Democracy’s Foundation in Virtue

I’m reading “The Meaning of Independence” by Edmund Morgan. His chapter on John Adams notes Adams’ conviction that “the ability of the American republic to sustain its independence rested on the ability of its citizens to sustain their virtue.”

In Adams’ mind, the newly formed United States could survive only by a radical insistence on independence from the decadent and corrupt governments of Europe, especially England and France. Even independence, however, could not in itself guarantee the success of the US. America could resist European corruption only to create its own unless its citizens were constantly alert to the dangers of moral corruption.

Perhaps that shows that Adams, a New Englander, was not so far removed from the Puritans who had first established New England, yet it also shows Adams to be a man of some real insight into the nature of a democracy. Without the mutual trust that comes from a shared commitment to justice and integrity, a democracy rapidly devolves into a fragmented battle site of opposing parties.

In this political season in America, we are proving just how ugly that can be. One of our major political parties has ceased to value virtue, justice, compassion. It values only its own status and a very small handful of pat answers (e.g., minimal taxation). And now the party has a candidate who is, by any rational measure, entirely devoid of any ethical or moral concerns.

trump and the Republican party are an immediate and serious threat to democracy in America. Think, for example, of the absence of ethical concerns shown by the Republicans in refusing to provide sufficient funds to fight Zika or to help Flint, Michigan, clean up its water supply.

Heartlessness is not one of the virtues John Adams had in mind as essential to America. . .


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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