June 21, 2011

Solidarity & the Fourth of July (a suggestion)

By Rebecca Ryskind Teti *

I made the command decision last month (Hubby was bound to his office, so he had no say) that the kids and I were neither going to the pool all day nor staying indoors lounging (the default holiday postures), but going to the National Memorial Day Parade.

This news was not met with the unalloyed delight of innocent children eager for a patriotic outing, but rather with the highly alloyed, indeed jaded, protest of spoiled kids who can't face heat, humidity, effort, or time away from their precious gizmos.

Which only convinced me of the plan's fitness and necessity. (They look smart, my children, yet still have not grasped that whining causes Mom to dig in her heels.) "There are men who fought in our wars who will be there, and we are dang well going to applaud them and show in public that we love the country and care about these things."

I played the guilt card, I'm not sorry.

I’m not a monster, though, and sweetened the pot with the promise of a visit to the Air & Space Museum afterward. Plus, we were traveling by subway, which was enough to get the littlest guys on board: they’re train fans.

I don’t pretend the trip was whine-free. It took over-priced frozen lemonade to head off complaining about the heat. Once we were settled, we got into it. The Memorial Day Parade features veterans from every war: costumed re-enactors in some cases, but for the latter wars, real veterans. The kids were thrilled to see heroes they’ve only read about: the Band of Brothers, Buzz Aldrin, various Medal of Honor winners.

It turned into one of those happy family days you can’t plan, but just “happen.” I think it’s good for the kids (and for me as well) to spend some time in community with their fellow citizens. It attaches you in some way.

I’ve been thinking lately about solidarity, that principle of Catholic Social Teaching which calls us to be committed to justice and the common good, not just our own. What appears to me to be increasing public thuggery: shouting people down, preferring rudeness over argument, the inability to play fair or believe “the other side” could have wholesome motives or just claims disheartens me.

I had occasion recently to consult Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” for the famous passage on “soft despotism.” Tocqueville, writing in the 19th century, prophesied how representative democracy would gradually end. The besetting vice of any democracy is envy, he thought.

Resentful of those who achieve riches or accomplishment, people in democracies will eventually trade equality of opportunity for equality of condition. Tocqueville thought Americans would gradually come to envy high achievement or wealth and trade the liberty which allows anyone the same shot at happiness (however defined) in favor of a bureaucracy which levels everything for everyone.

The relevance to solidarity is this. Tocqueville foresaw that the more people relied on government rather than on shared life together, the weaker would be the bonds of affection among citizens. He writes:

“I see an innumerable crowd of like and equal men who revolve on themselves… procuring the small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, withdrawn and apart, is like a stranger to the destiny of all the others: his children and his particular friends form the whole human species for him; as for dwelling with his fellow citizens, he is beside them, but he does not see them; he touches them and does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone, and if a family still remains for him, one can at least say that he no longer has a native country”

I don’t advocate a return to an agrarian economy, and I realize the restoration of healthy culture is more complicated than this; but it’s obvious we were more mutually respectful of each other in the days where we needed each other to raise barns …when we saw and interacted with each other.

My modest suggestion is that we make it a point to attend our community parades and fireworks this coming Fourth of July. Resist the inertia that says it’s too hot or bothersome, I’d rather be home. When lifestyles increasingly make it not necessary to interact with our fellow citizens, it’s all the more crucial we make the effort.

We’ll have no independence to celebrate without recognizing our dependence on each other.

Rebecca Ryskind Teti is Operations Coordinator for the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship at the Busch School of Business & Economics at CUA, though the opinions are her own. This column is modified from an earlier version that first appeared in Faith & Family  magazine.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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