A More Perfect Union:
Creating and Restoring Community in An Age of Disruption
If necessity is the mother of invention, then one might argue that disruption is the mother of the United States Constitution. What began in May 1787 as a meeting of delegates from the thirteen states that then comprised the United States to discuss the administrative and fiscal weaknesses of the federal government under the Articles of Confederation became a convention to create a strong and adaptable national government unlike anything that existed in the world at that time.
The Preamble to the Constitution lays out an ambitious agenda for the new federal government; but even before it lists those priorities, it focuses upon two fundamental concepts. The first is “We the People,” a reminder that the source of power in civil society is (or ought to be) derived from the governed. The second is “a more perfect Union,” an idea derived from the Enlightenment belief that human beings must continually strive for improvement, even though they may fall short of their aspirations. Stated another way, the People can accomplish far more in society by acting together for the common good.
In 2022, 233 years after the ratification of the Constitution, Americans are wondering less about if our union can be perfected. Rather, the question is now whether it can even survive. Current political polarization is reminiscent of America in the 1850s, as the debate over slavery deepened the divide between North and South. The crisis then burgeoned into a Civil War that reshaped the nation in ways that still reverberate in modern America. While we may avoid the devastation of actual warfare, it is nevertheless astounding that not even the ravages of a global pandemic and the growing threat of irreversible climate change can seal the fissures that have appeared in every segment of American society.
It is perhaps fitting that NRHC has returned to Philadelphia for its Annual Conference. In 2013, NRHC highlighted Philadelphia as a city of “firsts” dedicated to implementing the democratic ideals that form the foundation of Philadelphia’s rich history and culture. Nine years later, we seek not only a reaffirmation of those principles as the nation attempts to rebuild disparaged and distressed institutions and relationships, but also an infusion of the “Brotherly Love” that binds communities together and envisions a future in which the “Blessings of Liberty” are shared equally by all citizens. Immersing ourselves in Philadelphia’s past, present, and future beckons us to reevaluate what it means to be an American in the twenty-first century and to contemplate how our union can endure this current age of disruption.