The orienting symbol for this project is inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s “Lyceum Address.” The elements of this image are drawn from Lincoln’s description of America’s founding generation as “trees of men” who devoted their fortunes, blood, and ultimately even their lives to our young Republic. Toward the end of this profound speech he tells us how these trees of people became the pillars of what he so aptly calls the “temple of liberty.” This poetic rendering, of people becoming rooted in their communities while actualizing the principles of our regime, frames our endeavor by illustrating the transformational nature of liberty’s pursuit.
Such a strange account of liberty is intimately personal for me. On the one hand, I know all too well how appealing it is to interpret freedom in terms of our power to do whatever is most pleasant. Yet, so too, I’ve learned how license works against another of our intrinsic impulses; that age-old yearning for the fulfillment of our greater potential. Just as our Declaration’s two-fold political faith (in the divine creation of mankind and our comprehensive destiny as a free people) demands ever more from our historical Republic, so too does my own desire for completion reveal the many ways that I miss the mark; yet our failings—for failures there ever will be—needn’t reduce freedom’s scope to fit within the meagre confines of natural liberty; not when the visionary wisdom of an Aeschylus or Lincoln yet exists on the horizon. Rather, our search for the causes of well-lived lives can’t help but reveal a common (and necessarily eternal) source of our strivings which, in turn, demands new syntheses of our moral and material powers here in the present.
I’ve launched this Political Animal Project in hopes of cultivating friendships with kindred souls. Therefore I hope that you accept this flawed thought-experiment as a down-payment of sorts towards what might become a constructive political vision: Upbuilding Political Culture: Why a Self-Ruling People Pursues the Ends of Civil and Religious Liberty.
This essay (6,500 words) engages with Lincoln’s argument that any people who would be free must pursue the ends of both civil and religious liberty. Herein the excesses of identity politics, political materialism, and moral relativism are addressed while seeking to re-integrate our Declaration’s political faith into our daily lives.
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