This is America’s tragic situation: The unifying framework of the American creed is now broken. The result is an America that is coming apart.
On every American coin, there is the Latin expression, e pluribus unum, meaning “one out of many.” The motto is a celebration of the variety found in America expressed by different groups, regions, races, and opinions.
Of course, not everything can be pluribus in a political entity. There must be some point of unity. By definition, a nation forms when a people coalesce to form a single cultural, social, economic, and political unit. A nation does not only focus on the individual interests of those in the pluribus, but it is especially committed to the unum or the common good of all.
When this happens, a nation has the peace, harmony, and progress that come from unity. From the plenitude of its variety, beauty, culture, and social life blossom.
The Nature of American Unity
Thus, America has existed as an “e pluribus unum” nation. Like all things human, this union has not been without its difficulties, discord, and strife. However, America has succeeded in being a unified nation, literally a grouping of united states politically expressing this unity-amid-variety paradox.
However, many like to point out that America is not only a geographic union but a creedal one. Above all, what unites the land is a set of beliefs. In his book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal, Senator Ben Sasse says that this creed can be summarized as a great commitment to the human dignity of the person. Inside this framework, he claims America managed to pull together many into one.
The Crisis that Leads to Fragmentation
Today, this union is in jeopardy. The nation is rent by a discord so profound that it cannot be overcome by simple dialogue. A nation can only maintain its unity if there is a consensus among the pluribus as to what are the points of unum. If there is only pluribus, the natural outcome will be “out of many, many.” E pluribus, plura. This is a recipe for chaos and fragmentation.
This is America’s tragic situation. The unum that should unite the nation isn’t. The pluribus that should embellish the union doesn’t. The result is an America that is coming apart.
A Disagreement about Essential Matters
The unifying framework of the American creed is now broken. The commitment to the universal dignity of the individual human person no longer unifies. Most are still willing to admit the human dignity is worth fighting for. However, there is so much disagreement as to what this means that it has ceased being an unum.
Indeed, Americans can no longer agree on what it means to be a person since the unborn and the aged are excluded. There is no agreement on that human nature whence dignity comes. To some, human nature has become whatever the individual determines it to be, even when it does not correspond to reality. Human dignity presupposes liberty. However, so many have misinterpreted freedom to mean license, that it has led to the most degrading and sinful behaviors.
In such a situation, a great incompatibility has descended upon the nation. By shattering the most basic premises for an American consensus, the components are scattered everywhere.
A Pluribus That Makes No Sense
Without an unum, pluribus can be a problem. Having a great variety of things only makes sense when there is a unifying theme that gives value and purpose to the collection. Unconnected things have the makings of a jumbled heap.
The American order only makes sense if it rests upon the many solid principles and ideas inherited from Western Christian civilization. Defense of human dignity is only possible by resorting to a rich treasury of many Christian traditions, mores, and standards that buttress true dignity. American culture can only be called culture when it is based on a unified canon of many works and literature that helps America define itself.
Without points of unity, society becomes a mere sand heap of individuals in which all seek their self-interest. It has no common goal or purpose other than coordinating the ambitions and gratifications of its members.
The Mania for Diversity
Hence comes the postmodern mania for diversity. It is a desire for a pluribus without unity. A dictionary definition of diversity is “the condition of being composed of distinct and unlike elements.” There are no inner links. On the other hand, variety can be defined as a collection of different things of a particular class or same general kind. Each item complements the others and helps form a whole.
What is needed now is a powerful new unum around which a pluribus might form. And that unum must involve a return to the well-spring of Christian civilization. A return to an order governed by God’s Providence is the only thing powerful enough to make America e pluribus unum again.
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The featured image is a detail from “The Apotheosis of Washington,” a fresco over the rotunda in the United States Capitol Building, painted by Constantino Brumidi (1805-1880). It is in the public domain and appears here courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.