The American Experiment (or The Great American Experiment) is a phrase often applied to the United States of America. It’s usually attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville but probably stems from a bad translation of his French. Too bad. It’s a marvelous term even though it can be co-opted for almost any meaning.
Still, I’ll use ithere, applying the term from a Christian perspective to the foundational principles of these United States.
We are all familiar with the term “self-government” which is the underlying organizational idea of America. But what is really wrapped up in that term? Does it not mean that we citizens actually govern our passions, so restraining them that civil society can flourish without fear of assault on our persons and property? Why, yes!, that is exactly what it means.
It’s why John Adams said of our constitution that “… it was made only for a moral and religious people… It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” It’s why in the United States Magazine & Democratic Review in 1837, author John O’Sullivan said, “The best government is that which governs least.”
Indeed, it has been an“experiment” to see if a moral and religious people would be able to resist the temptation to steal from their neighbors, to covet power over their neighbors, and dedicate themselves to allowing their neighbors freedom to choose their own destinies. Governmental authorities would be little needed to adjudicate between such moral and religious people.
I’m no fan of Abraham Lincoln. In my view, his prosecution ofthewar between the states was intended to create a highly centralized civil government and is the reason for the perilous straits in which we now find ourselves. But Lincoln nailed it in his Gettysburg Address when he said, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether … any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” It was the great question of his day. It remains a critical question.
Our current situation in the U.S.A.suggests – no, screams – that such sentiments are fast waning. “Self-government” has come to mean that we’re able in this country to elect our dictators and legislators who will accommodate the greed and mendacity of the majority. We have created a leviathan-like monstrosity of bureaucracy made up of sinful and partisan people, conceived by sinful and partisan people, for the benefit of sinful and partisan people.
We are seeing the results of the American Experiment, which in truth was a biblical experiment testing generational fidelity to Christ and His principles.Our prospects are notencouraging. May God have mercy on us for failing in our Christian duty to govern ourselves and to pass on a robust faith. May He revive His church to accomplish His intended government here and now.