Felix Morley on maintaining a Republic

The conclusion of The Power in the Peoplepublished in 1949:

The United States has developed a civilization of its own, and no apologies are needed. This civilization owes much to Europe, but it is different from that of Europe. Owing something also to Asia and to Africa, the American way of life is nevertheless basically dissimilar from anything those continents have produced. In this country men have stood alone, unfettered by status, unhampered by the State, contracting with each other in an essentially free Society. So standing, men have grown strong, and have prevailed. They have prevailed because it is only when Man stands alone that he rises above himself, hears the still small voice of conscience, and hearkens to the Authority of his Creator. Then, paradoxically, he is no longer alone. “And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.”

The American civilization is neither mature nor fully stabilized. Its pains, therefore, are those of growth, not dissolution; of strength, not weakness. This civilization will continue to grow as long as it is based on the assumption that people are generally honorable and trustworthy, simply because of their humanity.

That is what most Americans mean when they loosely use the word “democracy.” Of course, a faith in human goodness is not at all the same thing as democracy, which, as an abstraction, means the “rule of the people” and, as a political system, means the unrestricted majority rule that our Constitution so carefully forbids. But a belief that Man is honorable for himself is Christian and liberal and inspiring. It is democratic to the extent that it opposes the privileges and restrictions of status. And for a civilization based on that belief there will be a bright future, so long as the people retain the power that is in them.

Because it has a faith in the individual, American civilization is hostile to any seizure of power from the people, and is particularly hostile to the seizure of this power by centralized government. From the assumption that Man is honorable comes the conclusion that self-government is desirable. To assist self-government the American is expected willingly to accept the conventions and reasonable regulations of a free Society. But he is also expected to oppose resolutely all arbitrary government by the State. The power is in the people. They must retain it.

The average American is, at least vaguely, conscious of the importance of the tremendous Revolution, finally accomplished in this country, whereby men threw off the slavery of status. He believes that other peoples can similarly achieve freedom, if they so desire. But the most that any government can do is to set people “at liberty.” The State can stabilize the condition of freedom, and that is its sole excuse for being.

Liberty is from God, and men must develop their liberty from within. It cannot be doled out by governmental agencies. To create a political dictatorship in America, on the specious pretense of liberating others from their particular dictatorships, would be to destroy the whole achievement of the American Revolution. And that is the way in which the Republic is most likely to be destroyed. That is what Washington meant when, in the Farewell Address, he asked: “Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground?”

In the field of charity, of companionship, of trade and intellectual intercourse, no ground is foreign to Americans and no man is a foreigner. There has never been a people whose natural instincts are less “isolationist.” Mixed blood and mingled origins dispose Americans to think well of men as men. They are happily not disposed to think well of governments as governments. The fundamental American faith responds to association of men — everywhere. It has no confidence in associations of government — anywhere.

For essentially the same reason, Americans mistrust empire. Common sense tells us that the Republic was never designed to run an empire. Imperialism requires centralization of power, and all the political institutions of our federal union were carefully planned to make centralization difficult. To become an empire, the United States must cease to be a Republic. Of course, this could happen here, as it happened in Rome. But it is hard to detect any popular enthusiasm for the imperial role. Sent overseas, the chief desire of the average American boy is to do the assigned job as quickly as possible and then “come home.”

One may believe that this homing instinct will continued, as long is home is significant to Americans. And if it ceases to be significant, we are lost. For after all, the homely things are those in which the American people take most pride; of which they have most to offer. It is not accidental that the outstanding esthetic contribution of the Republic has been in the field of domestic architecture. Probably there is no American ambition that runs deeper and is more pervasive than that of “making a home.”

And that is what the student of American history and American institutions would infer, even if he had never set foot upon American soil. For in the home are first instilled those lessons of self-government and of voluntary co-operation for the common good which the Republic expects of its citizens; without which the Republic will not endure. It is in the home that he first learns to appreciate the nature of liberty. It is the home, and not the palace of potentate and proconsul, that has determined and will continued to determine the character of American civilization.

In recent years Americans have been abroad, in more than the literal sense. We can stay abroad, or we can come home. We shall never make the world safe for democracy. But we can keep and continuously strengthen the power in the people, here at home. Only thus will the light of this Republic continued to shine before mankind, as a beacon unique in history.

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