselves out in the political arena? At this level of inquiry we can begin to have a dialogue which is no longer superficial. Here is also the answer to the question we have about why our political leaders have been unable to solve most of our social problems. They have never wandered in serious play among these the foundational elements, and thus they build houses on sand. Let us consider some examples.
The political conservatives and the Christian fundamentalists talk today about the destruction of the family, and look to the changes in individual morality as the cause. Our problem is values (or the lack thereof) they say. These thoughts remain on the surface. The observations are correct, but they are only the perceptions of symptoms. Even the fledgling sociologist recognizes that the industrial revolution, and the changes in work life - i.e. economic forces, have had the effect of destroying, from the outside, the traditional structures of social order in Western cultures. The individual, the family and the community are victims, not cause. Robert Bly's Iron John , written from the special perspective usually only possessed by the poet (another ear attuned to the Grandfathers), begins to get at the depths, because of his use of the Imagination - of the eye of the heart.
What has Bly noticed? He observed the destruction of a certain natural stream of wisdom, which once had flowed from father to son as a consequence of the closeness of their lives. Industrialization fractured this relationship and interrupted this flow. What the father had to pass on to the son as an understanding of inner life, as an understanding of soul and spirit, and of the wisdom which makes communities possible, this became lost. This observation of Bly's is just one instance of many similar changes, as the last few hundred years of Western culture has seen the gradual, but unstoppable, degradation of the whole fabric of the social order.
As a consequence, the soul of the contemporary human being is lamed. Our civilization has fallen, not to invading masses bent on physical destruction and domination, but to the anti-spiritual conceptions of modern science and the anti-community effects of unrestrained greed. As a consequence of the first, the individual is taught a world view in which the human being is a mere animal, living in an uncaring cosmos. As a consequence of the second, he is valued only as a worker and a consumer. Nowhere is there any larger meaning, only various sterile pleasures of the moment to be consumed again and again.
This is what signifies the end of Western civilization. The significance of the human being, which stood at the beginning as a rising sun in the classic Greek civilization, has faded to nothing. The light by which the human being defined himself in a cosmos filled with Gods and the drama of Fate and Destiny, has turned to darkness. There is no longer any profound myth to fill the imagination of the growing soul; and modern art is filled as a consequence with rage, despair and spiritual emptiness.
Are the acts of the looters in Los Angeles uncivilized? Of course, but so are the acts of those who looted our savings institutions. The crimes are parallel both in consequence and in cause. In both the soul lacks the ability to be motivated beyond mere self interest and avarice, or to see itself as a constructive co-contributor to the greater whole. Yet the looting of the savings and loans is worse, for it required a sustained mood, a continuous cold and calculating attitude, which is all the more unconscionable. The lootings in Los Angeles were acts of the moment, fired by understandable anger and frustration (for the most part, not forgetting the many opportunists who took advantage of the chaos).
In both cases, however, something is missing if we do not strive for a deeper understanding of the psychological element. Merely to see this as a problem of failed morality is to be blind to much that needs appreciation and perception. In the absence of a concrete wisdom/knowledge of the interior spaces there is no hope of comprehension or mastery of these subterranean depths of the soul. It is just here, in a kind of arrogant ignorance of human inner life, that our 'civilization' rests unknowing amidst social chaos and debris.
No doubt more than symbolically, the inner city is likewise without order, without civilization. Notice how much we yearn for something in the politician, unable to define it, but soulfully aware of the lack. The leaders of our modern cultures have an emptiness - a strange inablity to articulate what we know in our hearts is wrong. Our communities are no longer led by real statesmen, we have no true kings or magicians seeing the whole, or thinking effectively of what our acts will mean for our children's children's children. The great majority of politicians have skill at getting elected - at the pursuit of power, yet have little sense of the deep movements of history, and almost no capacity to inquire after the mysterious and more difficult truths. But isn't this, too, a consequence of the demise of civilization. The soul of the politician is lamed as well.
Modern Western cultures exist under the sign of death. The wealth of meaning upon which civilization depends has rotted away. The labor saving machine turns out to wear a second face, for the machine, and the industrial milieu which dominates our way of life, is itself derived from knowledge based solely on the mastery of the lifeless.
Science, which promises so much, has only delivered into society's hands the means to manipulate that which is without life. And, while it seems that the genetic revolution may make possible much, an honest appraisal of the history of science and technology reveals that each life enhancing advance bears with it an equally deadly shadow side. Without some kind of change in the civilization out of which scientific knowledge becomes social fact, the genetic revolution promises both great good and great evil.
What else is industrial pollution but human evil made physically manifest? Our knowledge of the lifeless has seduced us into accepting and tolerating a constantly accelerating devouring of the planet, and the reduction through gross dynamic processes of much that is living, into more that is toxic and anti-life. It is not "better living through chemistry", because it is chemistry and the chemical corporations which produce products and "by-products" that never before occurred in nature. These twice dead substances cannot be made part of the living cycle of nature. While we made them in ignorance, to continue while knowing the realities, is to bequeath to our descendants a planet of death.
The same has occured in culture. Civilization
has died a death,
in part, from the inadvertent toxic side effects of the dawning
of the age of science and technology. Science has produced intoxicating
vistas of the deep past and even deeper future. Yet these images and
are empty of human meaning. Within them the human being has no
Between the "big bang" and the "heat death" of the universe, the
of humanity is irrelevant.
Now imagine some beings living in this little gap, and savor the outrageous arrogance of their pretence that from this tiny point of view and this tiny piece of the puzzle they have the capacity to come to knowledge of the mysteries of the deep past and future - the mysteries of time and space. That sane human beings spin such theories tells us something about human nature - something very important, but cannot in any circumstance be credited with much likelihood of successfully telling us something about either the origin or the consummation of human existence, much less the past and future of the Earth or the Heavens.
Most people do not realize how much speculation, and how many unprovable assumptions lie at the core of these cosmological ideas. To imagine that the human intellect can of itself form true pictures of the origin of the cosmos, is a vain undertaking. Yet, these speculative ideas dominate the thinking of modern civilized human beings and have made the older, longer held, religious conceptions matters of mere belief.
But, as Bly and others can show us, it is not through mere Reason (science) that we will be able to unlock the mystery which drives from soul depths the spasm of violence and hate that put Los Angles to the torch, and threatens every similar urban concentration on the planet. The Imagination - the eye of the heart is needed as well, for we need to see into the inside of people, not just observe the surface through the spurious craft of dead mathematical statistics. Civilization is dying, and it is this death and its significance we must fathom if we are to find our way into a human future.
And while the erosion of meaning which has resulted from the age of Science can be seen as a partial cause of the death of civilization, it is not the sole cause. The mystery is very deep indeed.
What does this mean? It means, at least, that unless there is a new understanding of, and some changes in, the interior (psychological) spaces of the human being, there is no hope to either redeem politics or to arrest the social decay in areas of concentrated living - the urban complexes with all their darkly rich vitality.
Society is alive. We have to think of it as just as complexly ordered and textured as the human organism. It has laws, vital processes, organs, conditions of disease and health, form, life and death. How can it be otherwise, given that society's - civilization's - substance is human beings and their myriad desires and dreams, their shadow and their light.
But perhaps we should take a deep breath
here, and pause and look a
little more closely at the problem we have been dancing around: the
of Reason (science) for the task of understanding society and
Many years ago novelist/scientist C.P.Snow warned of a dangerous development, the appearance of two cultures - a scientific culture and a literary culture - which had lost the ability to communicate with each other. More recently Alan Bloom in his The Closing of the American Mind, decried the dominance of the sciences over the humanities in the modern university. In truth I think neither of them went far enough. There is, to me, a psychological discontinuity in our 'civilization' (such as it is) unnaturally separating science, art (the humanities) and religion, into incommunicative - even war-making - camps.
Science, art and religion exist, in part, because something within the human being can only find expression in such activities. The human being is healthiest (psychologically) when these impulses are all fully developed and work in harmony with each other. For some this will be difficult to understand, since we do not often discuss problems such as these, except in certain limited circles. It is not easy, therefore, to write of them for a more general audience, because we are unused to this kind of thinking. Many may find such a discussion too metaphysical.
I take my lead here from S.T.Coleridge, and attribute the scientific impulse to the existence of Reason in the soul; to the artistic impulse, the existence of Imagination; and to the religious impulse the existence of Devotion. I relate these three (Reason, Imagination and Devotion) to the older ideas of truth, beauty and goodness. Reason is the path (capacity-faculty-means) to truth, Imagination the path to beauty, and Devotion the path to goodness.
If we look to an Emerson, a Teilhard de Chardin, or a Goethe, what else do we see but the natural genius of a fully developed and integrated soul life?
Nor are these ideas unknown within the scientific community, although not as consciously. Roger Penrose writes in his recent The Emperors New Mind: "It seems clear to me that the importance of aesthetic criteria applies not only to the instantaneous judgments of inspiration, but also to the much more frequent judgments we make all the time in mathematical (or scientific work). Rigorous argument is usually the last step! Before that, one has to make many guesses, and for these, aesthetic convictions are enormously important..."
