Saturday, September 19, 2020

Certain virtues must prevail to avoid great and lasting damage to our republic.

by Richard Upchruch- I agree with many these days who are seriously worried about the unusually high levels of hostility and mutual recrimination that have become a part of the current contest for the presidency. 

A famous quotation from one of our country's founders, James Madison, reminds us that the written constitution we cherish is only a part----although a precious and essential part--- of what really constitutes us as a nation. I think he is telling us that we cannot survive as a free people unless we as individual citizens have attained certain attributes of maturity, and that these attributes have got to be somehow effectively passed from one generation to the next. These observations seem always relevant but especially so now. 

I believe that certain virtues enjoined by traditions both religious and secular, if better followed, might help us to a place where we might still have the necessary robust public discussion of policy issues these times call for, but with less chance that chaotic behavior might prevail and do great and lasting damage to our republic. I believe that chief among these virtues is a kind of civic humility, a tough belief that one's opponent may not be entirely evil or deranged, but rather that he may indeed be advocating for the good as he sees it.

Translated into terms more obviously relevant in this election cycle, perhaps this would mean that those on the Republican side need to admit that their candidate has chosen a rather extreme form of polarizing rhetoric to keep his supporters excited and committed, that his manner seems deliberately brusque and provocative; and, on the other hand, that the left has indeed rushed to adopt radical techniques of advocating change, redefinition of marriage, calling into question the most essential aspects of human personal identity, at the very foundation of human society, in addition to advocating for more mundane economic and social policy---changes that many consider deeply harmful and destructive to both society and government.

Each faction needs to listen and try to understand the point of view of the other. The question cannot be, "are these two sides irreconcilable?" It must be, rather, can these conflicting visions, and these contending energies, be contained and expressed within our constitution and used to guide us into a future that as always requires both preservation and adaptation. We all need to obtain news and comment from a variety of points of view. And also, very importantly, from friends and acquaintances of various beliefs and affiliations. 

Benjamin Franklin, another of our brilliant founders, famously answered an inquiry by saying that "we have a republic, sir, if we can keep it." Without more and better listening to one another than we have now, we just may not be able to keep it. 

Richard Upchurch is a scholar and philosopher who lives in Nashville.

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