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Sender: Steven H Johnson
Subject: Re: Conservatives
Date: Fri, May 9, 2014
Msg: 100971

Hi Lawry -

As a nation, we are so torn. Nothing new in that. Jefferson idealized local government by yeomen farmers who knew each other and knew their local challenges. And - here in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, it seems to me that local government reflects this impulse of Jefferson's. It has a more pragmatic edge because the players have all known one another face to face, in many different roles.

At the state level, ideology creeps in.

At the national level, ideology takes over.

So everything you say resonates with how I see issues from my Maryland perspective.

But the coin has another side. Jefferson was also the guy who bought Louisiana from the French and turned the USA from a small eastern seaboard nation to a continent-spanning behemoth. And we wouldn't have had him do otherwise. Hamilton's voice in the Federalist is the voice of commercial opportunity; he relished his vision of the vast free trade zone the new nation would create. Like Hamilton, many of us weren't contented with small scale local democracy; in a lot of different ways, we wanted scale and the greatness of opportunity that went with scale.

So I'm not sure I'm with you viz how we think about the larger nation. I don't want to believe that "big = ungovernable." I think it ought to be possible for us to have a civic vocabulary of scale. And if that's possible, then perhaps trust - at scale - also becomes possible.

One of my favorite books is American Nations, by Colin Woodard. Woodard describes the settlement patterns that shaped this nation, and that have created a host of distinct cultures within our larger frame. So - one way to pose the "large scale" question is to ask folks from each culture if they can be simultaneously distinct and national? Are there shared questions that they would readily discuss with folks from other regions?

At times I have suggested we view America as a matrix, simultaneously a nation of enduring assets, and a nation of commercial enterprise. We measure assets with balance sheets. We measure commerce with income statements. We seek to optimize both. We struggle with what that means.

And at times I have suggested that we face three kinds of questions - questions of commercial success, questions of asset stewardship, questions of wise lawmaking. We will thrive better as a nation if we can find good answers to all three sets of questions at the same time.

So - to bounce this back to you and Jim Turner - is it possible that "freedom" and "order" are both answers to a common civic question?

And, if so, then what's the common civic question? Is it a hot button question? Or perhaps a general question about our responsibilities? Are there questions we can ask ourselves that will lure us toward a greater sense of trust? What kind of questions will do that best?



Steven Howard Johnson - Civic Futurist 410-562-0361 Book in Progress: Thoughtful Patriotism


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