Does a Nation Have a Soul

Author: Gary Hart

Forgive me if we have discussed this before.  But if we did, the question still remains unanswered, at least to me.

Leaving aside the theological issue of the human soul, is it possible a collection of people, in the case of the United States a large collection, can develop a collective consciousness that contains its most important beliefs, aspirations, and ethical standards?

Those who believe so would start with our Declaration of Independence and at least the Preamble to our Constitution as containing core principles that have guided our national path to a greater or lesser degree for well over two centuries.

We wanted independence from colonial control and fought for it.  We ultimately were forced to live up to the proclamation that “all men are created equal” and fought viciously among ourselves over that belief.  We struggled internally over civil rights, women’s equality, the Vietnam war, environmental protection, and much else in the mid-20th century.

In each case what was at stake was our own definition of who we are and what our principles are and ought to be.

All in our society who possess a conscience are drawn into these struggles whether we want to be or not.

Thus, like an individual growing up and facing ethical and moral choices, a society, even a very large society, struggles with this collective self-definition.

I am not a sophisticated enough philosopher to know whether this represents a collective search for a national soul.  But a sophisticated philosopher might plausibly conclude that it is.

It is also plausible to conclude that we are now involved in a dark night of our national soul.  Globalization, information, and mass migrations, now managed by dividers rather than uniters, are now threatening the fabric of our society and promoting division of Americans against Americans.  Whatever your beliefs are regarding a national soul, our collective consciousness is threatened.  I believe so is our national soul.

Faust traded his soul to the devil.  I believe a nation can do the same.

Profound issues of choice are being treated by parties and pundits alike as purely political issues.  They are that, but they are much more.  They are ethical and moral issues that will define our nation and our society for decades to come.

If we continue to stumble blindly down the descending path we are on we may never find our way back.  We need guides.  We need statesmen and women.  We need voices of conscience to strengthen our spines and set us straight.  One whole party has abandoned statesmanship and is making its own Faustian bargain.  Where are leaders of conscience from the religious, business, educational, and financial communities to remind us of our founding principles.

Have conscience and the national interest taken a holiday?

The months and years ahead will define our nation, and perhaps its soul, for decades to come.  History establishes that most nations, once in decline, never make it back.  America has no guarantees of immortality.

We define our own destiny by our choices today.  Will we trade our nation’s soul cheaply.  Or will we save our Republic by keeping it through our engagement, our principles, and the better angels of our nature.

10 Responses to “Does a Nation Have a Soul”

  1. Gary Hart Says:

    As support for my own proposition that a nation can indeed have a soul, I suggest a rereading of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. GH

  2. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    The proof of the existence of a national soul is found in the deep despair of so many of your fellow citizens (not to mention citizens of the world) coupled with the undying support of a significant percentage of the population for a president who uses race at will like any old political tactic solely to divide and conquer the country.

    I think Democrats running for the opportunity to unseat this president – a clear and present danger to US national security – need to put the fight for the soul of the country atop their lists of priorities, in addition to providing an exciting alternative to Trump that a majority of voters in each state could support. In any event, the nominee had better devise a solid plan for a 50 state tour of persuasion.

    As part of that exciting alternative, by the way, the Democratic nominee should obliterate the myth that the “booming” economy is all due to the economic prowess of Donald Trump. Enough said.

    I guess my point is that the ‘soul of the nation’ is a lofty concept but it’s going to take an exceptional no-holds-barred political ground game and a message that resonates across the board when effectively communicated.

  3. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    A national, soul, yes, but there are shared values at the centre of such a concept that transcend the geographical boundaries.

    There is a common humanity being trashed now by some.

    Trump, belongs, unlike other US presidents, with leaders of states other than his. With Orban, Putin, Bolsonaro, Salvini, he shares the bully boy attitude, not seen in the bully pulpit of your nation, nor felt in the depths of your national soul.

    Huey Long and Fr Coughlin, have captured Pensylvania avenue!!!!1

  4. Barbara Says:

    It had always been my belief that “We’” all were for the same ends, just differing in our belief of how to get there. That’s no longer true. We do not agree on what this country stands for. I have never been this afraid for our future. There is great damage being done, overtly and deep into the fissures. A change in leadership may help with the obvious but it will take real, determined efforts to fix these deeply ingrained differences. Where will we find the leaders necessary to bring all of our people together? If there were more people of integrity speaking up now and working to end our differences, I’d have more hope for the future. But lacking them now, it does not bode well.

  5. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    As Shakespeare pointed out in Hamlet, great crimes of state offend the natural order and challenge the survivors to restore that order. “Time is out of joint,” Hamlet laments, “oh cursed spite, that it was made for me to put it right.”

    To use the host’s phrase in this blog post, I date the events that commenced the “dark night of our national soul” (AKA America’s real “long national nightmare” that Gerald Ford claimed ended in 1974) to the 5 year period beginning 56 years ago this November 22nd.

    For it was then (in my considered view) that the rightist underground (inverting the letter-and-spirit of the racial justice radical Malcolm X) started using “the bullet” to gain what they couldn’t win at the “the ballot” box: Namely the power to implement their extremist conservative Goldwater-Nixon-Ford-Reagan-Bushes-Quayle-Trump-Pence agenda for America and the world.

    The soul-damaging impact of suddenly having the democratically-decided political will of the American people violently voided (1963-1968) was compounded when none of these political murders-most-foul of multiple widely admired, capable and yes, beloved, leaders were ever properly investigated and solved. And further harmed irreparably when the Democratic Party gave up on ever replacing the Kennedys and King with leaders who shared their vision and agendas and approached their levels of talent.

