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The Second Democracy: Passages from The American Soul

"Can the form of American democracy serve to point us toward the need for a deeper kind of communal attention? I believe it can. I believe there is another democracy waiting to be born within the heart of the flawed, but resonantly symbolic democracy within which we all now live and move...

"The question is: can the ideals of democracy remind us that we need to become what John Dewey called democratic individuals: men and women who are inwardly democratic, who are able to step back from the personal emotions in order to allow the other to think and speak and live. Democracy, in this sense, refers not only to an outer form of government, but to a power within the self...

"'The second democracy'" actually tries to live inwardly according to the ideals of self-determination, liberty of thought and conscience, respect for the selfhood of one's neighbors -- ideals, whose expression in words is so familiar to us. The democracy we know speaks about these things and puts them into practice outwardly to a greater or lesser degree. But it is the second democracy that actually tries to understand those ideals in their fullest meaning, and in so doing nourishes and sustains -- invisibly, to be sure -- the life of the democracy we know...

"Will there appear communities of men and women carrying the eternal life of the soul, seeking it in the ever-new world, the ever-changing outer world? That question lies at the heart of the future of the earth. It is the question we can put to America -- the symbolic America which now exists not only on the North American continent, but in the cities of Europe, the houses and mountains of Latin America, the vast populaces of Russia, India and China, and even in the dangerous air of Jerusalem -- cities and nations which incline their ear and eye now toward the thing called democracy, strange to their ancient ways, menacing to their ancient customs, but yet the only political form that can allow the world of today to exist tomorrow.

"The world will see that it needs this entire America, America with its soul. It does not need and will absorb, resist, imitate and dissolve an empty America. A metaphysically empty America cannot endure, it will not survive; it may keep its name and armies for a while, it may keep its Constitution and its laws and forms of government, it may keep its symbolic heroes, it may remain a place where people wish to survive physically and economically; but without the inner resonance of its ideals and values, without the olive branch in its eagle claws -- that is, without the primacy of the goal of peace, the peace like that of the American Indian, the peace that passes understanding -- without its American soul, America is sure to go nowhere, and, if so, where will humanity go?"

Jacob Needleman, The American Soul


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