Or Karl Popper, in his Realism and
the Aim of Science: "...I
think that there is only one way to science - or to philosophy, for
matter: to meet a problem, to see its beauty and to fall in love with
"...to meet a problem " (reason); "...to see its beauty..."
and, "...to fall in love with it;..." (devotion).
That civilization has fallen means that the wealth, the real wealth of any culture - its wisdom - no longer lives within the human soul in a vital and meaningful way. We live in a time of social chaos; the shared cohesive inner structure that formerly ordered social existence has died away.
Once children automatically acceded to their parents wishes. The daughter never expected to become more then what her mother was, a wife and a parent - a homemaker. The son took up the father's craft. The roles were defined. The values set by tradition.
Those who argue a return to this way of social existence delude themselves; and, it is certainly not being argued here that the past was in any way better (or worse) then the present or the coming future. We are only noting that there was order in the social life, and that this order manifested itself in the continuity of roles and values from one generation to the next (oversimplifying the situation of course). Such structure must eventually pass away. It is part of wisdom to know that "...this to shall pass.". Our question is more immediate. What do we do now that this is happening?
On a deeper level it is no wonder then that public debate is empty of meaning, because the soul (inner) life of the debaters is itself empty (without tradition or other significant socially cohesive structure). But even this understanding is inadequate, we need to go deeper. To say that civilization is dying is not adequate. How is it dying? Of what cause? What does the future hold?
The truth would never have occurred to me were it not for certain books it has been my fortune to encounter. From Owen Barfield (Saving the Appearances) and from Gottfried Richter (Art and Human Consciousness), I came to realize that a subtle but enormously significant change took place inwardly within Western mankind (at least) about the fifthteenth century.
Prior to that time, the nature of human consciousness was such that the individual felt himself to exist within the world, as a part of it. The world of the senses was not perceived as vividly and as concretely as we experience it today. Barfield writes about how the Scholastics, for example, had a participatory form of consciousness. After the change, after this form of consciousness passed away, the human being felt, for the first time, separated from nature, outside it as an observer. For conveniences sake we can call this change as one going from "original participation" (Barfield's term) to the "onlooker separation".
Several facts serve as signs of this change. One is the arrival of modern science itself. This new pattern of thinking is dependent upon the point of view that the world of objects exists independently of our own consciousness. If we read, carefully, the Scholastics and the early Greek philosophers we will find that they did not have such an experience of the world. Richter's work is especially helpful, as he observes how perspective first begins to appear in medieval paintings. There is originally no sense of space in them at all. Then all of a sudden, everywhere, space begins to appear, gradually to be sure, but slowly and surely, until paintings acquire a quite definite sense of dimension.
Even mathematics reveals this change, for only at this time is mathematics itself concerned with perspective, and a profound change occurs in geometry as the problem of infinity leads beyond the older Euclidian geometry to the extraordinarily beautiful and symmetric projective or synthetic geometry.
The same trail of change of consciousness can be found in language (c.f. Barfield's History in English Words). Writer Michael Dorris has also noticed this change (without really appreciating its significance) by writing in The Broken Cord of a native American language where it is not possible to say "I hit him" in it, only "we hit us". For not only did the earlier consciousness experience itself within the sense world, but also within each other. Our ancestors were less individuals and more the members of a group. One was John's son, or from a place (de Chardin) before one was an individual.
A considerable portion of what we must confront in modern existence can only be understood by appreciating this change and its significance in the general social milieu. The existence of a common experience of alienation, so often observed in the last thirty to forty years in modern culture (c.f. Reisman's classic, The Lonely Crowd), is due to this change. We have gradually become more individual, and this means more isolated.
Moreover, the older social forms were dependent upon the instinctive sense of community that went with the prior mode of consciousness. Such a strong sense of individuality as we now possess, and assume our natural right, would have been intolerable in an "old world" village.
This can be said in summation, although it must admit of being unjustifiably brief. A general change of consciousness occurred around the fifthteenth century, an evolution of consciousness. Modern science arose from this change, as did our present sense of individuality. A side effect of the pursuit of science has been the creation of a material world view, a view empty of the older spiritual conceptions. For many, the human being is no longer an intentional creation of a deity, but rather an animal, whose existence is an accident in a universe ruled by chance.
The effect of all this is to erode the
social order. Marriage, family,
community no longer have the meaning they once had. Where before the
sublimated himself to these forms, today he would destroy them rather
sacrifice his "I"ness. Not just the forms have become weak, but the
superstructure - the common world view - has itself passed away. And
process, this death of the prior civilization - the prior
inside - has made possible the most remarkable fact of all.
The pro-life movement (in large part) derives its social force from adherence to the idea of a set moral code, a known standard to which the individual must conform. The pro-choice side derives its social force from an inner necessity to exercise the newly emerging sense of individual conscience. These two then represent the clearest possible example of the clash in modern life between the psychological past and the psychological (soul-lawful) future.
The last vestiges of the older (dying) social order can be found in the idea: do the right thing; something we might have heard from the lips of Ronald or Nancy Reagan. Here the moral judgment turns to the community for a standard. The embryonic new social order (in the process of being born) can be found in the idea: do your own thing; a simplistic sense of the emergence of individual conscience as appeared in the turmoil of the Sixties.
With this observation we enter into a new problem. That civilization can die is now clear. But what happens next? Does the Phoenix arise from the ashes? How does this happen? What facts can be noticed and what do they suggest about the future?
The best idea (for the purpose of perceiving the dynamics and nuances of this change) I have discovered is that which Goethe found so crucial in his biological and zoological studies: the idea of metamorphosis. Here is the organic law - the principle of life as process - in its most evolved form. As we noted earlier, the social order - the social organism -must have characteristics similar to the realm of the living in nature; as its substance (as it were) is made up of the psychological realities of human beings: thoughts, dreams, desires, impulses of will, emotions, character etc. It is not the physical bodies and their properties that dominate the nature of the social order, but the inner elements.
The most fruitful example of metamorphosis which I have found is the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. After the caterpillar spins its cocoon, it essentially dies. The cells lose all differentiation. There is no apparent form, no order, no organs. All seems chaos. When the butterfly begins to come into being, there appear shadows on the outside surface of the cell mass, and inwardly individual cells begin to again differentiate. It is as if the chaos is being sculpted from the outside inward, while simultaneously being reorganized from the inside outward. Somehow a higher ordering principle has taken hold of the chaos and transformed it.
It is this picture which I have found to be most useful in appreciating the ongoing transformation in civilization - in social existence - which we all are living amidst. The change of consciousness from original participation to the onlooker separation lead to a sense of alienation from one another. The ideas born out of the new science which sprang from this change have lamed the ability of the older religious ideas to contribute to a cohesive social organism. The technological revolutions which followed have contributed to the destruction of family and community life. This weakened social structure then no longer was capable of providing moral guidance, so that an independent conscience became a psychological possibility. All this has lead to almost complete social chaos, which we observe most starkly today in the inner city.
Cultural traditions are no longer a social force. The individual must find his own way. And if we are awake to what this really means, we can see that only such a process - the creation of social chaos - makes possible the development of a free conscience in the individual human being. Consider, for example, the current cultural clash between the Americans and the Japanese. In the cultural East, the necessity of conforming to the group standard still carries great force, still has the power to bring about conformance. For the American, whose culture at present is essentially non-culture, this is (for the most part) no longer possible.
Here then lie the seeds of the future. Civilization, that is the past social order, was dependent upon tradition for its character, meaning, force and form. This past has fallen away. Where once the inner life was ordered by church, school, family and community, now it is the human being himself who must discipline and order his own soul-lawful (psychological) existence. Whatever qualties that are to inhabit the next civilization must flow from that interaction which occurrs between the individual and his conscience. Formerly this occurred mainly between community and individual, with the individual being acted upon by community. Now it must flow in the opposite direction. Out of the interaction between the individual and his free conscience must flow social creative forces toward community.
This is the nature of the metamorphosis
- the transformation from the
dying civilization to the new one. Goethe's aphorism is most
he called such a process: "dying and becoming". The old had to
away in order for the new to arise. Here then is a deep mystery. For
the changes in the inner nature of the human being and their reflection
in society, begin to reveal intrinsic purpose and meaning. Moreover,
and meaning which is not consciously engendered by mankind, but which
from some inner wellspring of our nature.
As Will noted in his book (Statecraft as Soulcraft), the tendency in recent years, to the extent it has actually been articulated, has been to practice governing as if individual self interest was the only motive which one could count on. And, even this idea has disappeared into the background of another idea, namely: free market competition. This last is the icon of our time, so revered in fact that its use is now advocated not only in the sphere of economics, but in education, culture, and government services. We often have presidential candidates trying to tell us that only by running government as a business can our problems be solved. This thinking is not only wrong-headed, it is dangerous as well; for it makes of governing a people an act of bottom line computation, rather then the grand and wise psychological and social art it very much needs to be. Truly truly Will is right: statecraft must be soulcraft.
