The unique idea of America embodied in our Bill of Rights is that people of diverse racial, religious, ethnic, and geographic origins can live together in peace and pursue their own happiness. The idea has survived civil war, world wars, and economic depression. With each challenge the idea has grown more robust. It has made us the envy of the world. It is the source of our strength as a nation.
Only Americans themselves can destroy the idea. The ingredients essential to its survival are our faith in its wisdom and our confidence in its success.
The American Idea
Scholars, novelists, politicians, artists, and others look ahead to the future of the American idea.
There have been times when our confidence has waned. Even our Founders, who feared the anarchy of the French Revolution, passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. In the last century, fear of fascism and communism led us to imprison fellow citizens based on their ancestry and to harass others because of their views.
The American idea faces a similar challenge today. The radical fundamentalists who struck us on 9/11 achieved by our reaction what they could not through their own actions: a blow against the freedoms that animate the American idea. Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, warrantless electronic surveillance, torture, and “extraordinary renditions” have made us less, not more, secure. We have alienated allies around the world and created disunity at home.
Americans are pragmatic, confident, and idealistic. In 2008, new leadership will rekindle our faith in the idea of America. We don’t have to diminish the American idea in order to save it. Indeed, the only way to prevail in the struggle between freedom and fundamentalism is to enrich that idea in the face of threats.
Next year we will see a renaissance of self-confident freedom that will demonstrate to the world that the American idea is not just an ideal, but a living reality.