Our Need for Statesmanship and Interpretation

Years ago, I was part of the leadership team of an organization in crisis. A strategic decision had to be made. The organization was divided up into essentially three camps:

  • The first camp included a small minority of the leadership of the organization but a large number of passive stakeholders. This group generally acknowledged the organizational facts, but did not feel there was a necessity to change strategic direction. They believed that the current situation should continue and would work out for the best.
  • The second group, which was a majority of the leadership of the organization, believed that there was a strategic problem, but no fundamental change in strategic direction was needed for the organization to reach its goals. They urged an enhancement of current tactics, but no change of strategic direction.
  • The third group, which was made up of a large minority of the leadership group as well as many active stakeholders, believed that a fundamental strategic change needed to be made.

Eventually a crisis was reached, and a decision had to be made. The organization had six-months to decide. From the beginning of the debate, the first group supported the second group, almost certainly guaranteeing the second group would continue to define the strategic direction of the organization. These two groups were not necessary aligned in their interpretation of the situation the organization faced, but they were united in opposing any fundamental change. This placed the third group in an uncomfortable position of needing to persuade a substantial percentage of the first and second group to support their cause, which they almost certainly could not do.

After months of debate, the organization made its decision by a narrow margin. As expected the second group’s vision continued to guide the organization. A large number of people left the organization, including a minority of leaders who desired strategic change. The organization entered into a period of recovery that lasted for some years.

During the entire time that the organization was making its decision, there were a number of debates. There were a great number of flyers, mailings, and other communication efforts to recruit support. The directors debated the issue, sometimes violently, at leadership meetings. There were many acrimonious meetings. Old friendships were ruined. The process was highly dysfunctional.

What was lacking was any serious conversation among the leadership groups concerning the strategic situation, the presuppositions that were driving various groups, their differing interpretations of the facts, the ways in which the various parties might compromise, or other potential alternatives to constant strife and division. There was little openness by any of the leaders of either side to the perspectives of the others. There was no consideration of the needs of those who opposed either position. There was no openness to any mediation.

Many years later, the organization faced exactly the same strategic decision. After another failed attempt to adopt a different strategic direction, a final vote was held, and the organization voted to do what it had not done over many years earlier. I view the entire episode as a failure of strategic decision-making by the leadership teams involved (of which I was a part).[1]

The Consequences of a Failure of Reason

This organization’s failure to find a reasonable and peaceful way of making a difficult decision is identical in its essential characteristics to the situation our political system faces in a number of areas. For example, the United States of America is deeply in debt. No serious analyst believes that the current rate of federal borrowing can continue forever. The debt level is so high that the debt service threatens to undermine the ability of the national government to fund important priorities. The government has a large commitment to domestic social welfare programs, many of which don’t work and are counterproductive. Much of Federal spending is “pork barrel” in nature. Strategically, the United States is overextended militarily and diplomatically. Finally, in recent years there’s been such a decline in confidence in government that the fundamental unity of the nation is sometimes question.

In the face of obvious need for important strategic decisions to be made and change embraced, one party remains captive to a policy of ever-increasing taxes on the rich and the shrinking middle class, while the other party is captive to a philosophy of cutting taxes without commensurate spending cuts. Both parties are incapable of addressing the deficit. There is a great deal of acrimonious debate in Washington, but little attempt to craft solutions. Our democratic system is in a crisis, frozen in a “winner take all” mentality and a vicious kind of electoral politics. How can we get out of the trap? The answer is, “Change the way we relate and govern.”

Signs, Conversation, and Interpretation

For the last several weeks I’ve been involved in a series of blogs reflecting on Josiah Royce’s work. Royce, in turn, was influenced by C. S. Peirce, the father of modern semiotics, or the study of signs. Peirce had the insight that all communication involves a communicator, a sign by which the message is transmitted, and a recipient, who interprets its meaning. Royce adapted Peirce’s insight and developed the notion that all communication involves the person who is communicating, signs by which the communication is made, and an interpreter who interprets the meaning. Since all thinking is done through sigs, there is always a need for an interpreter—someone who interprets the meaning of the communication. This interpreter often is the person who is receiving the communication, but there is a difference between the perception received, the conceptual content of the communication, and the meaning of the communication.

