A ‘Declaration of Interdependence’ also needed

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The United States is more devoted to the concept of independence than any country in the history of the world. Independence is what we fought for over the course of 8 years in the 1770s and 1780s, and we linked a concept of national independence with personal independence. Freeing ourselves from unfair rule by the British crown defined our mission to achieve national independence, and protecting the rights of each person to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, within a framework of a federal republic, defined our mission to achieve personal independence.

Personal independence, of course, was a highly restricted notion since it excluded women, black slaves, and white laborers. It took almost 200 years for basic civil and political rights to be protected for these excluded groups, and even then women, blacks and other minorities frequently are prevented from fully exercising their rights.

The founding fathers, without contradicting themselves, could have called for a system of government which promoted a strong interventionist central government like the kind FDR and LBJ, each in his own way, promoted in the 20th century. The concept of national independence does not entail the concept of personal independence — just the way the concept of a national zoo does not require that all the cages in the zoo contain one animal.

Thus the revolutionary colonists could have reacted to the unfair authoritarian British King model of leadership with one that insisted that the leadership of the country ensure that the common man (and the common woman for that matter) received the basic goods they needed to lead good lives, notably food, land, housing, clothing, education, and whatever modest medical care was available.

History did not develop this way. Yet by the 20th century we reinterpreted the ideals of individualism and justice in our Constitution and created a robust mixed economy.

We have been oscillating back and forth between independence and interdependence for over 100 years. Democrats and many independents have been trying for decades to build a more interdependent society, but the effort has needed something to leverage us there: that something is the pandemic.

The novel coronavirus has made it clear to us that we are dependent on each other the way soldiers in a brigade are dependent on each other. The masks we need to wear, the social distance we need to keep, the quarantining we will need to do when necessary — these are things that make a people redefine themselves, even if they have been living according to certain elements of this definition for a long time.

We must firmly declare that we need — and we demand — a strong federal government to provide economic support to those who have lost out: the workers, the small businesses, the retired citizens who cannot pay their mortgages, the citizens who lack health insurance. The federal government, and state and local governments, must be conceptualized as partners with business and the nonprofit sector in a joint venture to promote a society where interdependence is regarded as one of the two core values of our nation.

Interdependence incorporates the values of freedom, equality, and justice, although they are defined differently than they were for classical liberals. Putting the concept of interdependence on a pedestal does not mean throwing out all of our original values. It means recalibrating them. It is time to reinvent ourselves and to make interdependence basic to our country. So recast, we will be in a better position to be a world leader on the side of justice and peace.

Moreover, the national crisis that has emerged following the brutal death of George Floyd requires that we work together to create a national dialogue to eliminate police brutality toward African Americans and reboot our strategies to end racism throughout our country. Declaring our interdependence on each other will help with this massive project, because it is only when we see how the lives of all races in our country are bound together in political, economic and civic endeavors that we will achieve unity in our country.

Although driven to secure both national independence and personal independence, the founders themselves understood that they, as Franklin said, “must, indeed, all hang together or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” So, after 240 years, their kindred spirits would probably not object to our also having a Declaration of Interdependence.

And in the midst of a massive public health, economic, political and racial crisis, it is entirely fitting for us to issue this second Declaration. Like the first, it will be born out of crisis.

Dave Anderson is the editor of “Leveraging: A Political, Economic, and Societal Framework” (Springer, 2014). He is also the author of “Youth04: Young Voters, the Internet, and Political Power” (W.W. Norton & Company, 2004) and co-editor of “The Civic Web: Online Politics and Democratic Values” (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). He has taught at George Washington University, the University of Cincinnati, and Johns Hopkins University. He was a candidate in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District. Contact him at dmamaryland@gmail.com.

Tags Benjamin Franklin Coronavirus COVID-19 Declaration of Independence George Floyd protests Political philosophy

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