Monday, October 31, 2016


                      A shorter version of this essay appeared in the Springfield News-Leader, October 31, 2016, p. 2C.
That America is divided is news to no one—particularly in this divisive Presidential election year (2016). The body politic seems to agree on very little, and our citizenry as a whole seems to have very little in common. I don't usually stumble about in political issues, but since the election this year has been particularly fractious, it set me to thinking about the ethical center of the country. If there is such a center, what might it be?
            Our grand experiment in democracy has not united us, as our current incorrigible political discourse attests.  Because America is a nation of immigrants our ethnicity does not unite us—we are, and are destined to remain, a nation of diverse ethnicities with different values and cultural traditions.  Not even our vaunted secular educational system succeeds in uniting us because of homeschooling and private religiously-oriented high schools and colleges. Our religion does not unite us in terms of beliefs and values because the melting pot that is America hasn't worked on religion—we don't even do toleration well.
            What we seem to have in common is that we are a secular people—that is, our society for the most part is "rationally organized around impersonal and utilitarian values and patterns and receptive to new traits."
            The preamble to the U. S. Constitution is a very hopeful statement of the ideals and intent of the founders of the country. It is a vision of a "shining city on a hill," but the reality is far different. Today we are scarcely a "more perfect union," and cannot even agree on the nature of Justice in the social order. Too often domestic tranquility hinges on the neighborhood in which one lives. Congress bickers, but cannot agree on, how much or how little should be provided for the common defense. We all want for ourselves and our posterity the blessings of liberty, and do not seem bothered that not all citizens fully share in liberty's blessings.
            The only thing we seem to agree on is the emphasis in the preamble on promoting the general welfare, as long as the welfare being promoted is mine—and this is my point: we all agree on the utilitarian value that "my welfare" should be promoted; yet we seem unaware that a government formed "of the people, by the people, and for the people" comes at some individual personal cost; put simply: freedom is not completely free.
            A representative democracy, and the high ideals of the preamble to the constitution, can only succeed if they aim at working for all citizens, and that means concessions are required on everyone's part. Hence the goal is not "my welfare" but should be "our common welfare." Economic benefits must aim always at providing for the common good. An economic rising tide must "raise the boats of all citizens" to be successful. The traditions and beliefs of a religious majority cannot be mandated so as to compromise the religious traditions of minority groups.  In other words, for a democratic society to function toleration is required. The goal is to achieve the greatest amount of liberty under the law for the greatest number of people.
            Politics is the art of the possible, which always involves compromise. Everybody gets a little and gives a little in return. In a democracy the most successful politician is the one skilled at deal making, for s/he moves the country forward.
            A wise man once said, "a state divided cannot stand" (Mark 3:24-25). We would do well to heed his caution, and seek common ground.
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University


Elizabeth said...

Good morning Charlie,
Your article brings to mind an interview with Harry Truman after his presidency. Truman loved Thomas Jefferson and recited this quote from Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, and it made an impression on me:

"Subject opinion to coercion; whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men, governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than face and stature. Introduce the bed of Procrustes then, and as there is danger that the large men may beat the small, make us all of a size, by lopping the former and stretching the latter... Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, find, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the world." Thomas Jefferson

"I've said this before, the President is the only person in the government who represents the whole people. There are some who can afford to hire lobbyists and others to represent their special interests. The President isn't elected to pull strings for anybody. He's elected, I've said it before, to be the lobbyist for everybody int he United States." Harry Truman

Being a citizen of these United States gives us the right to speak our minds, and disagree, and "yet not be divided."

Thank you as always, Elizabeth

Sandra White said...

This is a really good editorial! It states so well the multiple divisive areas in our lives. Thanks, Charlie.

Edward R. Smith said...

Charlie, I can't figure out how to send (or post) a comment. Just wanted to say in regard to your "wry thought," that for me it is "well said."

Anonymous said...

Hi Charlie,

Is it not the problem that this country has engaged in a long term confused overlap of democracy and capitalism? Instead of capitalism being the servant of democracy, democracy has been manipulated by capitalism for its own maximum advantage. The result is the greatest "good" for the smallest number.

Companies, for the most part, are owned by individuals, families, stockholders, and they make decisions which advantage themselves. Only a very small minority are owned by the employees who may still have only a relatively minor decision making role.

Hi Charlie,

Is it not the problem that this country has engaged in a long term confused overlap of democracy and capitalism? Instead of capitalism being the servant of democracy, democracy has been manipulated by capitalism for its own maximum advantage. The result is the greatest "good" for the smallest number.

Companies, for the most part, are owned by individuals, families, stockholders, and they make decisions which advantage themselves. Only a very small minority are owned by the employees who may still have only a relatively minor decision making role.

One wonders how many businesses and jobs would have gone overseas if the employees had total ownership powers. One wonders how many jobs would be lost to robotic systems if the employees had total ownership powers. One wonders if the wage gap between labor and management would be smaller if all employees had total ownership powers. One wonders if the ratings of happiness and fulfillment would spike if the employees had total ownership powers.

A wise man once said, "He who would be first must be last and servant of all."

