Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Time to Forgive

Words, like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within. – Alfred Lord Tennyson
Life is a series of one act plays. Strung together, they accumulate into days and months; then seasons, years, and decades. What we learn along the way, how we respond and react to the many experiences and people we encounter, determines how valuable are the lessons learned. The paths we choose and moments we remember are connected and intertwined with our lives in ways we do not often realize until many years later. There are people we remember fondly and those with which we must come to terms.

When I was a sophomore in high school, Charlie Galbraith, the varsity basketball coach approached me one afternoon and asked to me to suit up for that night’s varsity game. With a decent jump shot and agile feet, I was then a starting forward on the junior varsity team. But I was not a star and, in my mind, not yet varsity material. The varsity team played in prime time before the largest crowds, which partially filled the wooden stands of the rectangular gymnasiums in which we appeared. The high school band played rowdy, spirit-building music that infused the gym with energy and heightened intensity. The varsity cheerleaders were more mature and attractive. Unlike the mismatched hand-me-downs worn by the freshman and JV teams, the varsity uniforms were a crisp white with solid numbers and blue trim. And, most of all, the warm-up sweats, which only the varsity players could wear, were bright and colorful and made the players who donned them feel like part of a special and select group.

It was a significant step up from JV ball and an honor to be asked. I would become one of only a handful of young men in Hightstown High School history to play on the varsity squad as a sophomore. And yet, I was filled with unease. 

As that night’s game approached, the butterflies in my stomach intensified. My anxiety was not so much about the game, for I was not likely to get much playing time. The starting five was a formidable group of juniors and seniors. But I did not know how I would be accepted by my new teammates, which for a 15 year-old kid is all that really matters. I do not recall if we won or lost that night or if I even got in the game. But the memories I did retain haunt me still 40 years later.

*     *     *     *

The players dressed in the small varsity locker room that was set apart from the main lockers. As we changed into our uniforms and engaged in last-minute preparations before the pre-game warm ups, some of the more senior players joked and carried-on among themselves. I quietly went about my business and maintained a low profile. Everyone seemed oblivious to my presence. I could hear the band playing in the muffled background, the noise level increasing whenever someone opened the locker room door that led to the main stage.

As the time to take the court approached, I tied the laces on my Converse All-Stars and pulled up my socks. A pile of freshly laundered warm-up sweats were neatly folded and placed on top of a bench in the middle of the room. Uncertain of the proper protocol, I watched a few players grab a pair and slip into them. Should I simply take a pair, any pair? Were they one-size-fits-all, or was there some pre-arranged assignment of who is entitled to which pair? I had received no orientation, no instructions, on the proper etiquette of the varsity basketball locker room.

Standing near me were two of the friendlier players on the team – Tyrone Pickett, a junior with a large 70’s Afro, and Kevin Doyle, a backup forward better known for his football skills. Trying not to draw attention to myself, I asked in a polite, soft-spoken tone, “Do we just take one?”

No one answered. Pickett and Doyle may not have heard me. I asked again, this time in a slightly louder voice. Before anyone else could answer, Michael Johnson, a junior guard who never liked me for reasons I never understood, looked at me disdainfully and snarled for all to hear, “WE DON'T WANT YOU!”

The locker room went uneasily silent. Several players stopped what they were doing and turned their gaze towards Michael and me. I felt the blood rush to my head and I am certain my face turned bright red. I laughed in embarrassment, desperately hoping that Michael was simply attempting humor at my expense. But the look on his face said otherwise. It was no joke. “We don’t want you, man,” he repeated in a high-pitched voice of contempt accompanied by a sarcastic snicker. “You sorry ass….”

I was embarrassed and humiliated, and maybe a little in shock, as my worst fears and intuition became reality. I was never good with fast reprisals and quick-witted responses. Truth is, I did not know how to react when caught off-guard to such an unkind and unexpected assault. I stood there mute.

Coach Galbraith stormed into the locker room, his face stern and serious. Galbraith was 6’9” and a former player for Hightstown High. A lanky, socially awkward white guy, only five years removed from high school ball, he never developed the level of respect he deserved from this crop of brash, racially mixed players. The locker room again turned silent. The rest is a blur to me. Galbraith said something about “team” and “no place for that” and other well-intentioned statements that made me even more isolated and self-conscious.