It certainly is a truth that individual initiative is better then compulsion. We have a healthier society if people choose to act in certain ways, rather than it being required of them. But it is a very prejudicial view of the human being, to believe that the only motive that can be counted upon is self interest. Few parents can fill, in even a minor way, the parental role through mere self interest. No true teacher, nor any real clergyman is motivated by self interest. And a genuine leader, a statesman? One does not serve, truly serve a People, through self interest.
Recall the idea of social existence as a
living organism - as something
partaking of the qualities of life. Among many other aspects, this fact
requires of us that we recognize that any change must be organic as
We cannot just impose anything on the social chaos. What is
to emerge must be related to the past. The change from community based
moral standards to individual free moral deeds is a good example.
has turned inside out, as it were. But it is not unrelated to what has
gone on before.
First we need a picture of the process of change which led to the current situation. Four hundred years ago in Western civilization, one could find a stable community usually in the form of a village. As we have seen, the change of consciousness and the resulting change in world-view coupled with the industrial revolution has dissolved this once cohesive social structure. Following this initial condition, as people more and more concentrated themselves in the cities, neighborhoods arose, which retained certain social similarities to the village: common points of view and language, and large extended families. But this social structure was only transitory as the various forces (both inner and outer) dissolved it as well.
Now we are brought to a condition of complete social chaos. There is no community anymore; only a collection of individuals and their raw social needs. Drugs and lawlessness grow like weeds in such a social environment. Youth gangs, which seem so terrible, possess an odd but instinctive wisdom. Without a community around it as a support, the family itself is unable to hold its center. Young people are then drawn to whatever meets their social need. This is the gang's power. It is a naturally arising urban tribal response to the absence of civilization in the inner city.
Initially it was thought in social work circles that the gangs should be destroyed, but now there is a dawning realization that here is a valid social form, a niche in the social ecology is being filled.
We need to see past the negative media image and realize that this sub-culture is as much a product of the decayed nature of the social organism, as it is a product of the individual moral vacuum which accompanies the loss of civilization. Many of our young people find their only meaning here; and if we are to fulfill our responsibilities toward them, we must make possible their discovery of a more socially creative meaning. And, while what they find, they will find of their own initiative, we should never cease to try to shape the possibilities, if we are wise enough. To me the implication of this is that social policy should support this form - the gang, but in such a way that it's further evolution (and make no mistake, it will continue to grow) will take a socially healthy course. Consider this possibility:
As a consequence of the looting of the S & Ls, the taxpayer [not the government, which only represents - stands in for - the citizen] has become the owner of substantial quantities of urban and suburban real estate. [Here the word reveals its misuse. We should write and speak always of the people as the owners of government land. Were our use of language more carefully poetic and musical (magical) in its articulation of certain realities, politicians and bureaucrats would be less likely to forget the obligations of trust.]
What do we do is to take some of this [property of the people - didn't our taxes pay for the bailout?] material wealth and make the gangs the stewards of it. We don't sell it to them; rather we grant them the opportunity to make creative use of it, such that it meets their neeeds. As long as their stewardship is creative and socially positive, they retain the right to determine the nature of its use.
Several returns for the whole society can flow from this. For example, we create a social pathway toward legitamacy for something which may well be willing to give up its outlaw status, especially if such strings as must necessarily be attached do not take the form of knotted and binding vows. There must be no quid pro quo or we will destroy from the start that individual initiative we hope to see channeled into socially productive activities. In a sense we make a very much needed act of faith. It is this risk which makes possible the necessary transformation. What we hope for - individual social responsiblity - can't be forced.
Now we have created a place for this community to use, freely as it chooses. Next we offer services to this community in the sense of support for education, health, and business creation. But we do not sell these services or otherwise demand they take a certain shape. We say to the community: "What do you need?"; and then respond to that self-defined need.
Some will, of course, find the idea of granting anything to gangs of lawless youth an abomination. The reader needs to realize, however, that this is a worst-case example, and the underlying principles remain valid. In a sense we are taking care of a certain urban organism which has appeared spontaneously in the chaotic social decay, and feeding it, seeking what yet lies hidden in its nature by encouraging its further growth. We can't know in advance what form it will take, weed or flower. But we ought to know by now that attempts to kill it have only maintained its oultlaw nature - efforts at elimination offer no oppurtunity for a positve social transformation.
It ought to be obvious that individuals in the inner cities cannot contribute to the social order if they have no real power to determine the most basic facts of their own existence. If they have no real poltical power, no control over their eessential needds, if they are constantly made dependent, then individual initiative is destroyed, aborted before it can be born. It is no wonder then that human desire appears in such a social environment only in the form of drug and alcohol dependencies, casual sex. AIDS, immorality, fractured families and all the terrible realities for which some want to soley blame the individual.
It will help to use our imaginations here, not our prejudices - our prejudgments. The gang is a viable social unit. It exists because it fills a human need. It individuates itself from the general social chaos, and positions itself for survival. But the individuals within it are not evil, nor unredeemable. They are quite capable, given the opportunity, of seeing that some acts are unwise, and others more life-sustaining. At present the surrounding social organism pushes this community away, and insulates itself from this outlaw social form. What I am suggesting is that the outside community take a different posture. Rather then push away, we create a path, a social space into which the outlaws will want to grow, but in ways that are less harmful to the rest of us. In this way we honor their humanity. We give the gift of trust, which is a spiritual nutrient of extraordinary potency.
We can also recognize that this example - the gang - is the most difficult to accept because of the negative media image through which we normally behold it. Other urban social forms are less negative in this way. Homeless organizations, for example, will also respond to receiving nurturing opportunities. Access to property for which the only expectation for the retention of control is a stewardship expectation, offers of services to meet self-determined need, and willingness to respond to what is asked for - these foods can support the growth of viable communities in the seats of urban decay. These growing communities, then, have the opportunity to take hold of the decay from within and transform it.
The decay in the inner city, both physical and spiritual, can only be overcome by individuals standing inside the dynamic social conditions. No local, state or federal agency or legislature can by fiat, law or regulation do what must be done by individuals out of their free moral deeds. This is why social policy must support these new social forms as they appear amidst the chaos and debris.
There is a tendency for social policy to try to preserve the past, for example, to try to only give support to families with blood ties. Thus, following the Sixties, as many people tried to form non-blood social forms (whether communes or simply older fixed income people sharing the same house or apartment) the policy makers did not support these new forms of association. Concern was for an ideology, rather than with giving support to the wise new ways people found for solving their own problems.
This is, of course, one of the principle difficulties of our time: the failure to appreciate that the past is dead, and that the future will travel new paths, break new ground. In a sense, the intrinsic wisdom of people meeting life's problems will always outrun the ideologies of society's institutional thinking, whether church or state.
We cannot, from the outside, provide what instead must flow from the individual as an ordering principle into the social anarchy (chaos) of our areas of concentrated living. We can only nurture and support that which is emerging. Nor can we move into such areas of decay merely economic positives, because the decay is due to a natural weakness in the soul, inside the human being, which has accompanied the death of 'civilization'. Let us consider this more closely.
The human being becomes what he or she does in accord with natural talent and opportunity. Interfere with one and you inhibit the other. If upbringing and education fails to help the individual unfold natural talent, then opportunity will avail little. If society fails to create possibilities (such as through full employment), then education is of little use. And I have in mind here not just the poor urban dweller, but the many graduates of our higher institutions who are unable to find work in their chosen fields.
And while we know that lack of jobs is a problem, yet it is not the economic aspect of the job that is the core difficulty. It is the inward personal satisfaction, the positive sense of self, of control over one's life, the sense of meaning in all its manifestations, which is missing. Work feeds this need for meaning. So does viable community, religion, art and the myriad other aspects which make a cohesive culture or civilization. We must nurture all aspects of the emerging new civilization if we want social health to return to the inner city.
The faith and trust we place in the
individual in these areas of decay
are essential nutrients for social health. These are like the vitamins
without which the human organism cannot live. The social organism
needs social policies which enable the individual to take a
of the chaos and ruination of the urban environment and bring to it
forces for renewal.
Again the S & L crisis provides an oddly timely opportunity. Many small farms, marginal in an economic sense, have been abandoned. Here again are properties which have come to belong to the people, as our taxes (and the debts we unjustly bequeath to our children) have been used to save the nation from further economic collapse.
I have no doubt that were these rural properties made available to urban dwellers, as long as support is given for the educational needs required by such a transformation of one's way of life, these could again support viable rural communities. The tendency to transform rural areas into agri-business must be arrested, and a real agri-culture given an opportunity for rebirth. We will gain social health, and inner strength as a People, if the exodus from rural to urban areas can be reversed.
Those who follow these matters are aware that the demands of consumers for natural foods - organic/biodynamic foods - is on the increase, as is the acreage devoted to growing these healthier foods. Moreover, it is also well understood that the mechanization and chemicalization of farming has lead to an ever increasing cycle of the application of death forces (raw chemicals as fertilizers - nitrates etc. and as well the toxics used to curb the excessive insect populations that have accompanied the over fertilization) bringing annihilation to the micro-organisms and beneficial insect life - slaying the living soil. This as well is a unwise tendency that must be arrested.
