The American Age
The American possibility does not belong to the West, but to all peoples who have sacrificed for self-determination, and who believe that the rights of the individual are at least as important as the rights of the group. Yes, there have been shameful epochs in American history, and, yes, there will be more. Yet no other community so far imagined has greater potential to manifest the virtues of equality, fraternity, and liberty. And if this is not the American Age, if it has already past, then we would not let it go gently. We would fight so that its most authentic ideation may yet manifest, so that it might be remembered for what it could have been, instead of for what it failed at most bitterly.
African slavery, the conscription of East Asian laborers, the theft of indigenous lands and the murder of indigenous peoples, the bleaching of history and our deeply felt denial that we are responsible for any of it, all of these must be confronted. But we would not stall in the breach created by this inquiry; we would push beyond the static antagonisms of unexamined group affiliations and strive for a reconciliation with our past. A historical reckoning is only the beginning of our project.
We would revive wisdom as a viable subject of rigorous intellectual inquiry. We would champion virtue. We would take up speculations about God, and destiny, and hope, and strip them of their facile denominational associations. We would cast aside the adolescent binaries—the donkeys and elephants, the believers and nones, the whites and non-whites—and agitate for a more humble and nuanced understanding of what it means to live amongst a vast network of strangers whom we must learn to trust, even though we will never come to know them. We would recall, over and over again, what it is to be a human being aware of our own mortality, aware of our own limitations and fears, aware of our own animal desires.
The American Age is unapologetically secular, even as it defends the value of religion. The American Age promotes truth and objectivity, even though it understands truth and objectivity are elusive and wild, and only ever momentarily won. The American Age knows that writing and talking have their place, but so too does action, and that “pedestrian” concerns about status, property, and tradition are concerns all the same, and that we have a responsibility to take those concerns seriously, and to help our brothers and sisters address those concerns.
For thousands of years human beings have struggled, and fought, and labored in pain. There is no place to stand outside of that history. No tribe is innocent. No community above reproach. And there is finally no future in which these messy, unruly bodies stop colliding with and loving other bodies. There is no utopian future, no City of God, no Nirvana “this side of blue.” The world is on fire with competing wants and antagonistic desires. The American Age is an opportunity to embrace that world honestly and help shape its future.
We will never make the world right, but we won’t retreat from our responsibility to try. We hope you’ll join us.