President Biden’s Inaugural Address was an auspicious call to unify the country. While I happen to disagree with the President on a multitude of ideas and matters of policy, a call to unify this bruised nation is most certainly one that I can stand behind; and I encourage everyone to do the same, regardless of political affiliation. I will say, however, that this call may land on deaf ears in this political climate of partisan sectarians and ideologues unless we clearly state how this shall be done. In order to do this, I wish to analyze another auspicious Inaugural Address, that of our third president Thomas Jefferson.
Being a partisan man himself, Jefferson realized the need for unity in America, and thus delivered what is regarded as one of the best Inaugural Addresses in the history of our nation. In it, Jefferson states we must recognize that “every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle,” and that we have “been called by different names brethren of the same principle.” If this nation is going to heal, it must cleanse itself of the vitriol that fills the current social discourse, annul itself of radical ideology (on both sides), abandon demagoguery, and revisit the principles that make it so remarkable. I hope to soon write about what these principles are.
Thomas Jefferson also states that his fellow citizens must “unite with one heart and one mind,” and “restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.” In my opinion, this is the most paramount point of his entire Address because it has to do with the culture. Jefferson is calling for restoring the social discourse, and returning to a culture of harmony and affection among his fellow citizens. If we want unity in America, we must practice it. If we truly want unity, we must renounce our desire to label those we disagree with as impure strangers that must be removed from the social discourse. To revisit Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, he gives a prophetic vision of the possible end of America’s democratic republic. He states that tyranny in a democratic republic doesn’t proceed like those of monarchies or dictatorships. Instead, “It ignores the body and goes straight for the soul. The master no longer says: you will think as I do or die. He says: you are free not to think as I do. You may keep your life, your property and everything else. But from this day forth you shall be as a stranger among us. You will retain your civic privileges, but they will be of no use to you. For if you seek the votes of your fellow citizens, they will withhold them, and if you seek only their esteem, they will feign to refuse even that. You will remain among men, but you will forfeit your rights to humanity. When you approach your fellow creatures, they will shun you as one who is impure. And even those who believe in your innocence will abandon you, lest they, too, be shunned in turn. Go in peace, I will not take your life, but the life I leave you with is worse than death.”
If we truly want unity, we absolutely must fight for it. Peace is not the natural state of man, and our nature to associate with tribes can be quite dangerous.
In The History of Rome, Livy states that if one wishes to follow the fall of the Roman Republic, “let him follow the decay of the national character, observing how at first it slowly sinks, then slips downwards more and more rapidly, and finally begins to plunge into headlong ruin.” I pray our fate is not the same.
I stand behind President Biden’s call for unity, but as America is on the brink of its own political Peloponnesian War, this unity must be practiced, and above all else, we must restore the national character.