Royce uses a series of examples to show how this process works. For example, suppose I am walking home one night and see something moving in the bushes near my home. I perceive the movement and perhaps a shadow (the communication). Immediately, I suspect it is my neighbor’s dog running through the bushes near our hoses. I think to myself (the interpretation), “I need to talk to him about letting that dog run free.” Then, I think to myself, “There have been some burglaries in our neighborhood recently. I wonder of it is a burglar?” My heart begins to beat quickly. As I grow closer, I see another movement and recognize my neighbor’s children playing in their yard. I breathe a sigh of relief. My internal conversation constitutes my continual interpretation of the perceptions and conceptual results of my walk home.

This process is a universal experience. A communicator and the person to whom the communication is addressed, need the mediating event of external and internal dialogue and reason for important and difficult matters to be interpreted accurately wisely. In larger groups, the process of discernment involves at least one and often many interpreters.  Royce puts it this way:

“If, then, I am worthy to be an interpreter at all, we three, —You, my neighbor, whose mind I would fain interpret, —you, my kindly listener, to whom I am to address my interpretation, —we three constitute a Community. Let us give to this sort of community a technical name. Let us call it a Community of Interpretation. (Emphasis added). [2]

Where larger communities, like the Congress of the United States, are involved, the interpretation of events is an activity of the entire community and all of its members. It is a presupposition of the community that there are enough shared values and loyalty that the community can discuss and interpret important matters through in the context of shared values and goals. For example, in the United States of America historically shared goals included the promotion of individual liberty, protection of rights to private property, defense of religious and personal freedom, and other commonly held values. It was this cultural unity of shared life and values that enabled our political system to work.

When perceptions of the facts and interpretations of them differ, there often must be many interpreters at work, each with their own perceptions and conceptions of what ought to be done in response to a problem.

Once again, a quote from Royce:

I can at present aim to approach that goal through plans, through hypotheses regarding you which can be inductively tested. I can view that goal as a common future event. We can agree upon that goal. And herewith I interpret not only you as the being whom I am to interpret, but also myself as in ideal the interpreter who aims to approach the vision of the unity of precisely this community. And you, and my other neighbor to whom I address my interpretation, can also interpret yourselves accordingly. The conditions of the definition of our community will thus be perfectly satisfied. We shall be many selves with a common ideal future event at which we aim. [3]

In other words, when faced with difficult decisions, a healthy political community engages in the process of factual analysis, conceptual development, and interpretation while searching for the best possible solution to problems or the best theoretical understanding in order to move forward. It is this process, which Royce calls “Interpretation,” that is seriously lacking in our political discussions and debate. The Republican and Democratic parties, ideologically defined by extremes from within, endlessly continue repeat their arguments in debate after debate without any attempt to understand or compromise with the other side. The debate is both negative and destructive of the national community. Every election, one party defeats the other party, and the dysfunctional process begins again. The result has been a series of policy disasters.

A Failures of Proper Interpretation

In a prior blog, I discuss the way in which the debate over what is now called “Obamacare” was handled. It is a classic case of ideological excess with no real attempt to understand and interpret the facts, sympathetically listen to the other side, understand the important points about the dispute, adjust policy preferences, compromise, and come to a wise solution. The result was that one party pushed its agenda through, despite warnings that it was actuarily and economically unsound. The program failed dramatically and was unpopular. The party with the majority that pushed it through experienced the political consequences of a poor decision, billions of dollars in the taxpayer’s money wasted, and a continuation of the problem the program was designed to address. In the case of certain recent military escapades, the other party has been led into the same kind of failure by an inability to listen, dialogue, discuss, and reach a compromise in then strategic interest of the nation.

Increasingly, in academia and in the political arena certain voices are being silenced. In particular, on college campuses and elsewhere conservative and religious voices are being silenced, often violently. This is a great mistake. It reflects the same inability to listen and interpret information in the public interest.