But then it was over. I grabbed a pair of sweats and slipped them on and followed the other players onto the court for the start of pre-game drills – layups, rotations, and jump shots. Although it was my varsity debut, I could not enjoy the moment. In truth, I had never felt so alone. I was an outsider; an impersonal non-human “other”. Worst of all, not one teammate came to my defense or said a kind or encouraging word.

*     *     *     *

This was not my first run-in with Michael. Three years earlier, when I was in the seventh grade, we played together on the middle school soccer team. One day, during afternoon practice, there was a brief pause in the action as several players gathered mid-field. Michael stood a few feet from me with a soccer ball resting under his arm. He was apparently upset because the coach had announced that I would start at center halfback, an important position with key offensive and defensive responsibilities. It was the position Michael believed he was entitled to, since he was a year older and, in his opinion, the best player on the team.

Michael went on one of many tirades against me that year, proclaiming I was “sorry” and a “pussy” and “sucked.” When I responded with a weak rebuttal, Michael stared me down contemptuously. From three feet way and without warning, he flipped the soccer ball at me, hitting me in the groin. The ball fell limply to the grass below. The other players looked at me, anticipating a sharp rebuke, or the start of a fight. Instead, I just stood there, red-faced and in shock. I thought about punching him, but I did nothing.

*     *     *     *

I do not suggest that these were life-altering events. I understand it is part of growing up. All of us can point to bad experiences when we must confront ugly behavior in our fellow human beings. I remain uncertain of what response to Michael’s outbursts against me would have been appropriate. And I have often wondered why Michael did not like me, or what he had against me.

“We cannot be kind to each other here for even an hour,” wrote Alfred Lord Tennyson. “We whisper, and hint, and chuckle and grin at our brother’s shame; however you take it we men are a little breed.” I do not know how Michael’s life turned out. We had few interactions after the high school locker room incident (much to my relief, I only suited up for a few more varsity games and was back on the JV team the remainder of my sophomore and junior seasons). Two years later, my family moved away from Hightstown. I never saw or heard from Michael again.

I have always hoped that, in later years, Michael matured as a man and overcame his anger and resentment. I would like to believe that he came to regret his actions towards me. But I realize now that these incidents, as painful and hurtful as they were, had little to do with me. They were instead a likely reflection of Michael’s pain, his hidden demons, with which he was too young and unguided to contend.  What sort of life had he led? Perhaps I failed to see the larger picture, the full context of his life. The racism and perpetual humiliations he had endured as a black man in a white man's world. I know now that I could not have possibly assessed his life or circumstances fairly and accurately. I had never really tried. I never knew the real Michael and he never knew me. We did not know each other or our individual stories, our hopes and dreams and shared goals. Perhaps this was the root of our troubled co-existence.

I sense that Michael was as lonely in his life as I felt that night in the locker room. After all, I still had a loving and supportive family to which to go home; perhaps he did not. Maybe Michael had an undiagnosed chemical imbalance, or was simply an insecure, scared, anxious kid who did not know how to control his unkind impulses.

I realize now that Michael, too, was just a kid with a steep road to climb. Perhaps he saw the obstacles in his way more clearly than did I. By his junior year in high school, when he lashed out at me in the locker room, it was clear to all that his dream of NBA glory and fame, of the life he had envisioned, was not to be. I had no such illusions. Maybe at that moment Michael had no backup plan; and that he feared the best and most glorious years of his life were finished at 17.

As the years pass and the insecurities of adolescence fade, I have entered into a separate peace with Michael Johnson. I hope that he, too, has found peace and fulfillment in life. It has taken me a long time. But today I think I understand him and can finally forgive him. And for that, I am grateful.
No man ever got very high by pulling other people down. The intelligent merchant does not knock his competitors. The sensible worker does not work those who work with him. Don’t knock your friends. Don’t knock your enemies. Don’t knock yourself. – Alfred Lord Tennyson

Saturday, November 29, 2014

On Religious Extremism and Misunderstanding Faith

Considering how effortlessly religious dogma has become intertwined with political ideology, how can we overcome the clash-of-monotheisms mentality that has so deeply entrenched itself in the modern world? Clearly, education and tolerance are essential. ― Reza Aslan
As the son of a Lutheran minister and the father of two Jewish daughters, I have been intimately connected to religion and faith for most of my life. I have attended many worship services in churches and synagogues and have attempted to educate myself on the diverse religions and tapestry of faith that make the world a uniquely interesting place. I am sensitive to misunderstandings and assumptions made by people of one faith about people of another. Ignorance abounds on all sides. But never is this truer than when discussing Islam and terrorism.

