August 2, 2012 at 6:02 am, by Carl
If there is anything that I have learned in my years as a Professor of History is that we have only had a few times in our national story where the citizens were united. We weren’t united in our choice to rebel against England. We weren’t united in deciding on our early government. We weren’t united in our wars against England in 1812, Mexico in 1848 or Spain in 1898. The harder you look, the more it becomes obvious that our system has actually provided more opportunity for division than for unity. Read on to find excerpts from the 13th chapter of my latest book, Tracking the Storm, that I finished last year. You can find earlier sections here. You can download a pdf if you enjoy reading on your computer or also purchase a printed copy of the book.
James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, actually saw this coming. As he contributed to the political writing supporting the new Constitution, what we call The Federalist Papers, he wrote the 10tharticle in November of 1787 commenting on this very question. Not only did he argue that Democracy has “ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property;” but he saw a virtue in the Republic over a vast geographic size. In a country of that size, he proposed, the idea of division would strengthen the country. Madison saw that there would never be a time when everyone agreed with each other, at least not without some dictatorial power that would remove “the causes of faction. . .by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence.” But, in a government set up like our Republic, if you “take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens.” In other words, certainly there will be division, but there will always be some equal counterweight that opposes that view. This principle of tensegrity (tension + integrity, often used in the world of architecture) would actually provide stability to the entire organization, much like a spider’s web finds its structure by pulling apart from itself.
With each journey towards crisis, the ominous aspect that emerges is the fact that as the Fourth Turning comes closer, the two sides that emerge in contest over the country become philosophically divided. The story is the same whether we are looking at the 1760s or the 2010 period. Pundits and citizens search for unity, wish for a leader to unite the country, yet the various supporters of “the issue” grow so determined, so passionate about their view, that compromise is impossible. Older people will longingly remember the years of the previous High, when everyone “pulled together,” but those years and that spirit is gone.
I believe we are not yet in our Great Crisis, though we are “on the road.” I don’t know that anyone, certainly not I, could articulate what the “issue” will be. Is it more Democracy? Is it a question of economic equity? The rights of others, whether the rights of the unborn or of the gay community? The environmental toll of so many humans on the planet? As a participant in the current history, it is nigh impossible to tell. Regardless there is a growing philosophical divide between Americans, loosely drawn between “conservative” and “liberal” citizens.
My point of writing, as I have said repeatedly, is to provide you enough warning to start thinking about your own views. As you do so, understand the times. Stop looking for a uniter to emerge politically. Not only is that concept faulty, based on Madison’s own writings (and the evidence of the previous 230+ years), but also as we have now moved resolutely through our own saeculum, we be at that stage where uniting simply won’t happen.
Madison said it better than I: “As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.” As the years take us further and further from the previous high, the willingness to listen diminishes and the willingness to fight grows. From the moment President Clinton ran into challenges of the moral kind, and the “Moral Majority” element of the conservative political right became strident, the rancor between the left and the right grew. Moveon.org came out in 1998 to support President Clinton and then led the charge against what they perceived as a stolen election in 2000. The Tea Party movement came out in 2009 against what they perceived as a President and Government who were determined to irreparably change the country.
This sense of “someone” “changing” the country, as I have said, is the core issue that compels us to stay aware. This is the reason any of this matters. After each Great Crisis, the country was changed. For better or worse depends, obviously, on your viewpoint, but change it did. You must be ready for this as it happens. I don’t think you can stop it, but you can be prepared.
You can read the rest of chapter 13 in Tracking the Storm; the book provides powerful clues about what is coming, rapidly, to the United States. There is little doubt that a storm is approaching the country, the outer edges of the winds already swirling around us. What does that portend for the nation? Through the clues of history, we can find direction and steps to undertake to prepare. Many believe there won’t be a storm, or maybe that the worst is over. With history as a guide, I demonstrate that we haven’t yet even reached the Great Crisis.
Gripping and “a scary yet necessary read,” Tracking the Storm moves through the past 400 years of Anglo-American history to illustrate the various clues provided that show the steps to the coming crisis. I will tell the story of political instability, economic distress, rapid technological changes and a growing philosophical divide that challenged previous generations. At the end of each Great Crisis, the nation had been radically changed. Pick up your copy of Tracking the Storm today!