The long term effects of agri-business (as opposed to agri-culture) on the vitality of the land are more than undesirable. They are unconscionable given that we have alternatives. The problem with the alternatives, however, is that they are labor intensive. Farming, which will no longer rely on vast quantities of petro-chemicals (gas for machinery, artificial fertilizers, toxins for insect and disease control), needs a large labor pool in order to be economically viable. For these reasons, it is clear that the healing of the land from the abuses of monoculture and agri-business goes hand in hand with the social healing that will be connected to reversing the flow of people into our large cities.
Social policy then needs to support the
growth of embryonic communities
(gangs, homeless organizations etc.), as well as decrease the excessive
concentration by making possible a return to rural forms of living. But
such activities as these (and others like them), by themselves are
The transformation of a dying civilization into a living one requires
not only at the bottom of the social structure, but at the top as well.
But before we can examine that factor, we should pause and consider the
significance of the suburb as well as the latest urban trend, the
Edge City, as described by Joel Garreau (see his book of the
name; an "edge city" is a highly devioped suburban area, usually
in shape, which follows or attaches itself to major highway
Suburbs are essentially physical forms arising from two complementary pyschological impulses. One is that of self interest. From this arises an impulse to turn farm land, through processes of sub-division, into a commodity for purposes of making money. This links up with a second impusle, the fleeing of the degeneration of the inner city. Profit making always depends upon meeting a need. The fracturing of the urban environment into a dying inner core, and only slightly more vital surrounding suburbs, is the consequence of two additional interrelated factors: one - the failure to plan the living environment of our citizens with any degree of wisdom; and two - blind economic forces, which when otherwise unrestrained go simply where the profit is, regardless of the social consequences.
Edge City is similarly generated; that is it arises from unrestrained economic forces, not from the application of human intelligence to the problems of social existence. The developer's question is: where can I buy cheap and where can I sell high? It is not: how may I create a physical environment which supports sane human interaction?
Now these unrestrained economic forces are again a symptom of the degeneration of civilization. With the lessening of the community's ability to bring about conformance to a given moral standard, the individual's tendency to excess is made easier. What "I" want, becomes far more important then what "we" need. It is a situation out of balance, badly, perhaps even mortally, out of balance.
[Where once the Grandfathers might have been heard, the steady demise of Western Civilization has produced a situation, where not only are our Elders no longer listened to with respect, but they are presummed to be responsible for the decay and debris. As individuals we run every which way, content in our freedoms and asleep as to the consequences.]
What is needed is leadership which sets a moral course. We need for individuals to appear at the top of our social existence (as political leaders, as business leaders) who appreciate that unrestrained self interest is the worst kind of example. Leaders must be disciplined, moderate, prudent, honest, etcetera - that is virtuous. Acceptance of a two million dollar speaking fee by an ex-president of this nation, excessive CEO compensation, diversion of capital resources into 60 million dollar works of art(?) - these and similar acts by our leading elites reveals that there is little, if any, sense of proportion among those who seek to rule.
The ethical behavior of those who pursue power and wealth gives evidence of a culture-wide madness. That such has too frequently been the rule from historical times in no way changes the diagnosis, or the prognosis. Our leaders lack the ability to recognize the fundamental hypocrisy of criticizing the "looters" in the inner city, while at the same time overlooking that most concentrated wealth results from illegal and immoral pursuits, and very seldom from the pursuit of virtue. ("Behind every great fortune, lies a great crime" - Balzac) The more civilization is imprinted - is given form and order - by such weak moral qualities, the more degeneration and decay will arise.
And when we consider that most of these political and economic leaders have received degrees from our universities and colleges, we can now see how little 'civilization' we really have. An education, which does not result in an appreciation of the absolute necessity of the development of virtue as the fundamental prerequisite for responsible public life, is no education at all.
We are right, however, in recognizing that this 'situation' is not surprising, given history and human nature. Our problem is more on the order of appreciating the magnitude of the crisis, and the meaning of the problem. That a group of merchant princes groomed an actor to rise eventually to the American Presidency through an outrageous falsification and control of image-based media, shows not only a moral breakdown at the top, but also how easily we are manipulated by the clever (but grossly unwise) intelligence of unrestrained self interest. And, we participate in this defeat by the overreaching of concentrated wealth, in part, because the act of citizenship has decayed as well. The voter brings little effort to his responsibilites, and as a consequence almost no wisdom. If my thought, as a citizen, is to ask only what government can do for me, without any sense of the needs of the whole people, then my efforts only led to more disunity, and therefore more decay and chaos.
Just as with the previous
transformations, the appearance of moral chaos
at the top (the ruling elites) and of excessive self interested
at the bottom, reveal not just a low point, but a turning point as
Here again is something which contains the potential to undergo
to turn inside out and lead to a redemption rather than a
degeneration. Finding these transformative 'turning points' will not be
This general proposition contains several sub-delusions. First we act as if the President was the manager of the economy, a role presidents seem to agree to pursuing, but which in truth they are functionally incapable of sustaining. The President does not control Congress, the Federal Reserve, the CEO's of our major corporations, the labor unions, or the habits of consumers; much less the economic activities of other nations. All of the political dialogue which proceeds as if the President can "heals or "set right" or "turn around" the economy is delusional to the point of a kind of generalized civic psychosis.
Whether such a proposition appears in the editorial of a major newspaper, or comes out of the mouth of a recognized economic theorist, it remains false. The President does not run the economy, although it is possible for him (and his co-opportunists) to contribute more easily to its ruin (witness the Reagan administration), than to its health.
The fact that such a proposition inhabits our political dialogue does tell us something, however. It shows us a general characteristic of human psychology, which the 12-Step people call "denial". Everyone who blames the President for the economy is effectively denying their own culpability. The rise in consumer debt, with its buy now pay later, psychology, reveals a nation habituated to instant gratification. The junk bond debacle on Wall Street, as well as the S & L crisis, points toward a "anything for a buck" attitude among business people. Congress's acceptance of massive spending and its cdrollary, an unconscionable national debt, points to a "shove it under the carpet and forget it" mentality in the politician. The leveraged buyout orgies unveil a "lets play the game and "damn the consequences". Everywhere we turn, human excess plays into the economy, and the President is not, and cannot be made, responsible for these deeds.
Nor can the question be put: what then should the President do? For there is first a great work needed doing, which is the disentangling of the dialogue from such illusions. This is a first task that our leading elites owe us. The President, the political parties, the CEO's, the labor leaders - all must own up to their individual part. Even the Press has a duty here, to untrack itself from the many impossible conceptions it weaves so easily into our every-four-year rite of national rhetoric.
That a President may lead the way by refusing to accept this illusory mantel (management of the economy) would certainly help. But such an act would have to be meet with equal candidness on the part of many others, including the ordinary citizen who must begin to rouse himself from an over-long civic nap.
Another sub-delusion of the same false general proposition (that our ills will be healed by changing the face in the White House) is that: the President should articulate a "national vision". While it may have been historically true that leaders could inspire a whole people, under the present psychological realities - especially the dominance of individuality over community, this is again something the man or woman in the White House cannot be expected to realize. Under the rule of today's individualism you could approach almost any aimless crowd and suggest a direction and more than half would suddenly have opposite opinions, whether they'd thought about it before or not.
This is not to say, however, that there is no higher goal which lies latent in the American Soul. Rather the President's responsibility here is not to 'invent' a goal, but rather to see into the depths of our Character, and then articulate what yet remains hidden. When this is done correctly, most of us will acknowledge it, because something has been pointed to of which we are already instinctively aware.
It is also frequently said that the American President is the leader of the free world. But this is again an essentially false proposition, and again sets before us an illusory picture of political and social realities.
For example, the excessive reliance on poll-taking as an element of policy formation, means that the politician is really a follower in a fundamental sense. The poll provides a superficial view of the mass-man, and the political leader then sets his ideological compass according to this view. Moreover, the motive for such an approach is really the pursuit of power, rather then any attempt to find some wisdom in the people according by which to guide the ship of state. For these reasons it is more accurate to say that the American President can dominate the Media in the free world to some extent; and therefore has a certain effect. As well, he or she does have a certain narrow flexibility in the course that is set in terms of policy: but under present modes of political practice, this is severely constrained by the statistical poll-driven ideological assumptions.
As a consequence, it is really pure hyperbole to suggest that he or she is the "leader" of the democratic nations. What ought to be a free and statesman like judgement is instead coerced by the will to power and its dependence upon maintaining a false ideological consistency. In these circumstances there is no room to meet the real world, as it is. Instead, the American Presidency takes a course which steers itself by political expediency - a method which can never succeed, because the real world cannot be found in either opinion polls or ideological views.