A casual follower of the news could be forgiven for believing that Islam is synonymous with violence, or that all Muslims are extremists who advocate terror and violent jihad. The videotaped beheadings of American journalists and reports of the slaughter of innocents in villages and towns overrun by ISIS forces in recent months were horrifying and shocking. Emotional responses and outbursts are entirely understandable. Indeed, these acts of terror had the intended effect of provoking an American military response and drawing us back into a civil war we hoped was behind us.

ISIS is just another link in a long list of Arab and Muslim terrorist groups. From the “Islamic State” to al-Qaeda and Boka Haram, thousands of self-proclaimed Muslims boast of carrying out God’s will as defined by their extremist interpretations of the Quran. Some of the most oppressive societies on Earth are in Muslim-majority countries. Saudi Arabia, certain provinces in Pakistan, and the Taliban regions of Afghanistan are among the worst oppressors of women and violators of international human rights. And while all major religions have fundamentalist, rigid, and oppressive elements, it does seem that Islam must contend with religious extremism to a far greater degree.

And yet, I am deeply troubled by the manner in which Islam is so often painted with an unfairly broad brush, as if all of the world’s Muslims share the hateful ideology and deranged notions of jihad espoused by the radicals of ISIS. To brand all of Islam with the ideology of the extremists is not only wrong, it is counterproductive, disdainful of religion in general and Islam in particular, and does nothing to promote peaceful dialogue and understanding.

While much anti-Islamic sentiment stems from the right, none other than liberal comedian Bill Maher has contributed to the recent voices of religious bigotry. Last month, Maher criticized President Obama for contending in a speech before the United Nations that Muslims who adopt the ideology of al-Qaeda and ISIS are “betraying” true Islam, “not defending it.” Obama suggested that “Islam teaches peace” and embraces “a great tradition that stands for education, not ignorance; innovation, not destruction; the dignity of life, not murder.” He called on Muslims worldwide to “offer an alternative vision” to the propaganda that coerces some “to travel abroad to fight their wars” and pledged that the United States would “increase efforts to lift up those who counter extremist ideology, and seek to resolve sectarian conflict.”

Maher insists that Obama is wrong, and that it is time to call Islam what it is: a religion of hate and violence. Of course, Maher is a zealous anti-religionist, an equal opportunity critic of all religion, Christianity and Judaism included. So, it has been amusing to see some on the right embrace Maher’s statements concerning Islam, while ignoring his overly-broad generalizations of Christians as essentially anti-science morons who believe in fairy tales. Maher’s view of religion is black-and-white; he leaves no room for a nuanced understanding of faith and ignores the many expressions of Christianity that fully embrace science and evolution. He seems not to understand or care about the more sophisticated scholarship historically associated with Catholic and mainline Protestant theology.

His view of Islam is no better. Maher grossly oversimplifies complex events in which religion is but one element, and often a sideshow at that. So intent is he to blame religion that he fails even to properly acknowledge that the forces of extremism are most prevalent in regions of extreme poverty, where violence and oppression have simmered for centuries and where violent upheavals are motivated as much by politics, geography, and economics as by religion. His blanket condemnation of Islam, without distinguishing the peaceful voices of moderation from the radical voices of extremism, is pointless. It obscures an important and necessary dialogue about the role of religion in society, the problem with religious fundamentalism, and the need to better reconcile the modern world with scriptural passages that are so often misinterpreted and misapplied, or viewed literally, without historical context, and without attempting to reconcile conflicting passages.

While extremist ideology is and has been a particularly acute problem within certain Islamic communities, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not extremists. The religion of Islam embraces more than 1.5 billion people around the world – people from every race and nationality (Americans included). Large Muslim populations exist not only in several Middle Eastern countries, but also in such diverse nations as India, Turkey, Tunisia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, Kosovo, Albania, and other parts of Asia, and north and central Africa. In the United States, two members of the House of Representatives – Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andres Carson of Indiana – are Muslim. And while the United States has yet to elect a female President, there have been seven female heads of state of Muslim-majority countries.

