An Introduction to the Political Psychology Series

There’s something missing from the Constitution. Something precious and vital, left out by the Founders on purpose, in the hope that each generation would figure out what wasn’t there and supply it.


The Founders knew from their study of history and political theory, and from hard decades of experience, that no Republic can long prosper, let alone survive, without a virtuous citizenry. But they deliberately refused to use the federal government as a means of creating such citizens. Some have written that they refused because they understood human nature too well and took people as they were, not as they ought to be. They did. But it would be more correct to say that they expected the task of creating citizens to be handled by other forces and experiences. They conceived of education and religion as such forces; voting, jury duty, militia service among such experiences. So too were work and trade, membership in voluntary organizations, family life, friendship, cultural pursuits. The Republic would not engage in crafting human beings; We the People would do that together. In the end, it would not be a matter of what the government commands but of how we choose to live.

The Founders got it right. In every generation since, enough men and women have shown and exercised enough civic virtue, enough of the time, to keep us going. But now, we are told, citizenship and the virtues it requires are impossible, perhaps even delusional. It’s all too big and complicated. It’s all too corrupt. And we’re no longer a people fit for active citizenship: too shallow, too self-obsessed and materialistic, too manipulated, too passive.

Some scholars and pundits suggest that we can fix the problem by regaining that Old Time Civic Religion, by hauling ourselves back to church, or joining more civic organizations, or adopting some political agenda or other. Some tout “service” and “sacrifice,” including restoration of the draft and possibly universal national service with military and non-military “options.” Some are content to await President Right. And yet others like to imagine that in some future moment of supreme crisis, we’ll all spontaneously unite, rise up and magically prevail.

But citizenship’s a lot like an ATM. In the end, you can’t take out more than you put in. Right now, the account’s pretty low.

And that’s why this series by Erin Solaro is so important. She shows that the issues before us, whatever their complexity, come down to two matters every citizen can understand: debt and war. Effective citizenship today requires the resolve to face these two forces that are destroying us and that impact every day on all our lives. She also shows that how we live determines what kind of citizens we are, or may become. She links the public and the private, the personal and the political, in ways that make uncomfortable and compelling sense. Most of all, these essays matter because she believes that Americans must once again start speaking to each other with reason and respect, and does so, and challenges her readers to do the same.

In her first book, Women in the Line of Fire, Erin drew upon her experiences as a journalist and researcher embedded with combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, to give us a totally new perspective on U.S. women at war and what their service ought to mean to us. In this series, prelude to her next book, Womanhood in Time of Peril, she offers a new sense of citizenship and its requirements and pleasures that American women – and men – can think through and build upon.

These essays aren’t “comfort food.” They won’t tell you what you want to hear, the way you want to hear it. But if you come away thinking, “I knew that. Why didn’t anybody ever say it before?” – it’ll be a start.

Philip Gold

Author of:
Take Back the Right (Carroll & Graf, 2004)
The Coming Draft (Presidio, 2006)
Closing Ranks: The Citizen’s Guide to Victory after Iraq (Praeger, 2009, forthcoming)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Clear Ideas for Difficult Times

%d bloggers like this: