Justice and a Divided Society

Author: Gary Hart

A number of thinkers, Thomas Jefferson and Ralph Waldo Emerson among them, have commented on the tendency of all societies to divide themselves between what today are called conservatives and progressives.  In Emerson’s case it was a party of memory and a party of hope.  And in Jefferson’s case it was a strong tendency on the part of some to hold on to traditional institutions and practices and an equally strong tendency on the part of others to seek to adapt to changing times and realities.

What struck him most about the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville  wrote, “was the difficulty of shaking the majority in an opinion once conceived.”  And, of course, Niccolo Machiavelli observed that “the reformer [progressive] has enemies in all those who could profit by the older order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order; this luke-warmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries…and partly from the incredulity of mankind who do not believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.”

Things do change, and the late historian Arthur Schlesinger concluded: “What counts in the end is the subversion of old ideas by the changing environment.”  Thus the axiom: Adapt or die.

When young and possibly more idealistic, it is easier to believe in the inevitability of American progress, that society must improve by adapting to new realities.  A deep national depression taught us that children and the elderly deserve nutrition, shelter, and health care, that workers deserve to be employed, that we are a society of shared beliefs, values, and principles, if nothing else principles of basic humanity.

But change is not always positive and progress can erode.  Resources can shrink–whether through tax cuts, unnecessary wars, or unwise deregulation of markets–and policies once conceived as benchmarks of civility and humanity are surrendered to greed, tradition, the old order, faded memory, and old ideas.

What seems especially unjust–and this is a matter of justice–is the surrender of national progress to the forces whose old ideas brought on the conditions now deemed to require retrenchment to a more primitive past.  Resistance to paying for the national and social policies of a great, good, and progressive society by those most able to do so, by those who have benefitted most handsomely from American society, by those most protected by the pillars of American strength, is not only aggravating, it is unjust, unfair, and immoral.

However one views history and divine providence, nations are judged and unjust ones are found wanting.  Etched on the walls of the Jefferson Memorial are these words of Bibilical implications: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”

6 Responses to “Justice and a Divided Society”

  1. Nancy Lee Says:

    It’s not that this isn’t a beautifully written and worthwhile commentary. It’s just that this is no longer news and most of us in agreement with Senator Hart, wring our hands wondering what we can do.
    The Republicans have dug in their heels and refuse to pass any meaningful legislation to raise taxes on those who have been given so much from this country. The rest of the population is being squeezed to keep giving while losing jobs, having teachers cut, health costs keep rising…………well, we know the drill. We have a president who doesn’t seem to know how to do the right thing for the people who had such high hopes for his presidency. The idea that a Democratic president would even consider putting Social Security “on the table” is unthinkable. While so much is being taken away from the average American, the idea that this safety net would be yanked away is outrageous. Of course, the Republican presidential candidates seem to be “looney tunes” who preach the same old, same old.
    However, if the president thinks that progressives, liberals, and labor/Democrats will support him just because the Republican alternative is so unpalatable, he is mistaken. Does he not realize that protecting Social Security and Medicare is the only way that he will earn the support and respect of the American electorate?

  2. Joseph Furtenbacher Says:

    Those who forget their experiences in Egypt are doomed to repeat them in Babylon.

  3. Chris Smith Says:

    In response to Ms. Lee, I don’t offer these thoughts for their “news”. This, like most blog sites, is a forum for opinions and I seek to offer mine in words that perhaps others may not use. One of the reasons why I was a national candidate some years ago was to offer ideas and policies that were new and different and, had they been adopted, might have helped us avoid the dilemmas we presently face.

  4. Chris Smith Says:

    Sorry, friends, the “Chris Smith” comment was from yours truly, GH.
    Mattersofprinciple is still in transition, as you can tell.


  5. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    I say amen to the Jefferson Memorial quote and to Chris Smith’s Senator Hart quote. To Ms. Lee, I say that it is time to look to a third possibility other than to the Democratic or Republican parties for a solution, and as I have said before, not a “Tea Party” solution, which is just a watered down Republican Party version of the same old “stuff”. This country needs to focus on those who, as Ms. Lee and Senator Hart point out, do the work, produce the product, and pay an inordinate proportion of the taxes, and provide some means for them to be able to have a voice in government. Control must and will be wrested away from the few wealthy individuals, whether by political means (preferably) or by revolutionary means (regrettably). This is the underlying motivation behind the recent Arab Spring uprising all across North Africa into the Middle East. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to commit the same mistakes.

  6. Forest Book Says:

    If, those of us who cherish the visionary Jeffersonian society, we must embrace Mr. Jefferson’s Queries, in Notes on the State of Virginia. There lay the treatise of our American character. One of benevolence. One of citizen driven culture, and society. A nation of mutual, shared responsibility. A nation united in the character of new theories inspiring us forward. We must also then embrace Locke, and Paine. If we are to cease these repetitions of Progressive’s self examinations; and factionalizing, then we must put an end the monikers. The names. The factions within factions. If we are to believe in a Democracy of the people, for the people, by the people; then the people need to begin our conversations as a society of People. As human beings. Clearly our inaction is in effect passive (albeit manipulated) consent, and collaboration. Defining each and every of us, the American People, as in collusion with a system that is completely foretold in the Federalist papers by Jay, Madison and our other found parents. As Mr. Hart quotes Jefferson’s monument.

    If we are to take seriously the American Experiment; at what point do we stop participating in its failure; its demise?

    How much longer are we going to allow the few to finagled our national character into their profit model for the few? How much longer?

    What becomes of concern is what will the straw that breaks the camels back look like. Given all the straws that have been heaped on its back thus far?

    How telling our national conversation is about debt and war. With 56+% of the federal budget allocated to, and by the military.

    How much longer before its enough?

    The injustice is allowing our nation to go forward on this path an hour more. Or, to be bamboozled, again, by the usual, campaign stump rhetoric.

    We can not afford apathy.

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