As author and religion scholar Reza Aslan has noted, many “critics of religion tend to exhibit an inability to understand religion outside of its absolutist connotations. They scour holy texts for bits of savagery and point to extreme examples of religious bigotry . . . to generalize about the causes of oppression throughout the world.” The Quran, the Torah, and the Bible each require a large degree of interpretation to make sense of their many conflicting passages, and to render them meaningful in modern times. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the same God that commands Jews to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) also orders them to kill the Amalekites: “Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (1 Samuel 15:3). In the New Testament, while Jesus told his disciples to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39), he also told them that he had “not come to bring peace but the sword” (Matthew 10:34), and that “he who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). And the same Quran that warns believers “if you kill one person it is as though you have killed all of humanity" (5:32) also commands them to “slay the idolaters wherever you find them” (9:5).

How we reconcile conflicting passages and religious doctrine with the modern world says far more about us than our religion. American slaveholders frequently justified slavery by citing certain passages in the Bible, while  Christian abolitionists presented alternative scriptural passages to passionately condemn slavery. Many passages in the Bible were used for centuries to justify a patriarchal understanding of the relationship between husbands and wives, and men and women. But an alternative vision of feminist inspired theology in the 20th century has led many Christian and Jewish denominations to present a more egalitarian face to religious institutions. The same sorts of conflicts contained in verses within the Quran are being debated today in certain Muslim circles as part of an ongoing Islamic reformation.

In Islam, as in Christianity and Judaism, it is necessary to distinguish how the faithful behave from how the faith teaches them to behave. If you are inclined towards violence and misogyny, you will find scriptural passages to validate your beliefs in both the Quran and the Bible. If you are a peaceful, non-violent person who believes in equality and has compassion for your fellow human beings, you also will find plenty of supporting verses. While one can find passages in the Quran that, interpreted literally, prescribe violence in defense of the faith, there are also numerous passages which ordain justice, mercy, charity, and tolerance.

To simplistically generalize about people of faith and conclude that the worst and most extreme elements of a particular religion represent the entire religion, is the very definition of bigotry and prejudice. Christians in particular should be careful not to paint Islam with such a broad brush. To say that the violent acts of Islamic extremists is the true face of Islam is no different than pointing to the actions of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Christian extremist group in northern Uganda accused of widespread murder, abduction, mutilation, and child sex slavery, as the true face of Christianity. Or claiming that centuries of Jewish persecution by Christians in Europe, from the Crusades to the Holocaust, accurately reflects true Christianity. Or that the people of the Westboro Baptist Church who hold signs at funerals that say things like “God Hates Fags” is somehow an accurate reflection of Christianity.

Fundamentalism is, and always has been, opposed to compassion, understanding, and pluralism. It is true of Christian fundamentalism and Jewish fundamentalism. In the case of Islamic fundamentalism, it is manifested in its oppressive treatment of women and the use of violence to achieve religious and political goals. While fundamentalism must be opposed everywhere, it should not be confused with the fundamental tenets of the religion. Just as there are liberal and conservative, progressive and fundamentalist versions of Christianity, there are “enlightened” and fundamentalist, moderate and reactionary versions of Islam.

Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is a complex religion with a wide variety of interpretations. I believe it imperative that we attempt to better understand the diverse factions of Islam so that we may better engage with the moderate and peaceful voices of the faith, and offer our support in its ongoing struggle with fundamentalism and extremism. There is no shortage of Islamic statements condemning terrorism, and a recently published letter from 120 leading Muslim scholars to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, states unequivocally that ISIS’s use of Islamic scripture is illegitimate and perverse.  As suggested by Reza Aslan, “What is most desperately needed is not so much a better appreciation of our neighbor’s religion as a broader, more complete understanding of religion itself.”

Monday, November 17, 2014

The New Republic and Modern American Liberalism

Liberalism wagers that a state . . . can be strong but constrained – strong because constrained. Rights to education and other requirements for human development and security aim to advance equal opportunity and personal dignity and to promote a creative and productive society. To guarantee those rights, liberals have supported a wider social and economic role for the state, counterbalanced by more robust guarantees of civil liberties and a wider social system of checks and balances anchored in an independent press and pluralistic society. – Paul Starr, The New Republic, March 5, 2007.
The New Republic is 100 years old this month. For a bi-weekly journal of opinion and the arts with an intellectual flare and a small subscription base, this is quite an accomplishment. Founded in 1914 by Walter Lippmann and Herbert Croly and inspired by the reform impulses of Theodore Roosevelt then vibrating through American society, for the past century The New Republic has engaged in a vibrant debate over the essence of a good society and what makes life worth living. Although distinctly liberal in origin, it has in its philosophical leanings evolved, shifted, varied and, at times, contradicted itself in a manner to be expected of a journal that takes ideas and democracy seriously.

