A Peaceful Revolution of Hope
AC: Tell me, dear Sir, where will our gathering place be?
AK: Why, in the Palace of Virtue, of course!
AC: But what of true Liberty?
AK: There it was born
AC: But what of true Equality?
AK: There it first breathed.
AC: And of true Fraternity?
AK: There it first cried
I was born in middle America in November of 1962 and perhaps I make too much of “my time” but I believe that it was a portentous moment – it was the time of great hope in America, some called it the Dawn of a Golden Age, of the space race and unbounded horizons - John Glenn and the man in orbit and the Apollo program, of that whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro and the coming Civil Rights Act, of the Cold War and of Vietnam, of the waning of Colonialism of the old sort, of Silent Spring and of the flowering of the environmental movement, of The Feminine Mystique, and the rise of people power over against “The Establishment.” And, at the outset, we had been given, by providence, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, himself a unifying man of hope. Inaugurated on January 20, 1961, he came to the fore with a vision of leadership that was thrilling. I imagine that he was born for such a time as that, as he spoke this vision into our collective consciousness. My Grandmother, who of course never knew him, still loved the man. For twenty years she kept a bronze colored bust of him in her home, placed in a position of honor - first in priority among the many decorative plates and near countless other knick-knacks. My first recollection of watching television were images of the man being honored over and over in the years following his assassination in November of 1963. Though I was very young at the time, those images remain clear as day in my memory. I believe that, as a child, I sensed what those me around truly felt, when, soon after his passing, the years turned fractious and turbulent.
I am and have always been drawn to his speeches, as well as those of Dr. Martin Luther King. And today, this day, here and now, I want to hold up the inaugural speech as a picture of the wholeness of unity and diversity – the ultimate reminder of the key to the puzzle that explains who we are together and as individuals in America. It stands, critically, as a reminder of what we ought be. It stands as a prescription for the illness of fracture that besets us as a community. Come with me. Let’s walk and talk. I am here to talk about revolutionary culture. I am here to propose to you a peaceful revolution of hope.
Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty….Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need -- not as a call to battle, though embattled we are -- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation," a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…
John F. Kennedy: "Inaugural Address," January 20, 1961. The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=8032
The conception and claim of rights without a concurrent acknowledgment and performance of duty is a mark of tyranny – in a nation, in a community, and in a mind. You need both, in tandem, in a free society and in a free mind – rights and responsibilities. In freedom they exist jointly and are jointly conceived, in virtue, and so are not birthed alone but enter the world with one holding fast to the other. They are the joined outworking of relationship. More than symbiosis they don’t exist long apart from one another.
The Trumpet Call for us then, our way forward, is in duty to our fellow man. This is the essence of peaceful revolutionary culture – men caring about and, so, honoring the rights of other men even in the midst of crisis and material lack. It’s a very old notion, but now, we but we are being called to it anew. The enjoyment of the fraternity and individual liberty follows naturally from this unselfish posture of the heart and will.
Another way of understanding this? I submit as follows:
First: Americans subscribe, and have always subscribed, to certain philosophic ideals, and those ideals stood, at the outset, in revolutionary culture, as the catalyst for the hard work done to create our structures and our processes of government.
Second: those ideals, all of them, are twin-born creatures of the morally ascertained sort…freedom and equality, justice and mercy, representative government and democracy, and unity and diversity.
Third: while we still subscribe to those high ideals, we’ve lost the rooted sense of “why?”, and that in that environment of forgetfulness, our faithfulness to those ideals all too often fails when things get rough; that is, when the “I” gets in the way of the “We.” We profess Red, White, and Blue, but has that profession now become only dry, dead, dogma with a beginning and origin and basis now lost in the fog of our pre-modern past? 1776, what was that all about anyway? Is there a price that must be paid, every day, for the benefits that we enjoy every day? If so, what is that price? And how is it paid?
Fourth: the reason we speak these ideals while abandoning them when things get rough is that, indeed, we have lost, through complacency, the prior sense of obligation and the necessity of action toward others – that sense of obligation toward the other is the price and action is the coin in which that price is paid.
Fifth: the way this all plays out in our day to day thinking, this harmonious lived philosophy of unity in the midst of diversity, is through the symmetrical and inseparable notions of rights and duties. I have an obligation to my fellow man in this community of people and because of that I, likewise, have a right to expect that he has an obligation to me. My rights arise in community and I then enjoy them as an individual. If we lose the notion of rights and duties as part of one composite thing, as our way of living the good life in community, then we find ourselves living solely with ourselves in mind…we become people devoted to ourselves, alone, a people with an entitlement to rights and no felt concurrent obligation to duty; turned only inward and never outward, every man for himself.
And, sixth: our structures of government are, though imperfect, sufficient for facilitating those ideals as a lived American reality. This American government can, as it is now constituted, function to better ensure the realization of these ideals work for all of its citizens. We can regain unity and make our way back.
So, what of hope, here, in these United States? There is every reason to hope but the burden is on us and we must now put our hands to the plow:
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
Kennedy Inaugural, (1961).
And, as for our obligation to the broader community of man:
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.
Kennedy Inaugural, (1961).
Finally, look and you’ll see the same echo - of an American hope and a concurrent call to duty - in the words of that old French observer, Alexis De Tocqueville:
In the United States, as soon as several inhabitants have taken an opinion or an idea they wish to promote in society, they seek each other out and unite together once they have made contact. From that moment, they are no longer isolated but have become a power seen from afar whose activities serve as an example and whose words are heeded.
Tocqueville, A.,  2003. Democracy in America. 599. London: Penguin.
I understand that some may bristle and bridle at the religious references, metaphors, and allusions herein offered but Kennedy said what he said. I hope that will not stand in the way of you receiving here what’s otherwise good and helpful in your sight. In any event, these notions point the way to the ultimate statement of the Golden Rule generally prevalent in many cultures and religions and that all reasonable people ought agree to. They call us to depart from the ambition for power and material wealth and to heed the higher the call to love your neighbor as yourself. And, even, perhaps, reach out and to love one’s enemy. The call to work for unity is likewise, a call to break down walls. As one anonymous Berliner once wrote "This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality." Let’s believe and let's act. Now, that would be revolutionary.
*Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, values, and core platform planks of the Veterans Party of America.