The ideas underlying the democratic principles in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States had their earliest known instantiation in the Athenian democratic experience during the period from the 6th to the 4th century BC finally ending, after a rather bumpy ride, with the world conquering rule of the Macedonian tyrant Alexander the Great. I recall a college Greek history professor commenting on the failures of Athenian democracy saying that prior to the rule of Alexander and his successors, the citizens of Athens had succumbed to a kind of creeping ‘individualism’ that rendered them fractious and ill disposed to any common societal center of gravity. The ties that bound the citizens to their families, clans, tribes and the city state were thought to have loosened over time. Why this happened was not well understood.
The American version of democracy, corseted as a representative republic, with its appeals to Divine Providence and the common good so as ‘to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their descendants’ would seem at this pass to have similarly succumbed to a loosening of the ties that bind us together as a nation. What is at the heart of this failure to come together? Are the ties that bind so irksome to us that we despise them and willfully throw them off? And then what…? Without the communion of our compatriots we become isolates; true individuals ‘free’ from family and the grounding of faith in creed or even custom. Perhaps more strangely, we redefine ‘family’ and any other cramping concept to allow each of us individuals to make up or own identity without respect to any given in nature or culture. The blessings of liberty have morphed into the curse of a freedom to be or do anything. I may be wrong, but I don’t think this will end well.
So, on this anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence I will again celebrate with my family and friends confessing my own complicity in rending our common fabric while working for the healing of the nations. God have mercy on us.