The Endless Process of Interpretation

Another implication of the work of Peirce and Royce is an understanding that the processing interpretation is endless and requires various perspectives. One important development of postmodern philosophy has been an understanding that no one voice is privileged in the search for truth. There are many levels and kinds of truth, all of which form an inexhaustible web of meaning. Each interpretation brings with it the need for new interpretation and adjustment to the new state of affairs the new interpretation created.  Every interpretation creates a new perception, which in turn must be interpreted. Therefore, wisdom is found in the open search for truth involving the voices of many interpreters of the facts and concepts by which we define problems.

An Example of the National Debt.

Let’s take the national debt as an example. Legislators may have no particular expertise in how balanced budget might be arranged, but need to have the capacity to listen, understand, and interpret the facts from a policy perspective. The may listen to economists analyze the problem, and from an economic perspective, project that a certain amount of tax increases or spending cuts that will be necessary to achieve a reasonable balance.

From a religious perspective, religious leaders might issue a warning that the Scriptures teach that borrowing is a dangerous activity and should be held to a minimum. In fact, from a policy perspective, the religious leaders can warn that massive amounts of debt placed United States government in the hands of its lenders, some of them are also enemies of the nation (Proverbs 22:7). At this point, other religious leaders warned that their views are that the poor should not have important services cut in order to balance the budget. They will point out that a nation is judged by how it treats its poorest and least powerful members. Most of the arguments they will bring the beer will be religious or moral in nature.

Political leaders, from their perspective, may warn that it’s going to be difficult to be reelected unless the economy grows in a sufficient manner to overcome the deflationary impact of lowering federal spending. Theirs is pragmatic view about what Congress can actually do under the circumstances. The other hand, if they’re listening to the economist in the religious leader, they understand that they have to do something. Perhaps, the budget might be brought in the balance over a period of years under the pressure of a Constitutional Amendment to balance the budget. Perhaps some mixture of spending cuts and tax increases is the best tactic to solve the problem.

In the end, a multitude of voices should be heard by the decision-makers in Congress. All views should be considered careful, not just by those who agree with those views but also by those who find those views politically or otherwise inconvenient. In the end, Congress will have to decide. This will require debate and compromise because it is likely no firm consensus will be gathered as a result of the conversation itself.  In the process of compromise, there will have to be dialogue among the members of Congress and debates in the halls of Congress. However, if the members of Congress see themselves as stewards of a community of law and interpretation, which is trying to solve a serious political problem, there is the hope that they can a wise choice.

The art of statesmanship is the art of compromise. The art of winning election is the art of politics. The statesperson goes beyond the work of a politician. The art of the statesperson is the art of compromise and decision-making in the midst of confusing, contradictory, and sometimes in adequate information. Faced with the political fact that not everyone will be happy with a compromise, the statesperson acts reasonably and rationally to resolve public problems. In so doing, our representatives act as interpreters of the national will and the national best interest. The United States has no shortage of politicians, but a serious shortage of statesmen who can wisely interpret and respond to national problems.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] The basic facts of this example are accurate, I have changed certain facts and given no names so that the organization itself could not be identified.

[2] Excerpt From: Josiah Royce. The Problem of Christianity, Volume 2 (Barnes & Noble Digital Library).” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/problem-christianity-volume-2-barnes-noble-digital/id1280399789 (downloaded August 24, 2020).

[3] Excerpt From: Josiah Royce. “The Problem of Christianity, Volume 2 (Barnes & Noble Digital Library).” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/problem-christianity-volume-2-barnes-noble-digital/id1280399789 (downloaded August 24, 2020).


The Unfolding of Beloved Community within History

As mentioned in my last blog, the term “Beloved Community” rose to popularity in late 20th Century America, due to the influence of Martin Luther King, Jr. While in graduate school, King was influenced by Royce, and particularly by the notion of “Beloved Community,” which King developed and used in various ways and in various contexts during the remainder of this life. For example, one of his most beloved quotes reads, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” [1] This particular quote identifies two distinct uses for the term  “Beloved Community” that must be clearly understood, one spiritual and the other practical. For King, the Beloved Community was both a transcendent ideal and a concrete program followed in his efforts to promote racial equality.

