We are still a very young country – a mere 226 years old. We have packed an awful lot of living into those precious few years, and it is easy to forget we are brash youth. From Columbus’s discovery of the New Land in 1492 to the Declaration of Independence, 284 years elapsed. We have telescoped history and have difficulty imagining the lapse of time between eras that make our own seem too childish to flaunt.
Copernicus realized the heliocentricity of the solar system more than 200 years before we declared our independence from England but we have been reluctant or at least slow to grasp his greatness. In one sense, we see the Globe tightening and our command of it expanding. 500 years ago it would have been heady thinking to dream that one country could place itself at the center of the universe. Today, only a few people deny that that is the way of the world.
Every now and then, it is a good idea to reconsider what we mean by the phrase “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal….” We were conducting a war that Abraham Lincoln ensured us was noble in intent and execution and he finished with these rousing words, that America’s representative democracy was a “government of the people, by the people, for the people, [that] shall not perish from the earth.”
Today, it behooves us to reflect on the nobility of that vision for, as the world grows smaller and our place in it larger, “of,” “by,” and “for” have inevitably become more difficult to understand and we battle among ourselves over an obfuscating goal that tells some people we must be “the leaders of the free world” while informing others that in a world with ever more dangerous enemies who are ever more ambitious, the wise choice is to make solid our gates and be mindful of NUMBER ONE and never to forget that Lincoln meant that preserving the Union did not entail expanding it.
It is not easy to know the right course, and with a pusillanimity that they are happy ostentatiously to display, hundreds of millions of Americans are glad to go forth into the world and say, “I am sure glad I am not the one who has to make the earth-shattering decisions that will determine the future of the world for millennia to come.” We vote with our feet, we think with numbed brains, we are completely indifferent and oblivious to Lincoln’s “by the people,” at best supposing it to be fancy rhetoric that adds nothing of consequence to the other two prepositions.
We’ve come a short way, Baby, since November 19, 1863 and the conflation of time since that once-seeming historic day will seem as nothing compared with what may be in store for us over the next thousand years whose blistering speed will not give even the best of us time for meaningful reflection.
posted under History, Nations of the World, Politics, Social Science