So . . . Renewed moral consensus for a united America. It’s a grand project (both in terms of scope and importance). Along with the others in this blog, I’m guardedly optimistic we can get there. But where, exactly, is “there”?
Each of my fellow Hang Togetherites (Hangers Together?) has contributed some methodological parameters to what we are doing here, so I think it’s only fair I offer something along those lines as well (future posts will get to the fun stuff). My contribution will focus on clearing a little ground and doing some map-work. You will, perhaps, indulge my travel-oriented vocabulary (you will, won’t you?). I often see projects that develop over time as a type of road-trip. And I usually see myself driving a Ferrari Italia. It’s red. Always.
Greg and Connor say we will seek, build and discover moral consensus. These are some solid rules of the road, and I believe they will serve us well. But if we are to arrive at our destination, we need to know at least three more things: (1) Who we should expect to get in the car with us, (2) our point of departure, and (3) how we will know when we have arrived at our destination. These are best understood, I think, as collaborative questions for the contributors to this blog and our readers.
Let’s start with who ought to be in the car (figuratively, of course – I suspect we’ll need a whole lot of people, and only one of them could fit in the Italia with me). If we are talking about an agreement sufficiently widespread to unite the whole nation, it seems obvious we need at least a majority of our population. It would be hard to conclude we have a consensus with anything less. In fact, a simple majority would probably not suffice. We are aiming for a consensus so broad that the truths on which we agree will become as unremarkable as the fact that chocolate tastes good.
But James Davison Hunter says that, while agreement amongst a majority (or even a super-majority) might satisfy the strict definition of consensus, it will be bare and ineffectual. One must also have, he says, buy-in from culturally-elite institutions (academia, government, the arts, etc.). Without that, any consensus is likely to be either short-lived or incapable of moving the cultural needle (or both).
On the other hand, is it enough for the culturally-elite institutions to agree with us if the majority of Americans are in dissent? One of our endearing national characteristics is a persistent contrarian streak. If we are told what to value, think, or pursue, we are apt to resist it just because we won’t be told what to do. So I think we need both widespread agreement, as well as institutional cultural support. Which means we need multiple ways of seeking, building and discovering.
Next, let’s talk about our starting place. We should take a census of issues to determine where consensus is likely to already exist. It makes a difference if we are starting in Berkeley as opposed to Branson. I have to confess that I’m much more attuned to the areas where we lack agreement (a hazard, I suppose, that comes of litigating for so many years). So I will especially appreciate your input on this aspect of our project.
And finally, what does our destination look like? Which are the issues on which we need moral consensus? Really need it, that is – without which we cannot hope for a united America. Between Karen (below), and Charles Murray (in his recent book Coming Apart), we can discern four that may fit this category:
- The nature and importance of the family;
- The purpose and significance of one’s vocation
- The existence, nature, and role of the church; and
- The constitutive elements of community and their place in developing and transmitting culture.
These are not, of course, exhaustive or definitive answers. And if you peek under the surface of each one you will see they each teem with embedded issues. These are a start, and I propose them only as grist for the conversational mill. I will look forward to your thoughts. If I ever get that Italia, then everyone who offers a reply gets to go for a spin. In the passenger seat, of course.