Americans have lost their commitment to shared sacrifice. Lincoln's speech can help them recover it.
By Eliot Spitzer
Posted Friday, June 4, 2010, at 11:42 AM ET
Americans have lost their commitment to shared sacrificeHow quickly we forget. Just days ago, on Memorial Day"a day of gratitude, respect, and celebration"the words of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address were read at ceremonies across the nation. The phrase from that speech that always sticks with me is the challenge President Lincoln set forth for us: "[R]esolve that these dead shall not have died in vain." He implored us not to shy away from the sacrifices we too have an obligation to shoulder in order to advance the "unfinished work" that remained"not merely winning the Civil War and ending slavery, but the continued creation of a nation with opportunity for all.
The question confronting the United States today is whether the notion of sacrifice"-personal and collective"still has enough traction in our society to enable us to overcome the range of problems we face. For as much as we might honor the men and women in our armed forces for whom sacrifice is all too real, we know that in almost every matter of importance, Americans have become masters of "sacrifice avoidance." Every problem is turned into a positive-sum game"spending more, rather than making hard choices; shifting burdens to future generations whose voices can't be heard; pushing the obligations off to another day or on to another group.
The problems"from energy to educational achievement to financial reform to environmental degradation"that could be resolved with just a modicum of shared sacrifice are remarkable. Surely, as we enter a period of negative-sum decision-making, not positive-sum giveaways, we must understand"as President Lincoln beseeched us"that shared sacrifice, the shared shouldering of burdens, is the key to resolving our critical problems.
Actually Spitz is wrong.....Americans no longer share an experience, nor do we have much desire to do so. The wacky individuals who do desire sharing often end up in cults because they have nowhere to go more mainstream that suits their needs. Community was murdered at the alter of the individualism ideal. It will not be reborn until enough pain has been inflicted, that being the pain of living in a failed state, failed society, and failed civilization.