The Dangers of a Purely Secular Use of Beloved Community

The use of “Beloved Community” as a guide to political activity has both usefulness and dangers. Its usefulness is in seeing society as an evolving reality on a pilgrimage towards a more loving, equitable, just and fair society. The danger comes in seeing what is finally an eschatological reality as capable of final realization within history. The danger of Marxism, Nazism, and certain forms of Laisse-Faire Capitalism, is that they seek a solution to the human problem and the end of history as achievable within history, as opposed to as history’s final goal and purpose. This inevitably leads to violence, cruelty, terror, and demonic pride, things that Dr. King steadfastly resisted and opposed during his life. Seeking the goal of a Beloved Community inside of history means both seeking the future, and seeking that future with love, wisdom, peaceableness, and patience, as social problems gradually give way to the search for a more just society.

The Heavenly City and Beloved Community

The Beloved Community is, however, partially realizable within society within history by the “obedience of faith, hope, and love” (See, Roand mans 1:5). The hope of the Beloved Community, in the sense that Royce conceived it, is the ideal of a universal community for which human beings hope, but do not and cannot fully realized within history.

The writer of Revelation, living in a time of religious persecution has a vision of a heavenly city coming down from heaven at the end of the trials of human history:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).

A close reading of Revelation discloses that the heavenly city is the church, the Universal Community of those who have been called into the Beloved Community of God built on faith, hope, and sacrificial love. This Beloved Community is revealed, not in the heaven and earth we inhabit, but in a “new heaven and new earth” (21:1). It is a community that exists when the old order of things passes away (v. 4). The origin of the ideal of the Beloved Community is not secular or political, but religious and eschatological.

In the hands of St. Augustine, the vision of John became a vision of the “City of God,” an eschatological reality, imperfectly realized in the church during world history. The Heavenly City is never seen in the same way as the earthly city of Rome (and all other polities) are seen, for the Heavenly City is formed and ruled by love, but earthly cities are founded and ruled by force and human ambition. [2]

From Augustine to Marx, this distinction between the heavenly and earthly city was fundamental to how Western regimes, whose history looked back into the Judeo-Christian past, were formed. In the hands of a Luther, this hard division between the heavenly and earthly city became the so-called “Two Kingdoms” doctrine that freed earthly kings to become and be a separate “sphere of influence” from the earthly and heavenly kingdoms of the church. [3]

The Modern World and the Dream of an Earthly Heavenly City

With the Enlightenment, there developed the hope of a “realized eschatological kingdom,” as the progress of science and human knowledge created an expectation of a “new heaven and new earth” within and not at the end of history, as John’s vision implied. When bourgeoisie capitalism failed to bring in the perfect world, Marxism arose, which implied that the eschatological hope of humanity for a perfect society (the universal community) would be created by the operation of mechanistic, historical, economic forces. The cruel, heartless, cold dystopias of Communist Russia, Nazi Germany Communist China, and contemporary Venezuela (to give but a few examples of the phenomena) are the results of the misguided  20th Century  attempts to bring an eschatological (and by definition not historical) hope into the present of human history. We are still not at the end of the false modern expectation of the perfect world within history. [4]

Unfolding Transcendent Ideals in Continuing History

The cruelty and evil of Communist Regimes, and the leftist violence we are now experiencing, are the result of the demonic form of the eschatological impulse prevalent in the modern world, and so dangerous in the postmodern world set free of all traditional norms. Such regimes feel justified in seeking a “kingdom of peace and plenty” by means that are incapable of doing so. Lenin’s words “You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet,” while killing thousands upon thousands of Russians, are the inevitable result of the madness of the misplaced hope that is the modern ideal of a perfect world within human history.

