Discussion: Towards a More Perfect Union

By SHANE STEINERT-THRELKELD

One part of Obama’s victory speech that stood out was his comparison of the USA to an evolving being:

And to all those who have wondered if Americas beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

For that is the true genius of America – that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This inspiring rhetoric, however, reveals a key Obama’s success: his philosophic idealism. Obama is ushering in a new common conception of our belief systems, encouraging that there is a greater good to which we can all contribute by participation.

Accepting that our union can change, what does it mean for our union to be perfected by such process?  Obama is implying that there are certain attributes which render a union perfect. Through exercising our democratic ability to change our government, we are helping render our union more perfect.  This seems to imply that Obama’s definition of a perfect union is roughly that which “reflects the beliefs common to the most people in said union.”

Obama, unlike many politicians in recent memory, brings about a sense of unity behind a cause and argues that therefore this cause is the right cause.  This idea seems to agree somewhat with the natural rights’ philosophers, who argue that government exists only to protect a few rights natural to all men, the ideas of whom our nation is founded upon.  Obama seems to be arguing for a similar brand of “justice by convention.”

While words like “by convention” upset many libertarian and other individualistic people, this belief rests at the core of a representational democracy such as America. The acknowledgement that representatives need exist in a government as large as ours helps define the government’s purpose as representing the beliefs of as many of its constituents as possible. This definition is justice by convention as above.

Given that our founding fathers were hardly socialists, I find it shocking that Obama is being accused of being one.  When one analyzes the philosophical foundations upon which his belief system rest, it appears that Obama believes in the same brand of minimalism for which most natural rights philosophers argue.  In fact, Obama’s ideals appear to be taken almost directly from the Declaration of Independence:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…

This quotation still leaves partially open the question of justice as absolute or as convention.  In the Declaration, Justice is capitalized as if an absolute ideal, but it is also established by and for the people.  What does everyone think? Should our union be aspiring to achieve an absolute ideal of things like Justice and Liberty or does a union exercise its perfection by molding to the current will of its constituents?

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