Bush's production of the international coalition for the Gulf War is a good example of this failure. And, of any event since the fall of Russian communism, this act speaks most terribly of the unfortunate power concentrated wealth has over world history at this time. Here two powers combined. Behind the scenes the elites acted so as to punish the overreaching of one who normally "played the game", but this time stepped over an invisible boundary. On the surface the President dominated the Media and created a certain false picture of the meaning of events, thus manufacturing war hysteria which then lead to the unconscionable destruction that was visited upon an essentially helpless people.
Media dared not recognize the real causes, which had little to do with ideals, and a great deal to do with raw political power. One wonders whether Media is so foolish as to believe its own editorials and headlines. Again, we are made to realize the ease with which the American Presidency can bring wreak and ruin; effects which have nothing to do with leadership, with social responsibility, with creative moral will, and much more to do with avarice, will to power and pure political egotism.
Yet, in the same way that a certain potential exists for the American President to articulate the hidden higher purposes of the American People, so the American President can be a voice for something yet unspoken in the relations of nations. But this again cannot be a personal vision; rather it must only be the result of an inner effort to perceive the deeper movements of modern history and direct our attention to the more healthy and viable pathways as these unveil themselves in the phenomena of the times.
Moreover, it may well be that such tasks
as these (and others related
to them), will have to first be carried outside of the office of
The processes by which our higher leaders are brought to their
and tasks is itself flawed. A recent election clearly revealed this in
the voting patterns in the primaries where it was obvious that most
did not find any of the major candidates appealing. This was then
by the oddly temporary appearance of a third party candidate whose
popularity further verified this observation. The People are looking
something and not finding it. Why is this? And, what are they really
The great majority of Americans are caught up in some vision of the materialism of the age. We look for satisfaction in things, because we are not yet spiritually mature enough, as a people, to realize that it is the quality of the intangibles in life that is lacking. The absence of these intangibiles (which is due in most cases to the fallen nature of our civilization) then becomes the driving itch for more and more seeking after the sterile pleasures of sensual and material pastimes.
Our material satisfactions are then tied (in our minds) to the cycles of the economy. Therefore, we seek to have our political leaders fix the economy, because we misapprehend the causes of our dis-satisifcation. Yet, even this is false, witness the so-called Reagan boom. All the economic indicators were positive, but the whole decade was characterized on the level of intangibles, by greed, selfishness, and self-centeredness, with the consequence that the rot and decay in the quality of life continued. The root elements, the lack of civilization - of a wise ordering of our social existence - remain seriously diseased.
The truth is that a healthy economy is not the prelude to a healthy social order. Rather it is the reverse that is the rule. First we heal the social order, first we rediscover the role of wisdom in the ordering of existence, and then the economic problems will begin to resolve themselves for we will have by this (seeking after wisdom) finally begun the healing of the moral chaos which so distorts the distribution of material resources.
We have been holding on to certain questions: What does it mean to govern? Does government have any duties toward the inner life of the citizen? And what of human nature? What characteristics of this may we rely upon in the redemption of political existence?
I have been, up to this point, trying to dissolve the misconceptions we hold concerning social and political realities, and to substitute a few alternative pictures - idea complexes. In this process, I have suggested that we cannot look to the Presidency, the political parties, or the elites of concentrated wealth for resolution. But where then do we look? Who is to carry out the needed renewal and regeneration?
Who else but "We, the People..."
Perhaps it will help to consider the following: Is there any reason for believing that the American democratic experiment has reached its high point? On the contrary, might it not be quite possible that the current state of affairs is only one stage of something which has yet much unrealized further potential? Is it not possible that America is yet young, and that as we mature as a People, it is the structure and character of this development-to-be that will stamp and form the next phase of civilization?
With the transition from the old to the new worlds, we mark the end of Western Civilization and the beginning of what the future may well call the American Civilization. Already English, in particular American idiomatic English, has become the international language; what some call the language of money. Television, film, rock and roll, blue jeans - the list is endless of those aspects of new world culture which are being imitated and adopted everywhere as the information age dissolves the barriers of time and geography that once separated individual cultures.
This idea is disturbing only if we focus on the present, and assume that the raw nature of our youth is all that we will have to give to the world. But just as we have noted the dying away of the old, we have to expect the birth of the new. It is not what America is now that is crucial. No. It is what America is to become.
This is the hope and the danger. The
question is: what qualities yet
hidden in the American Character are to emerge in the future? Will
be balance between the light and the dark? We cannot, as far as I know,
overbalance in the direction of the light, but we can slide too far
the shadow. Will our citizenry remain asleep, unconscious and immobile?
Will the excesses of concentrated wealth and materialism - that is real
evil - become the formative core of a new civilization? The
and the risks are immense. The habits of the past are a great weight.
it is just these facts which make for so much hope, because it is the
and the potential loss that reveal the true, but latent, promise. We
still in the infancy of the American Dream - the child is not the
In answering this question, we should begin by recalling that the American form of government emerged from a situation of crisis. While our democracy (in fact republic, but that truth has been lost over the years of superficial political rhetoric) was created in the shape of a grand idea, its origin in the realm of human motive was in response to an overreaching of the English aristocracy. First came the necessity - the continuously increasing tyrannical acts of the English King; then came the idea - the how to form a government for a truly free people.
Unfortunately, this act could not be completed. Our founders were able to accomplish much; but while they could devise a means to be free of hereditary aristocracy, they could not protect us from the eventual overreaching of the successor aristocracy - the merchant princes. John Adams wrote then: "We are free today substantially, but the day will come when our Republic will be an impossibility. It will be an impossibility because wealth will be concentrated in the hands of a few."
We live today in that time anticipated by Adams. We suffer the tyranny of concentrated wealth (are not our major symptoms economic -homelessness, joblessness, excessive taxes, inadequate health care?). The difference between the overreaching of the hereditary aristocracy of political power (the King) and the overreaching of the aristocracy of concentrated wealth is the difference between a direct and obvious tyranny and one that is indirect and hidden. We can see the advantages and privileges that accrue to concentrated wealth, but cannot see the means by which they have enslaved us.
Obviously, if the few have more, the many will have less. What is not understood is how the political power, that has resided in the hands of concentrated wealth for many years, has been able to form the economic order so that all advantage in economic affairs resides with those who already have. The U.S. Constitution forbids a tax on income, but we have come to have one (it required a constitutional amendment). Central Banking (the Federal Reserve System) permits the creation of wealth out of nothing, wealth which immediately then belongs to those who already have. The change from a silver or gold standard to purely paper money, backed by nothing, enhances this power many times over. All this has been accomplished consciously by the hand of concentrated wealth, for their own advantage, and through means which kept the real consequences from being understood.
The result is an economic system which claims for itself the mantle of free enterprise, but which in fact is just the opposite. This system produces an ever increasing underclass, which is forced to live on the garbage and debris of a society unable to understand the causes of such suffering. This system produces a middle class that lives from paycheck to paycheck, a delicate situation which can easily fall apart sending another family tumbling into the abyss of poverty and dependence. This system sustains a culture addicted to drugs, shopping, and political apathy. An invisible dragon sits astride a hoard of American material wealth, consciously weaving illusions about the real nature of our political and economic existence through its control of media and information.
Is there a way out?
As long as government is just reacting to various crises, then it is creating nothing. There is a grave difference between merely being able to retard the onset of chaos, and actively and intentionally founding a new civilization. And, in America, where is the root power of government? In the People.
Do we merely react? Are we just against, but never for? The chronic civic sleep of the ordinary citizen will be broken in either of two ways. One is that things become so painful, ignoring them becomes impossible. The other involves a self-generated effort. Obviously the latter is preferable. What I have come to believe is the major inhibitor, of such a self generated effort, is the absence of a common understanding, a common idea of what is really wrong and what can in fact be done, successfully, to bring health and renewal. We have the will, but we lack the common vision, and we look (out of understandable habit) to the political leaders, not realizing that the fall of civilization has incapacitated them.
Here then we have the seed thoughts for perceiving certain necessary transformative turning points.
As Western civilization was beginning to end, American democracy was born; an experiment which succeeded in setting limits to hereditary aristocracies, but which failed to protect us from the overreaching of concentrated wealth. Thus, we have before us the task demanded by the time, and which will involve the further evolution of the American experiment. We must find the means to set limits on concentrated wealth and unrestrained self interest, while not diminishing our freedoms, but in fact enhancing them.
Moreover, we must realize that these goals can only be accomplished by another further evolution, one which involves a much more conscious application of the fundamental principles of a way of governing which finds its power and legitimacy in the people themselves. The truth is that our power as a people lies not in the vote itself, but in the creation of that very thing we have been falsely yearning to find in a political leader: the articulation of a vision. We must ourselves, as a common act, create that vision. We will find our goal, not in the end result, but in the means. In the act of reaching for a community ideal, a common vision, we take hold of the fundamental powers of government, because we ourselves determine the answers to the questions: what does it mean to govern? Does government have any responsibility toward the inner life of the people?
We are that government ourselves. We are only truly self-governed when we are engaged in a dialogue with each other - in the act of defining ourselves and our ideals. This is the crucible for the forging of a new civilization. Everything depends upon our learning to move out of the passivity of our individuality, and into the painful but necessary dialogues of a community. We must become whole and find that for which we will stand together, or we will not be able to overcome the excesses of the age.
