Are the United States substantially a moral union–a union on moral questions? This question has bearing on what belongs in the Constitution.
The preamble to the U.S. Constitution says it is adopted “in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice . . . provide for the common defense,” etc. Americans have an individualist streak that resists the idea that political life must involve anything like a moral consensus. We are committed to some kind of pluralism by our commitment to freedom of speech, association, etc., including moral pluralism (note especially freedom of religion). We pride ourselves on accommodating immigrants from every part of the world, many of whom retain their language and other customs. Part of the pluralism also is a legal commitment to a certain degree of autonomy of states within the union. States have different taxes and different drinking ages, as well as different geographies, dialects and social customs.
On the other hand, we have a tradition of solidarity as Americans that we absorb even from such unlikely places as the Superman shows I watched as a kid–“truth, justice, and the American way!” (I’ll admit I don’t hear that sort of thing coming from contemporary kids’ shows, though).
On a day like today, we are reminded that beneath the pluralism lies a deeper union. We are not merely unified by a common currency or a common set of highway standards. One doesn’t put one’s life on the line to defend a position on whether sales tax should be 4% or 6%. One does, however, for the common defense, say, at Bunker Hill or Normandy.
What is the basis of that kind of union, a compact stronger than death? What binds it? Why are people willing to do what is required to maintain it? This bond is not something simply given; in other parts of the world tribal or sectarian loyalties routinely trump national loyalties (think of Iraq, East Timor, Chad).
Some, for example, would contest that our union is indivisible in part because it is a union “under God” despite differing forms of worship; others would of course disagree. Certainly however the values enshrined in the U.S. Constitution are key to understanding the force and durability of our union. In the life of the union, questions periodically arise as to whether that document should be interpreted or revised to bind us on this or that question–whether we can (or will) accommodate established differences on these questions.
How deeply can we disagree, and still function as we should, as a union?