If citizenship is the binding force of our nation, how do we bring it back and shape and sculpt it for tomorrow?
Clearly, the once spirited force of “Our country, right or wrong,” first introduced in Norfolk in 1816 by Commodore Stephen Decatur after the Barbary pirate wars of 1808, has long gone. But Jacksonian Democracy, a feeling and faith in the American Dream, has survived as an idealistic patriotism through World War II and briefly after 9/11.
Jacksonian Democracy is nationalistic in impulse. It lives widely in America and thrives on simplicity and common sense. The core of this American nationalism is economic independence and love of country. It is not a sectional feeling, but a very proud one. These Americans have a common sense of heritage. They talk little and ask for little, but carry pride in their hearts and believe in an expandable American heritage.
American Jacksonian Democrats worship the American folk tradition in which no one is special and everyone is treated the same under the law. Americans of this broad stripe have fought our wars and intuitively understand ideals need gut instincts behind them to stay vital. They love universal democratic ideals, but also economic independence, self-governance, and charity – and see the vitality of all three vanishing. They are so much of the civic soul and spirit of our country.
The egalitarian nature of our civic life has, sadly, faded. Today, our government has emerged as managers of our citizenship rather than, as once, it’s incubators. It’s a big change.
The government information manager – local, state, and federal – are information specialists, often academically trained, who are regularly fed by the bureaucratic requirements of size. They supplant all too often an earlier volunteer civic order.
They organize not around people, so much as process. They are stewards of the mind, not the heart. They are a mostly a passive and obedient cadre who are problem-solvers overseeing society, not owners of our national life who live by citizen throb.
Preoccupied differently, they don’t nourish the country as much as perpetuate a ring of governmental power. They are not guided so much by citizens as they are by credentialed research institutions, think tanks, foundations, and lobbies.
The difference is vast. Experts by nature never question their own beliefs. As originators of sound advice, fault is never with them. Their authority is always their arbiter.
In the opinion of The Public Square, a great part of our tension as a society is due to a current citizen order at dramatic odds with the beliefs on which our Republic was founded and built.
The Jackson model bred great trust. Far from “our country, right or wrong,” however, the now “we are always right” model is unaccountable to the goals of our democracy. Our future model must see a return of the power and trust that bind the citizen.
Whether or not a magnificent citizen tradition can successfully import itself into the future, no one knows. Clearly, the Jacksonian civic model has not been honored or well succeeded by its current replacement.
We will not lift our citizenship to a new level using the same tools by which it has been replaced. Because specialists by nature externalize their critics, they deprive them of standing. So how can we expect the best of the past to be taught be those who have no respect for it?
The question lingers: Can a disruptive citizen tradition be converted into a truer citizen code? Can we somehow reorganize the inclusiveness of the Jacksonian tradition, while shredding the current citizen order of its arrogance and narrow ideological base?
G. K. Chesterton once remarked if society “proceeds at its present rate of progress and improvement, no trace or memory of it will be left at all.” We are the switchmen at the train tracks of history now, so the future is squarely in our hands here.