Royce never speaks of the Beloved Community in such terms. Thus he says:

“In order to be thus lovable to the critical and naturally rebellious soul, the Beloved Community must be, quite unlike a natural social group, whose life consists of laws and quarrels, of a collective will, and of individual rebellion. This community must be a union of members who first love it. The unity of love must pervade it, before the individual member can find it lovable. Yet unless the individuals first love it, how can the unity of love come to pervade it?” [5]

Royce realized that the Beloved Community of which he spoke was imperfectly realized in the church, which is based upon voluntary love of the community,  but could not ever be perfectly realized within human history among nations formed and maintained by force. Within human history fallible human beings seek the attainment of these ideals, but the fact of human nature, with its propensity to darkness and fallibility, make the full attainment of  Beloved Community impossible within history.

Concepts like that of the “Beloved Community” represent transcendent ideals, such Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Justice, that are not fully achievable within history. Attainment of these ideals can only be approximated by progressive realization as human beings in a free society seek to solve the concrete problems of their day and time,  holding these values always before them while progressively unfolding their undisclosed content and meaning in each era of human history.

Transcendent ideals can be progressively unfolded within a society and among its members as part of the disciplined search for justice. Until the end of the history of the human race, the content of Transcendent Ideals, such as those mentioned above, will continue to be unfolded in a continual process of unfolding their content and meaning. Contrary to the modern ideal, there can be no “End of History” until the end of history. The content of Transcendent Ideals can and will  be approximated in a slow, patient, wise and peaceful process of progressive realization that will continue until their are no human societies remaining to unfold them.

Copyright, 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] See, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7240105-our-goal-is-to-create-a-beloved-community-and-this (Downloaded August 13, 2020.) Dr. King had a very nuanced and complex understanding of this term. There are many places where he is quoted and in which he uses and gives flavor to this notion of the meaning of the notion of “Beloved Community.” I expect to devote a blog this fall to Dr. King and his non-violent search for the Beloved Community in the 1960’s. It seems to me that his life and ministry has much to teach contemporary American society.

[2] St. Augustine, City of God tr. John O’Meara (New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 1972)

[3] This is not the place for a fair exposition Luther’s two kingdom’s doctrine, which will be the focus of a future essay. For a brief introduction, seeAnders Nygren, Luther’s Doctrine of the Two Kingdom, ECLA website 08/01/2002,  https://www.elca.org/JLE/Articles/931 (downloaded August 14, 2020).

[4] While human experience now amply refutes any expectation of an end to history within history, the burning embers of modernity, together with the moral inversion mentioned in a prior blog create a violent expectation among some, usually leftist, but not always, that the Marxist expectation fan be realized. This may be one of the last aspects of the limited metanarrative of modernity that withers away in the new era now dawning.

[5] Excerpt From: Josiah Royce. “The Problem of Christianity, Volume 1 (Barnes & Noble Digital Library).” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/problem-christianity-volume-1-barnes-noble-digital/id1280398775 (downloaded August 12, 2020).

[6] This is not the place to discuss the problem of Transcendent Ideals, and their exact content and status, which will also be the subject of a later blog. In my unfolding thought, however, there is a similarity between the notion of “Transcendent Ideals” and the traditional notion of Universals and Whitehead’s notion of “Eternal Objects.” Readers of David Bohm will also recognize that I am seeking to understand his notions of “enfold” and “unfolded” realities as I seek to understand this aspect of political theology and philosophy.

Intellectual, Social, and Beloved Communities

C. S. Pierce, Josiah Royce, and Alfred North Whitehead are three American philosophers who understood the implications of then-current science for the future of philosophy. Each developed a distinctive philosophical position that transcended simple mechanical materialism. Each accounted for the impact of evolutionary theory, and later for Whitehead, relativistic and early quantum physics. Interestingly, each were sympathetic to Christianity and religion in general. Last week, I focused on Royce’s notion of the importance of individuals in the formation of community. This week, the focus is on his understanding of the central importance of communities, and especially on his notion of “Beloved Community,” which has continuing relevance.’

