Rediscovering the wisdom of the founders
Review of a book by Jacob Needleman
America in the form of the USA was once the hope of the world. The founders of the US constitution tried to create a new form of government that would be suited to governing this is new virgin land. They recognised the problems of factionalism that had blighted the old continent of Europe and other civilizations of the world, leading to needless conflict and wars. They were inspired by the hope of a new form of governance that would reach the needs of the people in a way that addressed and encouraged both the inner development of the person and the outer development of society. Their motivation was essentially spiritual, founded on the idea of the spiritual development of man and mankind.
But of course there soon emerged evil, as the founders knew there would, it being the nature of man. Major evils from the beginning were the destruction of the indigenous Indian society and culture and the institution of slavery of the black man. Other forms of evil appeared along the way, such as the multiple needless wars America engaged in and a frequent stepping away from its ideals, such as recent examples of torture and secret surveillance. We might also add the excess materialism and the consumer society, spread from America around the world, which encourages focus on the trivial and ignores that which is most important and of the essence.
The US Constitution, with its checks and balances, was designed to be resistant to the emergence of such evils – recognising that the nature of the highest good is perhaps that it needs to experience evil in order to develop the wisdom to be good.
Today we see the ‘hope of the world’ in disarray with factionalism in the ascendant in the form of the recent interminable conflict across the institutions of government between the two leading political parties, but there is always hope and in this book Joseph Needleman gives us reason for hope.
He takes us on a tour of some of the major figures in the development of the US constitution: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln. For each he draws out the story of how they were involved, and the spiritual principles that they lived by or at least ensured were followed in the constitution. And how their principles were followed through in the writings of those two eminent Americans Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Reading this book you will gain an understanding not only of the development of the US constitution and the inspiration behind it for creating a new form of society, but also of the essence of the contribution of these and other heroic figures .
And there is inspiration in the idea of a society dedicated to the inner development of its citizens and of society itself. Truly these ideas are the hope of the world, threatened by global warming, resource conflict, overpopulation, species extinction, pollution and all todays ills that modern politics is apparently unable to address effectively.
Sadly, the recent emergence of the Donald Trump presidential campaign suggests there are still more lessons to be learned before the US can reclaim the spiritual leadership of the world that is sorely needed. The election of President Obama showed that the desire is there in the hearts of many, and there may be disappointment at what his administration has been able to achieve in practice. We need the US to resist the siren calls of Trump and elect a leader who might prepare the way for a new generation of more spiritually inspired leaders.