I first discovered The New Republic in the summer of 1981 when I was 22 years old. Only a month earlier I had graduated from Wittenberg University and been baptized into the “real world” of full-time employment, living in Houston and working as a financial accountant for a Texas-based oilfield services company. The job was dull and uninspiring, but one afternoon I wandered into the lobby of the 29th floor and noticed on a glass coffee table a magazine that looked unlike any other I had previously seen. The cover story immediately caught my attention. It concerned the rise of the New Right and the perils of Christian fundamentalism, matters of particular relevance to life in Texas and which explained, in part, America’s rightward tilt during the Reagan years. As I began reading, I was impressed immediately by the journal’s clear and eloquent prose, its understanding of history, and its pragmatic liberalism. It was beautifully written and filled with high-quality essays and articles on politics, society, religion, literature, and the arts. It was refreshingly liberal, but not ideological, and I soon learned that its editors despised dogmatism and were as critical of the far left as of the far right.

Each week that summer I searched out a new issue and read it cover to cover. I devoured every editorial, every article, every word. The writing was intelligent and accessible, offering commentary on everything from the continued relevance of John Maynard Keynes to the origins of the Enlightenment. It was lively and stimulating and introduced me to issues of which I had previously paid little attention – Israel and Zionism, the plight of Soviet Jewry, the historic struggle against South African apartheid. It explained and placed in context the internal debates within the Democratic Party over foreign policy and America’s proper role in the world, and the ideological divides within the Republican Party. The editors and contributors wrote sensibly on civil rights, civil liberties, education and the environment. And in the “back of the book” as it was called, one found intellectually engaging book reviews and essays on art, film, music, history and literature. I was hooked.

By the time I started law school at George Washington University in the fall of 1982, I was a loyal reader and subscriber. One day, hidden away in a quiet cubicle on the third floor of the Gelman Library, I wandered into the periodical section and discovered bound volumes of every past issue of The New Republic. Here I escaped into slices of history. I read essays by Walter Lippmann, Edmund Wilson, Reinhold Niebuhr, Alfred Kazin, and James MacGregor Burns; editorials that addressed what were then contemporary issues of urgency – the two world wars, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism in Europe, the later struggle for civil rights at home and, eventually, the Vietnam War and the sexual revolution. I would return to this cubicle and venture into the periodicals time and again over the next three years, taking needed breaks from my legal studies.

For much of the past 33 years, I have continued to read and subscribe to this journal. It has inspired, educated and infuriated me – sometimes all at once. But it has always made me think. For more left-leaning liberals, The New Republic is a difficult partner, for it deviates too far and too often from what some might consider traditional liberal orthodoxy. On foreign affairs, military policy, and America’s response to perceived Soviet aggression (in the 1980’s) or Islamic extremism and international terrorism (since 9/11), the magazine’s editorial and published voices have sometimes drifted towards the neo-conservative camp. I have on occasion disagreed with the editorial proclamations of the magazine on these issues and have at times been perplexed by its choice of authors, but intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas is the very essence of liberal debate, a concept sometimes lost nowadays in elite intellectual circles on the left and the right (college campuses included).

Since its founding a century ago, The New Republic has been at the forefront of helping to define, mold, and influence American liberalism. As Editor Franklin Foer explained to The New York Times in 2011, The New Republic “invented the modern usage of the term ‘liberal.’ And it’s one of our historical legacies and obligations to be involved in the ongoing debate over what exactly liberalism means and stands for.” For me, it has been an essential resource in formulating and refining my own philosophical and political leanings.

As Princeton University professor Paul Starr, a contributor to The New Republic and the co-founder of The American Prospect has noted, liberalism is notoriously difficult to define, for it is not an ideology so much as a practical assessment of how to build a free, fair, and prosperous society. The liberalism espoused by The New Republic in the early 20th century was based partly on the belief that, as the country evolved from an agrarian based economy to one dominated by the modern corporation, and as American life became increasingly complex and dependent on the technological and industrial revolutions of the modern era, less relevant became Jeffersonian notions of libertarianism and individualism. The reforms and protections needed required a more Hamiltonian vision of American government, stronger and more centralized to properly and effectively address the many areas of neglect and exploitation that had resulted from unfettered capitalism and rising inequality.