But we are many: individuals, races, cultures. How do we find the whole?
As a youth, I was given the image of the melting pot. The confluence of the different races and national identities would disappear into some kind of intermingling of blood and culture. While this does appear to have happened with many of the European immigrants to America, it is clearly not so as regards the more stark differences of skin color and religion. Lately, I have heard more and more of the image of the mosaic. That America will find a way for the differences to abide with each other, in peace and mutual cooperation, resulting in some kind of marvelous, ethnically varied, work of art.
There is something here worthy of a deeper appreciation. The genius of history has set before the America-yet-to-be an extraordinary challenge. Regardless of the morality of the means, the fact is that history has moved so as to bring to our shores all the great variety of peoples from all over the world. No other nation has before it the vital necessity of finding a means for such differing peoples to live with each other.
Students of the patterns in individual biography are aware that character is most often formed by the overcoming of adversity. This is one of the mysteries of life; that our higher qualities find their formative impulse in difficulties and trials. This is no less true for nations.
If we step back from our racial troubles, and take a more objective long view, we ought to be able to see that there is to be no easy way to racial, ethnic or religious tolerance and cooperation. It has been, is, and will be a hard and stony path. Only through pain and failure and unceasing struggle will we find the answers. But just here we discover something quite remarkable.
The genius of history has writ it large and bright. It is the destiny of America to be the People of Peoples. "...and crown thy good with brotherhood..." No other People has received such a task. And, I believe, we will find that no other People has been gifted in its natural endowments with just those capacities needed to meet such a challenge.
The American Character ought not to be considered a fixed thing, something already determined. We have too much yet to experience. We are not old like the cultures of the East, much less the European cultures. In truth we do not lack culture, we merely haven't got around to creating its full flowering.
Nor are the roots of this embryonic Character to be found in the old world. Careful observation of the cultural dynamics of America will reveal that culture is destroyed here. Just as civilization must go through dying and becoming, so it is that the social chaos of our age has the effect of washing out of those who immigrate to our shores their past cultural heritage. The imported cultures must die before the indigenous one can be born.
Now this is not something best done overtly, such as by passing laws against the speaking of languages other than English. Such activity misses the whole point. What dies away dies because it is abandoned. It is only for the immigrant to decide what of the past to let go of and what to preserve. In this way a very wise pruning occurs. Each immigrating people then brings to our shores gifts of inestimable value.
In those cases where some overzealous individuals made the effort to forcefully wash away these gifts, great tragedy has resulted. It is a goodness that peoples of African origin are seeking to rediscover what was stolen. It is a goodness that so-called native Americans seek to renew what was misunderstood and misappreciated. What America is to become as the People of Peoples is to be enriched by all these gifts.
We cannot find the true American cultural past in Europe, it has been washed out along with much else that was brought to these shores from other dying civilizations. Does this mean there is no cultural precedent to the American Character?
Oddly enough, there exists a relationship between our general characteristics as Americans and the general characteristics of this land's original peoples. A wise and patient investigation of the American Character will reveal that many of its central qualities are the mirror images of the "Indian". I was aided in coming to this conclusion by an obscure pamplet I encountered, called: American Indians and our way of life, by Sylvester M. Morey, published by the Myrin Institute of Garden City, NewYork.
Mr. Morey writes: that, that aspect of the American Character, which once having an idea is impatient to act upon it, has more kinship with the Indian, than with the European; that the European came here looking for individual freedom, only later aspiring toward a democratic government -democracy being an essential of Indian cultures (not so much as an idea, but more as the actual way of practice); that the kind of competition carried on in business and exempliefied by team sports has its origin in the American Indian, there are no European roots to team sports; that our natural generosity is not an European trait, but one found solely among the Indian in the many traditions of the Give-away; that the many struggles for freedom of women has arisen stronger in America than in Europe, mirroring in its goal what was already achieved for women in many Indian societies; and that the impulse to form confederations owes its inspiration to the Indian.
Morely ends his dissertation with the following, from a speech given by Iroquois chief, Canassatego, on July 4th, 1744, at a meeting between many colonists and Iroguois: "We have one thing further to say, and that is We heartily recommend Union and a Good Agreement between you our brethren. Never disagree, but preserve a strict friendship for one another, and thereby you as well as we will become the stronger. Our wise Forefathers established union and Amity between the Five Nations; this has made us formidable. This has given us great weight and Authority with our Neighboring Nations. We are a Powerful confederacy, and by your observing the same Methods our wise Forefathers have taken, you will acquire fresh Strength and Power; therefore, whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another."
We are far from having achieved what was truly meant here. In our cultural youthfulness we compete excessively, especially economically. Our system of justice is again excessively advisarial. The races make war, as do the religions.
This is a core element of our weaknesses, before not only other nations and cultures, before not only the lower impulses of our natures, but most especially before the overreaching of concentrated wealth - the principal antagonist of human freedom in our time. The stakes could not be higher. For what is resolved just here, within American society, will be the model for the whole next phase of civilization.
And, finally, the resolution of this, the essential crisis of the time, will not be found in either the realm of economics, or even politics. But rather in the realm of community and individual conscience - in the realm of the human spirit.
The wise social understanding of the American Indian, while remaining the root mirror of the potential form of an American Civilization, was in its origin and application essentially instinctive and semi-conscious. Consistent with the living laws of social dynamics, it had to pass away so that it could then be rediscovered as the answering idea to the social chaos of this time, while nevertheless requiring a fully conscious implementation. We must wake up to the crisis and choose the way out, as a whole people. If we leave it to mere chance the forces of evil hidden in concentrated wealth will lead to a civilization which will be an abomination not to be contemplated.
Yet, if we look beyond the front page and the sound bite, we will find that just such a will exists in the most ordinary people. The candidacy of Ross Perot in 1992, such as it was, showed how quickly our people were willing to come together from many classes and races in order to do something about the many desperate problems we all share. The fire of will exists, as does the idea. But the idea has not yet been perceived by this will. It is complex and multi-faceted and we are not finished yet in our contemplation of it.
There yet remain two core problems. How, in a practical sense, do we foster the necessary dialogue among the various ethnic, religious, and racial factions which make up the People of Peoples? And, by what means do we set the necessary limits to the overreaching of concentrated wealth?
It has been a central theme of this text that social dynamics are organic in nature. The future is not unrelated to the past, although the transformations may involve a turning inside out. Consider the following...
Original participation consciousness was a group consciousness. Thus, for example, the democracy and cooperation of the Indian was in large part possible because the individual instinctively gave over to the group a certain authority. Behavior - morals - were guided from outside the individual. We are now passing through the elimination of that way of social being, throughout the whole of Western Civilization, and, perhaps as well, the whole world (although not at the same time or rate of change). Instinctive community has/is passing away, and the individual is now on his own.
Whatever community we are to have in the future must come from the will forces of the individual, and these can only have as their moral nature that which results from the interaction between the individual and his own free conscience. What we have called the onlooker separation has an anti-community consequence and represents something that can only be overcome in its individual and social effects, through the conscious activity of the individual. A new kind and form of community participation must arise, one flowing from the free deeds of the individual, rather than the dying-away traditional standards of the older social order.
We cannot overestimate how difficult this will be. Just consider the many apartment buildings in America, which are, physically, natural communities, but which remain, socially, the last illusory refuges of individuals who hardly know each other at all. Do we take the poor, the ill, the old into our sanctuaries of individualism? No, we do not. We abandon them to institutions or to the streets. Is this morally wrong? Yes and no. In truth I believe many feel the pain and are not unwilling to offer comfort, warmth, food and companionship. But, something is still missing. As individuals we have yet to give birth to that within our natures which has the capacity to carry out such acts of grace. Something needs to happen inside us, first, or at least at the same time as we struggle to create new forms of human community.
When there was a vital community standard, one knew what to do, and what to do fitted in socially with the whole. But today, there is no standard. We are alone (almost) if we wish to act. And, alone we cannot carry that which needs to be carried. However, what is a burden to an individual can be a joy to many hands and hearts. "...united we stand, divided we fall..."
There is a necessary first step. The ultimate journey is long, and its goal may never be reached, but peace with our own conscience depends upon striving, upon the reaching for that which exceeds our grasp. In a redeemed politics and social existence (for these are inseparable), we must first learn to talk to each other. The cliche', which says never to discuss politics or religion, has lost its meaning. These passion-arousing realities can no longer be buried under the pretense of the mask - the false face we present to the social world. Just as there is a social dying and becoming active in our time, so is there the need for an individual psychological death and resurrection. There is no community becoming without an individual one as well.
Only the individual can step outside of himself, and make the necessary sacrifice of psychological comfort for the anxiety of genuine social interaction. Social and political health require that we begin to talk to each other about the ultimate questions of how it may be that vital communities can be born and nurtured to maturity. The individual, alone, cannot find his way outside of new enfolding social structures. Alone we only become inwardly onesided, excessive, crippled and lame.
