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    “the soul of America”

gary e. davis
September 23, 2020

“There’s profound potential in Biden’s notion of ‘the soul of America’, which may admirably show in our lives,” I noted earlier. But more practically: Potential for more democratic engagement in good government calls upon citizens to be more engaged—an appeal that seems effective only ephemerally. Besides, “who’s got the time?” (Who makes time?)

To Biden’s mind, that life <–> nation bond is a matter of love: of life highly scaled to nation.

Indirectly related, I’ve ventured a psychalogical conception of humanism, though far beyond normal political contexts: anticipating and implicitly intimating an importance of singular lives, especially in terms of high engagement with humanities. But I make no apology for aspiring to appreciate a high scale of life or to highly admire conceptual exemplarity.

The simple point is that “soul” is oriented by futurity, immanent to the human potential of anyone’s capability for conception or innovation (be it unremarkable, be it original). Actualizing futures is what culture is for; and cultural flourishing is what society is for; and goodG society is what government is for.

Accordingly, feasible futuring is what we want from good political leadership, parallel with Our want of futuring by good government in service to futurally-oriented society.

Such was clearly the orientation of the DNC 4: “who we want to be” (M. Obama) by “the north star” (B. Obama) of “extraordinary possibilities” (Biden). We all want advancement of lives, community, culture, and society.

All in all, we’re oriented toward advancement, but full of disagreement about what’s best soon, later, and how well we can accommodate the pace of change across the various modes of our lives.

Turning away from futural orientation around to thinking of history is as important as education is for any life. But that’s for the living whose unprecedented presence appropriates precedent for the sake of advancement. History isn’t the origin of anything. It’s retained remembrance that remains appropriate for where we’re going. (By the way, that reality invalidates originalism in Constitutional jurisprudence.)

Historian Jon Meacham serves citizens well by insisting that we remember how fear in the past was dissolved by hope, if only because our current political season faces America with The Choice between a fake president who thrives on instilling fear (as did Hitler—whom Trump admires) and a statesman who thrives on hope (as did FDR, who knew struggle very personally).

So, it’s great to be reminded of “soul” by Meacham. Yet, soul isn’t “the vital center,” though “humankind has long viewed the soul as the vital center, the core, the essence of existence” (his DNC video).

Soul, in a phrase, is one’s Selfidentical being mirrored by horizons of aspiration, appeals of futurity, and devotion to advancement (which I’ve prospected in my own way). One might prospect that soul is heartfulness, which does suggest Meacham’s traditional trope. Yet, the authentic mindfulness of that is fully temporal, not substantive, which matters when thinking about “that part of the American soul…in which the nation was delivered from the forces of complacency and reaction, and achieved great political and social reforms” (DNC video) through aspiration, futural appeal, and promise of advancement.

The humanity of that is, for Meacham, literary: It’s “the better angels” (a canonical trope)
who compose “the vital center.” (Meacham was a student of Literature before becoming a professional historian.) The background text for his DNC presentation is his 2018 book,
The Soul of America, subtitled “the battle for our better angels.”

But the historical battles were not by the better angels themselves, because they do not battle. They eventually prevail by virtue of their intrinsic appeal. Struggles toward sufficiently appreciating that call upon educational leadership to channel the appeal durably and lastingly. That channeling is itself a calling to us, as Meacham concludes: “enter the arena…resist tribalism… respect facts and employ reason… find a critical balance… [and] keep history in mind” (266-72). Yet, the better angels would have us enter with aspiration, resist in service to ambitious engagement, respect through insight, find balance through exemplarity, and hope to make more history.

Admirably but misleadingly, Meacham advises “disbelieving in human perfection.” Actually, notions of perfectibility are about aiming for one’s personal best, in this case a nation’s best
(“a more perfect union,” it’s said). The appeal of perfectibility is integral to the receding horizon drawing us. Of course, perfection is never reached; but the appeal of personal best is part of idealism that really aspires, really engages, and really advances—and learns that learning never ends for flourishing life. So, yes, being “fierce in its advocacy,” a “politics of the ‘vital center’” is “humble in the face of human folly….[I]ts idealism [is] tempered…by respect for its own limits.”

Yet, for the better angels, limits have their own appeal as challenges for learnability, creativity, conceivability, innovation, and engagement.

Perhaps the darling notion of soul mates can inspire solidarities to become anewed kinships among “we who make the continuum [from civility to intimacy] actual,” I noted earlier, “life by life seeking the mutuality necessary for ‘work in common purpose’ (Biden).”

Perhaps the intimacy belongs ultimately to conceptual prospecting. Here, intimacy of nation-al love melds with inter-psychal (soulful) love, synergistic in terms of humanities for the sake— one hopes—of Our ecologically flourishing continent—the planet!—which Our children may enjoy.

The soul of America is Our nebulous, dynamic, open prospects for grandly telic cohering—what I earlier called “humanity’s ‘revealed’ Telos…. a potential of our humanity to make [the bond of love among us with love of nation] sacred, born from and based in the nature of being human potential for divining our presence.”

That may seem florid, but flourishing of America is really part of humanity’s quest to flourish
on Our pale blue dot, the only real option for heaven known.


next—> for an American politics of virtue




    Be fair. © 2020, g. e. davis.