At the turn of the 20th century, when Teddy Roosevelt was President, the United States enacted a series of progressive reforms intended to counter the excesses of the industrial age. Laws were enacted that restricted the use of child labor and exploitative working conditions, improved workplace safety, opposed monopolistic and unfair trade practices, and protected and preserved millions of acres of national parks and forests. Twenty-five years later, during the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt helped bring about much needed reforms to the banking and securities industries, created jobs through public works programs, and established social security insurance. The building of roads, bridges, tunnels, and, in the 1950’s, the interstate highway system, mobilized the nation’s commerce and connected every region and segment of the country. The War on Poverty and the civil rights laws in the 1960’s ended Jim Crow, created medical insurance for children and the poor, provided public housing and expanded the reach of education. Laws governing clean air, clean water, and food safety; laws against discrimination in the workplace; expansion of health care insurance, safe air traffic control  – these are just a few practical examples of how liberal reforms have made American life safer, fairer, and more secure.

Liberals believe that government can be used for good, to harness expert knowledge to solve problems in a way that will allow American prosperity to spread and grow fairly and equitably. During the 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy said in a speech before the New York Liberal Party that, if by the term “liberal” one means “someone who cares about the welfare of the people – their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, their civil liberties . . . then I’m proud to say I’m a liberal.” To Kennedy, a liberal was also one who believes “in human dignity as the source of national purpose, in human liberty as the source of national action, in the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas. . . . For liberalism is not so much a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man’s ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves.”

Kennedy understood that, while “the fight to eliminate poverty and human exploitation is a fight that goes on in our day,” liberals accept the fundamental tenets of the free enterprise system and a certain degree of inequality. They understand that government is a human endeavor, and thus imperfect. It does not always get things right, or properly balance competing interests. Kennedy, as a practical liberal, remained open to further reforms and modifications and sought to allocate resources to the areas of greatest need. He was a liberal in the way I am a liberal and The New Republic is a “liberal” magazine. Liberals wish to address imperfections and injustices, but we are reformers, not revolutionaries. We do not endorse the concept of the superstate. “I abhor the waste and incompetence of large-scale federal bureaucracies,” said Kennedy in a 1960 speech cited favorably by The New Republic. “I do not favor state compulsion when voluntary individual effort can do the job and do it well. But I believe in a government which acts, which exercises its full powers and responsibilities. Government is an art and a precious obligation; and when it has a job to do, I believe it should do it.”

Authentic liberalism – not socialism, not left-wing radicalism – but the liberalism as generally articulated in The New Republic has developed with an understanding of how policies work in light of political, social, and economic realities. Experience shows that some government programs are more effective than others at achieving intended goals. The debate over the direction of modern liberalism must therefore be premised on how public policy works in practice not theory. As Paul Starr wrote in an April 2007 issue of The American Prospect:
Modern liberalism has never been ruled by a theory in the way that free-market conservatism and Marxian socialism have been. A pragmatic emphasis on experience and evidence – on how things work in practice – has been critical in making liberalism work. . . . Liberalism regards the well-being of the least well-off as a central criterion for a just society, and it seeks to provide individuals with some degree of protection against risks beyond their control; but it accepts inequalities insofar as they are to everyone’s long-run advantage, and therefore aims for sustainable growth with widely shared gains.
The struggle to define liberalism will continue to be fought on the pages of The New Republic for years to come. The arguments will undoubtedly shift from left to center and back, and labels such as “liberal” and “conservative” will not always apply. But it is an important debate because modern liberalism has brought about more forward progress in American society than any other political movement. And as we advance into the 21st century, the debate is one that will influence how we choose to allocate limited resources for the benefit of all of our citizens; remain true to our immigrant history as a light among the nations and still protect our national security and economic interests; address the stark environmental threats posed by climate change; remain united among an increasingly divided electorate; decide when to exert American military force; and define our proper role in the world.

There are no easy answers to these issues and no simple solutions. But I will remain engaged in the debate for as long as I am able to learn, think, listen, and question. And I have The New Republic to thank for helping me stay informed and engaged with the world for most of my adult life.