First we must risk something, first we must admit chaos into our own inwardness before the new can arise. Psychological safety is psychological immobility.
Yet, this brave step can be made with greater emotional security than we might imagine, when it is done with others. We step out of ourselves, we set aside the mask, together. This again is a special trait of the American Character; for where else is there so much ferment of this type, so much group work, whether 12-Step or otherwise?
In a sense, we might see the developments in the various 12-Step groups, in the stronger religious communities, in the various spiritual and political developments from the Sixties, as a preparation, as the necessary practice needed for a new kind of social/political dialogue. All of these need to go now one step further.
A very wise man, whose work I have studied quite seriously, by the name of Valentin Tomberg, once wrote a small pamphlet about the life of spiritually striving groups: The Philosophy of Takinq Counsel Together. In it was discussed the practical psychological problems of having a dialogue among individuals that is able to achieve the desired community without a sacrifice of individual freedom. This is no simple accomplishment.
We have to keep in mind that we live a way of life formed by some very unfortunate consequences of a profound change in human nature. As a result, the invisible tyrannies of the economic order determine in very tragic ways the time structures of how we live day to day, and have, under the influence of the onlooker separation, accelerated enormously the rhythms of existence. We live too fast. We have had stolen from us that time we need for the contemplation of the meaning of our lives, for the consideration of the wise ordering of human existence. There are many things we would not do, and many other things we would do, were we to have the time to take counsel together.
The invisible dragon, hidden in the raging passions of unrestrained greed and materialism, must be made visible. We must have knowledge of the underlying themes of modern existence, common-communal knowledge and understanding. Moreover, this must be knowledge which is born of a community process. We need to seek it together. We need to ask ourselves: What does it mean to govern; and what is the relationship between government and the inner life of the people?
I think, as well, that it will not be necessary for all our people (in the beginning) to undertake such a task. Were only a serious small portion, perhaps less than a tenth of the eligible electorate, begin to meet and have this kind of dialogue with each other; this would have the effect of changing the whole political conversation. In the communal contemplation of what it means to be a free people in the age of technology and information, the ideal element of our way of life will be raised out of the fog of myth and cliche;. The cold and lifeless illusions of America as the number one world power will be dispelled, and a warmth and light giving dawn will occur.
I expect that such a dialogue will encounter one major difficulty. There will be a desire for information and a related wish for privacy of communication. This means that such a process will bring to a head the need for a bill of information rights, a need which has been hidden just beneath the surface of events form some time now. A change in our fundamental laws will be required in order to compel an overreaching concentrated wealth to expose its web of lies, and at the same time prevent this same overreaching from further tyranny through the amassing of excessive information about the individual.
Any attempt at a real and practical dialogue can be choked to death by the withholding of information and by the use of information for the intimidation of the participants. Make no mistake. Things will be taken to the edge, and violence used. Too much is at risk.
Thus, we need in this "bill of information rights" to make a second declaration of independence - independence from the tyranny of concentrated wealth - making clear that both natural justice and reason grant to the People a right to know about that which orders and effects their lives, and a right to an inviolate personal sphere of privacy.
Then, if we can arrive on the other side of this rite of passage, if we can mature the dialogue and protect its further evolution, the task of mastery of the temptations of concentrated wealth can be faced. Here again the resolution is both a simple transformation of the past, and was, as well, prefigured in that same past.
The American Experiment inherited the common law of England as regards the significance of private property. This law was largely formed by the impulses connected to the hereditary aristocracies. They mostly formed laws with themselves as the central beneficiaries. It was on this foundation that concentrated wealth has been able to achieve its (hopefully) temporary dominance of our way of life.
As the dialogue matures, as we reach further into inquires seeking the fundamentals of a wise social existence, it will be necessary to call into question the future utility, for the whole people, of the idea of private property. We have the advantage, at this time, of being able to review the mistakes made by the various communistic and socialistic attempts to resolve this dilemma, as they stand before us now in the contemporary social experiments of other nations. Many, who have lived under the overt and covert tyranny of these systems, now live here. Their accumulated wisdom will be of much use in the evolution of our considerations.
Just here a marvelous mystery confronts us. For in the unappreciated wisdom of the original peoples of America can be found the seed of the resolving idea of the troublesome nature of private property. The "Indian", in the manifestations of his highest cultural achievements, did not own either the Earth of other material wealth. Rather, the relationship between the human being and the objects which were necessary for life, was as a steward. One did not own, one took care of; and not just for the self, but for all succeeding generations.
We seek to enact then, laws which neither preserve private property, or state-owned property. In such a system of laws, property is not owned at all. The whole way of thinking has as its objective the enhancement and preservation of material wealth for the benefit not just of the whole people, but for all those yet to be born. Such an approach then takes as its guiding principle not the core of our lower nature, self interest, but the essence of our higher nature, love of the other.
We erect then a civilization based upon a appreciation of the need to set limits upon the excesses of self interest, and open doors for the unfolding of our highest aspirations. Nor need we think of this as an impractical and impossible goal, merely because many will claim it to be so and will work mightily to prevent it. There is nothing here which ignores that human beings will often fail to unfold their higher natures. All we really do is to recognize that the purpose of laws in a civilization is to set some standards whose violation the community will not tolerate, and as well to make possible those developments of human nature which are yet to occur.
Again, at this crossing point the only necessary act is to undertake a dialogue which embraces these questions. It is by taking up the means of remaking civilization that we take the first step. And, as in all first steps it will be the hardest. Overcoming our natural tendencies to rest content in our individuality and to instead give over psychological forces, forces of soul and spirit, to the formation of community, is the only path on which we can raise up a new civilization amidst the chaos and debris of the older social order.
First we need to talk about it. If we can do this, everything else will follow as a natural course.
As a practical matter we need two levels of dialogue. One is with our neighbors, face to face. This is the hardest act of all. The boundaries that have arisen with the formation of the cocoon of our alienation are formidable. We experience pain and vulnerability in the crossing of them. But the caterpillar of our individuality has latent within it a real butterfly. How are we to know who we might become if shed the protective covering?
Likewise with our communities. A great deal is latent, waiting only for us to take the first steps of an encounter with each other. Once we set limits to our own self interest, once we make a new social order in our immediate relations, then community will naturally arise. It is our nature to be social. The only difference between the dead past and the embryonic future is that we must consciously choose the social forms, make of them what we will out of our own free moral deeds.
As this happens a further evolution will arise. The face-to-face communities will want and need to reach beyond themselves, to form a Community of Communities. The emerging technology of interactive computers offers a special aid here, if we but tame its potential for enslaving us, rather then being our servant. Perot's electronic town hall is an intuitive reach for this latent possibility, but makes the mistake of wanting to impose this as an institution, from the outside.
Whatever use is made of the potential for an electronic commons must come from those impulses first nurtured in the face to face communities. The computer must not impose its sterile nature in between face to face human contact. Why is this?
Without expressly making it conscious, I have been all along working with that which was mentioned at the very beginning of this essay: The potential hidden in the word, hidden both in the use of language itself, and in the inner core of the human being as well. What else is the dialogue - the taking counsel together, we have been contemplating - but an awakened and fully conscious bringing of individual conscience to play in the use of the word for the development of a new sense of community.
But this taking counsel together cannot be done via an electronic medium, because the machine reduces (presses out) the human element which can only be communicated by tone of voice and gesture. The bare written word cannot carry the whole of the intended meaning, nor really represent who we are as individuals. And it is the meeting of individuals face-to face that is the central act of community building.
We must take counsel together which only really happens in the face-to-face dialogue, where individuals meet, confront and moderate the cultural, racial and ethnic differences. And what glorious differences, whose potential to enrich the unfolding of the America-yet-to-be can hardly be imagined. In support of this , we must use the word in all the ways, and more, that Dag Hammarskjold wrote so eloquently about. We must infuse our dialogue not just with truth, but with goodness and beauty as well. Or rather, we must aspire to do so, to reach for such as this, if we want to build something new out of the social chaos of the time.
For here we engage a special mystery. Latent in the word is not only the sole means for the making of the true American Dream, the making of a People of Peoples ("...and crown thy good with brotherhood..."), but for this process to also evoke the formation of a new civilization, a new Community of Communities, a transformation and evolution of the whole idea and incarnate reality of the political and economic State.
This is a staggering possibility. And who else but the American People, with all their rich diversity, is capable of leading this transformation. We need be neither number one politically, economically, or militarily. We are instead faced with a truly humbling task. We will not accomplish this by a self-inflation of our idea of who we are as a People, but rather by a sober and disciplined self examination of what history requires of us as we search for our maturity.
With this last, we encounter a final realization. True self government is not just a form or kind of order in the organization of the State, but is rather a psychological-spiritual act. We must govern our-selves. We must learn to exercise the free conscience which evolution grants to us in this time. For of what good or use are our freedoms unless they realize themselves in the striving for the highest to which we may aspire.
