At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Elizabeth Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin whether the newly declared nation of the United States was a republic or a monarchy. Dr. Franklin replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.” At the time, the central thesis of America’s public policy discourse was preoccupied with devising the world’s first modern human experiment of self-government.
However, the somber advice of safeguarding the experiment and our founding values of a constitutional republic is still relevant today. The longevity and health of a liberal democracy and a genuinely classical liberal society rest upon rational collective actions of informed and educated citizens whose individual pursuits of freedom, enlightenment, happiness, and private property largely align with the greater public good. In turn, an educated and well-informed citizenry is the most potent weapon against political factions, hyper-partisanship, and the tyranny of the majority.
Such a solid premise requires a general acceptance of America’s institutional design, open inquiry, robust public discourse, civil dissent, and more importantly, a consensus on the importance of critical thinking. Without these basic ingredients, necessary self-repair and revisions to democratic governance can’t take hold.
By and large, Americans have always strived to come together in spite of our vast differences in backgrounds, creed, and opinions. Generation after generation, free-thinking and freedom-loving Americans have managed to sufficiently contain the primal impulses of racial and political tribalism in a shared journey seeking a more perfect union.
But lately, these illiberal impulses are increasingly rigging the system. With the aid of national political polarity, sensational media reporting and a bumbling bureaucracy in education, government and other important sectors, we are now quick to embrace groupthink, contempt before investigation, and harsh judgement of fellow Americans.
I recently discovered that I was doxxed as the “Asian dog waste lady” in my new neighborhood by someone who had called police on an unsubstantiated claim of my dog’s alleged unsanitary activity on the community sidewalk.
A social media post featuring a low-quality video of my walking my pooch, along with my family’s personal details, has become one of the most commented stories in my neighborhood’s online group. Many commented to condemn me and some were eager to dissociate with me because they are not the “Asian dog poop lady who lives in that grey house on the cul-de-sac.” The herd mentality, identifying me on the basis of my race and judging my action (or inaction) based on inconspicuous evidence, is astounding.
Have we simply lost our ways? I can care less about unfounded “neighborly” gossip—truth always prevails. After all, I always pick up after my furry companion and shouldn’t have had to justify myself to law enforcement. While paw patrol was imposed on me rather amusingly, I sent flowers to the neighbor who doxxed me.
But my quagmire is just a snapshot of the larger society in which human decency and critical thinking are being weakened by the tempting pull of racial divisions, cancel culture, and group think.
If we continue on this path, a republic we will keep no more.