Gene Stecher
Chambersburg, Pa.

Anonymous said...


I could not agree more with your essay or the 4 comments by Elizabeth, Sandra, Ed, & Gene. Seems your comments share a common view of the "common good". Now I wonder if those who disagree with us are not reading or merely not comments on your essay.
Never the less, the universal battle continues among us all for the favoritism of governments' policies that serve "my welfare" as opposed to the "general welfare".


Elizabeth said...

Good evening, Charlie, I need to add a "PS" to my earlier comment if you don't mind:

1) Do you think uniformity (and/or unity) of thought & opinion regarding politics is attainable? Or desirable?
2) The quote from Jefferson about the introduction of Christianity sparked an unrelated question that you may or may not have any knowledge about: did any other religions besides Christianity torture heretics? For example Islam or Judaism? It does seem that the torture of heretical outcasts began with the Christians, but I could be mistaken.

Thanks again, Elizabeth

Charles Hedrick said...

Good Morning Elizabeth and all: for what I regard as thoughtful comments. Elizabeth has asked me two pointed questions. The first is rather easy. Uniformity of thought or opinion is not possible in a representative democracy because there is and always will be in a representative democracy a minority view. And a democracy cannot function effectively without the "loyal opposition." From my perspective "seeking common ground" is not the same thing as a uniformity of thought and opinion. Common ground is the agreement to suspend one's principal want for something less because the opposition who doesn't want what the agreement gives either is willing to live with it anyway.
On your second question: I do not think that Christianity is the only religion to torture "heretics." Torture is not quite right the correct word, however--persecute is better. I do know that Christianity is not the only religion to "persecute" heretics. Think of it in terms of major group and minor groups. A major group will always seek to control minor groups by almost any means possible. But with regard to religions my information would be purely anecdotal. I would be willing to bet, however, that someone somewhere has published on the issue of persecution of minorities by majorities. Check it out and let us know.

Elizabeth said...

Good afternoon Charlie,

Physical torture most definitely took place amongst Christians in the Middle Ages and Salem witch trials. Spanish inquisition is another example. I suppose ISIS is another example today, but other than that I cannot find an example of physical torture being used by the majority in Judaism to persecute the minority group. Physical torture is an extreme form of persecution, and that is what I was specifically referring to. It seems to be unique to Christianity.

When it comes to seeking common ground, who gets to decide what exactly the common ground is, and who gets to decide what is to be done with it? Partisanship is deeply offensive politically- but bipartisanship is even more so. Everyone says they hate "partisan politics" but whoever engages in bi-partisan legislation very often ends up paying a price at the ballot box.

What would be an example of common ground to which both sides can come together for the good of the people of this nation? And how could that be accomplished?

Thank you, Elizabeth

Charles Hedrick said...

Good Morning Elizabeth,
I think you are asking me a more specific question: have religions other than Christianity perpetrated persecution on people they consider "heretics" as a conscious "religious" act in order to suppress dissent. As I said, my information would only be anecdotal, but here is what I turned up. Persecution of "heretics is found in the Koran:
And in Judaism (see Acts 5:40). Torture was common practice among the Persians, Assyrians, and Romans (crucifixion, for example).

"Common ground" would be decided by the parties to the negotiations (cease fire, terms of surrender, peace agreements, etc.) They keep going to the table until negotiations reach a state that both parties can live with the agreement. But note: there must be a desire to seek common ground. Over the last four years, for example (from my perspective), that desire has not existed in the eight years of the Obama administration in the U.S. Congress. An example of "common ground" in the current political climate in America would be to find a way to make the Affordable Health Care Act acceptable to the dominant parties in Congress and to the current or incoming President.

Elizabeth said...

That's very interesting, I came to basically the same anecdotal evidence myself. Sorry to bother you with one other question, I just have to say that I am surprised you mentioned the book of Acts as a source of information regarding physical persecution because there's no historical documents supporting any Jewish torture of Christians whatsoever. We don't even know who really wrote Acts other than it was the same author as the book of Luke. Even Paul's supposed "martyrdom" is very questionable historically. So do you find the events in Acts to be historically accurate? If so, that surprises me greatly.

Have a wonderful weekend! Elizabeth

Charles Hedrick said...

Good Morning Elizabeth,
The Book of Acts is a singularly important text. It is a historical witness to what the Christian community thought about its origins around the end of the first/beginning of the second centuries. Is its testimony to what happened earlier historical--i.e., its speeches and description of events etc.? My answer is obviously not in all particulars. But then I have the same view about what Eusebius tells us in his Ecclesiastical History.
With respect to my citing Acts 5:40 as evidence of persecution/torture, it is nevertheless a historical datum that Christians around the end of the first century thought Christians were persecuted as heretics by the synagogue. There seems to be a lengthy treatment of Hebrew/Jewish persecution/torture of apostates: compare Deuteronomy 13:1-10 and google "punishment of apostates in Judaism."

Robert Wahler said...

Charles, For all his self-promotion as the greatest deal maker since Noah, Trump has proven to be a great divider. It think the election comes down to a difference in education, and exposure to the outside world, evidenced by the results for Hillary on the Coasts.