E Pluribus Unum: Of the Many, One

E pluribus unum: of the many, one. We often forget the meaning of this legacy. We often conveniently slip into ignorance about the aspirational nature of the American political system. American democracy was designed to be everything that feudal monarchies, whether they included parliamentary processes or not, could not be, or had refused to be. It was designed to be a system in which authority was distributed across as wide a swath of the social landscape as possible, in order that fewer people suffer injustice, and that no one suffer injustice without recourse.

Of the many, we are one —in this unique experiment with humanist ideas—, because it matters less where one comes from, or how one speaks to others, than it does whether one agrees to abide by an open system of government, where the will of the few or the authority of the establishment are not allowed to impose permanent constraints on the liberties of all. There is a direct correlation between this principle of enlightened, inclusive diversity and the prospect of remaining free in the face of powerful public institutions.

The diverse range of ability, opinion and cultural aims and methods, provides for a more agile engagement with the levers of power and influence. Democracy benefits from the inclusion of vibrant minorities and from the decentralization of power. There is a virtuous spiral of feedback, through which minorities benefit from democratic institutions, and democratic institutions from the diversity of their resources, material, demographic and intellectual.

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And we must remember that the true minority is the individual, always in a struggle against the overwhelming influence of the combined majority of all-others as Other or System. The individual’s liberties depend, as the founding documents of American democracy contend, on the protection of all liberties, generally.

Those of us aware of what we could at any time lose to the sometimes flippant attitudes of those in power can also say we are fortunate to live in a society that was designed to be remade, to be expanded, to be decentralized and renewed and corrected, as times may warrant. Times and conditions can motivate sweeping political moods, even fascinations, and the surrender of too much influence to any momentary excitement can undermine the long-term prospects of independent citizenship.

As such, diversity and the rights-based democracy of the American system, are meant to safeguard even the least influential, even the vehement dissenter. In recent years, we have been scolded and besieged with language designed to make us fearful of new ideas, or critical thinking or of outright opposition to the whims of the executive or the dominant party.

We should take solace in the new political attitude expressed in this year’s election, in which it would appear that the American public, by a significant majority, opted for a politics of inclusion, of decentralized authority, of communicative decision-making, involvement and community-based solutions. If we can remember that of the many, one means no one is unwelcome, no one is inhuman, and the law guarantees us all a measure of dignity, then we can begin to fashion a way of overcoming crises of historic proportions, and see the beauty inherent in a nation of ideas, founded on the rule of law, as something livable and lived.

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on “E Pluribus Unum: Of the Many, One
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