As individuals we then strive to master
our own inner nature, a mastery
formerly coerced by the outside community standard - by expectations.
striving for self-mastery is the only healthy foundation for a system
self government, because only such a personal struggle grants
individual that necessary practical understanding of human nature - of
the other - required on the path to the birth of a living new
As to this particular saying, I had thought of it off and on for many years, as I continued to struggle for the right understanding of man's political existence. Just like the scientist, who after years of living with a particular riddle finds himself suddenly filled with the answer to his question, so it was only after a long preparation that it finally dawned on me what wisdom lay hidden in this simple statement.
The State (that is any type of government) has no existence but what the humans, who conceive it and act it out, make it to be. Unlike sense-perceptible objects, the State is a social form entirely, built up out of man's ideation and deeds. This principle remains the same, even though in many instances (e.g. fascism or communism) a limited number of the individuals or groups are able to form the State according to their particular individual vision and actions. The State lives (has its only being) in the minds and wills of its members.
This is a rather complicated relation involving both individual and group action. We normally put the question: What ought the State to be? Thus we have the various theories of government from Plato and Aristotle to Machivelli and More to Nozick and Rawls. The thinking which asks the question - what ought the State to be? - occasionally makes a contribution to the ideas a People hold of the nature of their government, but I am trying here to direct our attention not to our theory of government, but to the actual conceptions held by a People of what their particular State is, and how that is then reflected in the actual nature (being) of the State in fact.
These conceptions vary from person to person, and as well, change over the course of any individual life. Nor are these ideas likely to be the result of any particular political philosophic effort, but rather will tend to be the consequences of a combination of schooling, the types of groups one has associated with, and the practical experience of government acquired in the course of one's life. Thus will arise an odd mixture of cliche, prejudice and truth.
That we have names and words for these ideas (such as liberal, conservative, rightist, leftist, democrat, republican, freedom, capitalist, communism, and so forth) is also not related to the point I am trying to make. Especially today, when so few have really given any thought at all to these matters, most of us use such words with so little precision that we very often use the same word to mean quite different things, in spite of perhaps belongin to the same political party and espousing the same positions.
Nevertheless, each individual citizen will hold some idea of the State, and will act according to this idea. Some will believe in freedom, but not for certain other classes of citizens. Some will believe in law abiding-ness, but at the same time cheat on their taxes. Some will form groups to demand that laws follow their ideas of what is right. Some will court such group's favor in order to get elected, only to do something else later. Some will do nothing, convinced that government is an oppressor, best to be avoided, and certainly not relevant to the real problems of life: getting a job, raising a family, struggling in a difficult relationship, and so forth. Some will be completely lawless, believing only in their own code, or desires, acting on impulse and taking whatever they want.
Wherever a single human being stands, having some kind of idea of the State and acting out some kind of behavior in which this idea is more or less central or irrelevant, in this place the State in miniature exists. Finally then, out of the totality of these miniature States, comes into being the State as a whole, a mixture of an enormous variety of ideas and deeds, acting in a complex arrangement as the various collective associations dance together in their struggle to dominate.
The point of this is to recognize that the being of the State is created by these ideas and deeds, by what is "rendered" it by its People.
Now because certain common themes will live in the ideals and deeds of a particular People, each characteristic People has an individual historic and characteristic State. America, for example, has a kind of State which is given dominate thematic character by the ideas embodied in the Consitution, and the experiences which are derived from the land. Because we all live in the same land and because we are to a somewhat similar degree educated in the ideas of the Constitution, there tends to be a kind of order and consistency in the nature of the State throughout our history.
At the core of this process, which is a kind of psychological process, lies that element of our inner life - in our soul life - which might be called: our feeling for what is right. This feeling for what is right exists in all Peoples, but varies in its content somewhat from People to People, and time to time. We should be noticing today, for example, that in Eastern Europe, as the domination of the Marxist-Leninist "rendering" of the idea of the State recedes, that what these Peoples make most important will not be the same as what we would conceive as most significant. In fact, if we observe closely enough we will see an effort to accept the democratic ideal, but reject the materialsm, and the consumerism. While there are depths here we cannot in this place go into, the point must be understood that what a People "render" the State reflects certain cultural and ethnic characteristics of no little importance
The principle that the State is what it is through what is "rendered" it, has been known instinctively to our wiser political leaders. Our constitution begins: "We the People...". Lincoln said: "...a nation of the People, by the People, and for the People...". And Kennedy said: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
While this may all seem too simple, it is not, and really understanding it will make other things much clearer. For example, we have in recent years been more interested in this country in our rights as individuals, without any thought to there being any correlative duties. We don't like conscription (the draft), paying taxes, thinking much at all about government unless we can get something from it, or it is taking something from us. Yet, the two go hand in hand. There are no rights without duties. There is no State from which to receive rights without someone having "rendered" it certain duties. A great deal we take for granted was first won by blood.
When we lament today the sorry condition of our political life we need to reflect that its initial being was created out of the passsionate deeds of our ancestors, whose sacrifice left behind a kind of political wealth upon which we lived until, as today, we begin to exhaust it by taking without giving (all rights and no duties). The sorry condition of our modern political life is due to the gradual depletion of its being through the absence of sufficient "rendering" to keep it vital and alive.
This being has a quite definite qualitative nature; that is, it is not so much what it is because so many people give it so many hours, or years (quantities of time), but because of the ideal and moral element of what they "render". It is the higher or lower qualities of our human nature which become aspects of the being of the State. When a voter votes only his prejudices, not having troubled himself to really understand the needs of the whole People, and when the politician encourages through advertising and speeches the People's expression of their baser instincts, then the being of the State can only reflect such qualities. When the corporations and unions lobby only so that their self interest is gratified, then the being of the State reveals no higher qualities. Did the rich get richer and the poor get poorer under recent adminstrations? Without a doubt, but what else did the most powerful elites "render"? The phrase of the computer programmers is quite apt: "garbage in, garbage out".
This brings us, of course, to the other pole of Christ Jesus' saying, because the crux of the problem is the need for the State to receive something from the higher elements of our nature. What then does it mean to "render unto God" and how do the two statements relate to each other as a whole?
While the being of the State can be seen to be dependent in its nature for what is "rendered" it, this cannot be said to be true of the being of God. It is not the being of God which becomes what is rendered it, but the being of man. The human being who "renders unto God the things that are Gods" is himself transformed by the act of devotion. Those who would doubt such a proposition simply have to look closely at history. The Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, these and many more political figures, whose stature and importance to the being of our Government is unquestionable, have been able to contribute what they have in large part because of the moral nature of their character. Just as the State becomes what is rendered it. so we humans become according to whether we act so as to unfold our individual higher nature.
No one doubts today the validity of making an effort to maintain, care for and develop the physical body. Yet, the development of virtue is as much ignored as physical well being is advocated. No amount of physical fitness, however, will change the character of what is rendered the State. Only moral development, only transformation of the soul and spiritual nature of the human being can enhance the qualitative characteristics of what is rendered the State.
The statement we have been examining, the wisdom out of the Gospels of Christ Jesus, has two meanings, dependent upon which principle we emphasize. These meanings are not contradictory, but rather are complimentary. One: The State is what it is out of what is rendered it in their ideation and their deeds by its People...and...the qualitative nature of what is rendered, is higher or lower according to the development of virture as that has proceeded in the individual. Simultaneously (Two): Only through devotion to God does the human being develop in himself those characteristics which flow from such an act...and...as a devote of God, one needs to recognize one yet remains a member of a society, which will only have as necessary characteristics what one gives to it.
As a last point we must again notice that Christ Jesus says to render unto Caesar and unto God. Man must direct his activity both toward heaven and toward earth, in order to unfold his essential being, his "I"ness. Both the State and man need to become. It is a reciprocal relationship. If the State does not become, then man's potential development is limited. If man does not become then his capacity to render unto the State, and the being of the State, is likewise limited.
Now there is a difference, subtle and not insignificant, whether or not one approaches self development through devotion to God. At the same time freedom of conscience is especially important here. One must choose for oneself both whether to pursue self development, and the manner and nature of that pursuit. The future evolution of the individual and of society will take its dominant characteristics from that choice.
Just here, however, a few practical
words must be said about what a
free conscience really is. It is not license to do what ever we choose.
The human conscience is not unlike a sense organ, only in this case
of perceiving the outer world, conscience is the awareness of an inner
moral world. What we experience as the quiet pricks of
the still small voice, are the expressions of the higher human
in our ordinary discursive inner dialogue. This organ of moral
can only develop if exercised. If it is not developed, we enter then
a path away from the human, and toward the mere animal, driven by raw
and appetites. Even so, no one but ourselves may judge whether we act
of conscience or not.
Fundamentally, just like an individual, our real measure as a People will not be seen in what we have achieved, but rather in that ideal for which we have reached, and whose character only we ourselves may legitimately judge.
And then, finally, we will in this way truly become: "...a government of the People, by the People, and for the People..."
This then is the "Song of the
Grandfathers", heard in the dialogues,
in the seeking for wisdom, in the inner listening, in the quite voice