    Lincoln’s assassination aborted a second term in which his stellar leadership and that of his staunch political allies was vital to the health of the nation’s Reconstruction (small r as well as large R) following the Civil War. It became an event that balefully reverberated for over a century.

    So too did the 1960s assassinations damage the Republic irreparably, obliterating the agenda of a just America and free-and-diverse and equitable world the Kennedys and King sought. And ushered in the globalized greed-besotted corporate-dominated kakistocratic lite-fascist domestic- and world-wide near-tyranny that prevails today.

    The rightist rub-outs of the Kennedys and King not only destabilized the next generation of these large “first families” but also side-lined the natural talent pool of practical idealists throughout the nation who the Kennedys and King (and their successors) would have picked to be members of (what I call) the “teams of idealists” that (but for those physical- and later character assassinations) would have carried on- or re-lit the torch-of-hope “from generation-to-generation” as Scripture says, to the present day.

    The net effect was the disappearance of two entire generations (Silent and Boomers) of top-tier non-conservative political talent who were eclipsed in favor of conservative-lite Democratic stooges for the oligarchy.

    I think of it as the political equivalent of a neutron bomb: The heart-and-soul of our American body politic was destroyed but the institutions remained standing and operating with sold-out bought-and-bossed cyborg-type impostor personnel.

    Although the phenomenon’s importance lies in its impact on America’s collective destiny not on the fate of any particular individuals, perhaps the leading martyr to the American- and world renaissance cause was Sen. Gary Hart: A neo-Kennedy probable president who succumbed to elaborately-plotted dirty tricks some 2.5 years after delivering this splendid clarion call to idealistic political arms at the end of his 1984 Democratic Convention speech: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4794643/concluding-passage-gary-harts-1984-democratic-national-convention-speech-a-torch-hope .

    As a marker I noticed in the Westwood, California Pierce Brothers cemetery near my father’s grave aptly says: “No man is indispensable. But some are irreplaceable.”

    Accordingly the two more things I can do now relative to “my old friend Gary,” as I referred to him (hopefully not presumptuously) earlier this year in a retrospective op-ed purposefully evoking the old Dion song title “Abraham, Martin and John”( https://www.laprogressive.com/gary-hart/ ), are:

    • lend moral support and a (in my case alas of-necessity measly) financial donation to his fledgling public policy center at Metropolitan State University; and

    •hope for a deadlocked 2020 Democratic National Convention.

    The latter in turn might make possible the miracle (compromise) selection (ironically led by the super-delegates who in 1984 deprived him of the Democratic nomination and the opportunity to nip the presidential cancer of Reaganism in the bud) of a REALLY elder-statesman 2020 Democratic nominee!

    PS. I have already advised the host of my readiness to quitclaim to him my purchased garyhart2020.com domain name. His characteristically humble (and realistic) response to my deadlocked Convention scenario, which I emailed him about: “That’s not going to happen.”

    Alas, given the long (though not impossible) odds the Democrats will otherwise get their act together and effectively counteract the retrograde ugly-American fake-populist mean-spirited Archie Bunker-esque president (“thanks for nothing” Norman Lear!): On 2020 general election night I also plan, with Thomas Jefferson, to “weep for my country when I think that God is just.”

  6. Brian C. McCarthy Says:

    Yes, Senator, there is a national soul. It exists as surely as those of us like you, and those who read this blog, feel pain in our own souls as we observe what happens in the US these days.

    One of the things I will never forget is a speech my high school economics teacher gave in 1992. He told a story of his own father, a far-right Republican who hated the New Deal, but who cried when FDR died and mourned when JFK was killed. “He was my president,” the man said, through tears, on both occasions.

    The national soul existed in him. It existed in my parents, Democrats, when they were terrified for President Reagan the day he was shot, which is probably the day of my oldest memory. It existed the day Al Gore agreed to be the first man in 100 years to win the popular vote but not win the presidency. It most certainly existed on 9/11/01. There is a national soul, most definitely. It is flawed like the rest of us, but it exists and will respond to the right stimuli. The right stimuli.

    Thank you for this post; it is among your best.

    Sláinte!
    BCM

  7. Michael Says:

    The soul of any nation resides in its history; its myths and the institutions it creates. The reality of the past is always different from what the collective would like to believe. Yet there is hope for redemption, even as every two steps forward forces one step back. We have made great progress in the cause of justice for our citizens. There is much more to be done. But many in this country, out of fear, or greed, or simple hate, not only want to halt, but to reverse that progress. Their strategy is to gin up the worst in us. A great many will succumb to it. A great many will actively fight against it. Still more will simply watch, and listen, and fall to one side or the other by the nature of their own souls. Whether the nation succeeds is in their hands.

  8. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Might I say that as a member of a political party in the UK that, although third in size, has, although bashed in recent years, begun to really go through a revivalism, we echo and understand everything you are too.

    Boris Johnson has today become pm with the most rightward leaning cabinet in decades, maybe in a century.

    My party though has just elected a thirty nine year old woman as its leaders, as one who campaigned for her, colleagues can get hope from going on you tube or anywhere by a google search, and watching Jo Swinson’s acceptance speech, including references to T..rump!!!! A voice of real possibilities on a world stage…

  9. Brian C. McCarthy Says:

    To Lorenzo,

    As a longtime follower of British politics, and fan of the Liberals, I agree with your enthusiasm for Ms Swinson’s election as Leader.

    Cheers!
    BCM

  10. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    That’s terrific Brian!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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