For much of America’s history, there has been relatively little debate about a few basics needed to hold together a highly diverse, continental republic conceived in liberty. Citizens needed to be free but virtuous. Most governmental power had to be exercised by state and local authorities. Most governmental decisions needed to be made through the democratic process. Much of public life had to take part in close-to-home voluntary associations, including faith-based organizations.
Obviously, within this framework, there has been a great deal of disagreement—about tax rates, zoning rules, education priorities, and so much more. No one would have seriously thought that Americans would find consensus on every major policy matter. But our formal governing arrangements and informal norms enabled us to live with such differences by channeling debate into institutions of deliberation and compromise and allowing individuals and communities to build and protect a variety of ways of life.
Photo by Douglas Rissing/iStock