12/7/2020: In May of 1964, Lyndon Johnson delivered his now famous “Great Society” speech at the University of Michigan commencement in Ann Arbor. Here are a few passages from that speech that seem remarkably relevant to the current moment–perhaps especially in thinking about how much we must count on younger generations in America to get us out of the terrible mess our country is currently in. Johnson first asked the audience to recognize and accept the burden that had been placed upon them:
“For better or for worse, your generation has been appointed by history to deal with those problems and to lead America toward a new age. You have the chance never before afforded to any people in any age. You can help build a society where the demands of morality, and the needs of the spirit, can be realized in the life of the Nation.”
He then asked them to consider a series of questions that laid out the scope of the challenges:
“So, will you join in the battle to give every citizen the full equality which God enjoins and the law requires, whatever his belief, or race, or the color of his skin?
Will you join in the battle to give every citizen an escape from the crushing weight of poverty?
Will you join in the battle to make it possible for all nations to live in enduring peace — as neighbors and not as mortal enemies?
Will you join in the battle to build the Great Society, to prove that our material progress is only the foundation on which we will build a richer life of mind and spirit?”
I only hope that these questions might resonate with the right audience in this moment of extraordinary challenge and opportunity for the country.
11/15/2020: As a political philosopher thinking in the spirit of John Dewey (Art as Experience) and Iris Young (Inclusion and Democracy), I have become increasingly interested in forms of communication, besides discursive argument and conventional discursive reason-giving, that have the potential to strengthen democracy in times of trial. For the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about examples of great oratory that have the potential to realign our thinking in times of despair.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address, from March 4, 1933, is one of the great examples –indeed it is one of the greatest speeches in all of American oratory. FDR assured his audience that
“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”
During this time in which the Coronavirus pandemic is strenghtening its grip on the nation and the world, we need leadership “of frankness and vigor” and we need people who are willing to trust and lend their support to such leadership.