Communities of Interpretation

Royce, more than any other American philosopher, emphasize the role of community for human society, human individuals, and human knowledge. Following C. S. Pierce, Royce held a theory of knowledge that emphasized the social nature and source of truth. The necessity of a sign, an interpreter, and an interpretation of experience drove Pierce (who was the source of this line of thinking) and Royce to an essentially social theory of how truth emerges from human investigation and is verified by human community. Both understood that, while science was a paradigmatic community in search for truth, are were other such communities searching for truth in their own domains. [1] In fact, any kind of human knowledge is developed within a community of inquiry.

The notion of community appears in nearly every aspect of Royce’s thought. In science, and religion, and all other forms of reasoning, Royce emphasizes the need for a community of interpretation within which rational thinking and progress in human understanding occurs. For community to exist, there must be what Royce terms “loyalty,” a common commitment to the enterprise at hand, a love for the subject matter and for the community, and a disciplined search for a proper interpretation. As seen below, healthy community cannot be forced, but is the choice of free individuals to give of themselves to a community that embraces goals larger than a single human life.

From Individuals to Community

Peirce saw that individualistic self-centeredness, selfish tendencies, and the human propensity to error had to be tempered and checked by community bonds. Peirce was especially critical of social Darwinism and what he called, the “Gospel of Greed” that Social Darwinism engendered. [2] Instead, Peirce believed that the universe, though involving chance and regularities, also involved a social, “agapistic” (love) component. This is a part of Pierce’s thought that we might need to reinternalize in an age of media and other billionaires. 

Human individuals are inevitably self-centered. Each of us tends to see the world through the physical, perceptual and interpretive center of our own self. As outlined last week, this unique “self” is the product of all of our life experiences, lessons and learning. This historically constructed, evolving self is inevitably trapped in a kind of isolation. No one else shares exactly the same perception or interpretation of reality we possess. More importantly, we do not have the same kind of access to the hopes, dreams, and knowledge of others that we have of our own hopes, dreams and knowledge. Our communication with others, even others to whom we are close, is distorted by the inevitable differences between what we intend to communicate and what another person believes we have communicated.

How do human beings overcome this natural solitude and the danger of misunderstanding and misinterpretation? The answer for Royce lies in the constant need for interpretation, correction, and reinterpretation, all of which are social enterprises. This is not just true in intellectual life, but every area of life. Human beings need the sympathetic correction of others in order to perceive the world clearly. Sympathetic correction and reinterpretation require communities of interpretation where any kind of complex subject matter is involved. Royce puts it in this way:

“In this world of interpretation, of whose most general structure we have now obtained a glimpse at how, selves and communities may exist, past and future can be defined, and the realms of the spirit may find a place which neither barren conception nor the chaotic flow of interpenetrating perceptions could ever render significant.” [3]

Both Royce and Pierce (as well as others) often use science as the paradigm of a truth-seeking community. At any given point in time, there are always things scientists believe they understand, other matters which they do not yet understand, and matters about which there are disputes within the scientific community. Eventually, someone discovers new facts or develops a new theory and publishes the results to the scientific community at large. Other scientists will do the same. Still others examine and either verify or critique the new experimental results or theory. Out of this process of research, interpretation, theorizing and publication eventually a consensus emerges concerning the best interpretation. This process, in the case of science has been going on for centuries, with many changes and improvements in our understanding of the world. This is how, over time scientific understanding grows and develops.

Communities of Interpretation and Political Practice

Where a political community is concerned, there is a similar process. For example, after the Revolutionary War, the original states were bound together by the Articles of Confederation. There were deficiencies in the system of government this agreement instituted. There was no ability of the central government to tax, and so it was constantly near bankruptcy. There was no guarantee of freedom of commerce between the states, and some states used their own state powers to prevent competition. There was no central military command structure, and so the nation was weak. Eventually, the Constitution Convention was held. In the beginning, there were vast differences of opinion about what should be done. Through a series of compromises and accommodations, the original Constitution was drafted and submitted to the states, followed by the original Bill of Rights. This process is often criticized, in my view mistakenly. What is often missed are the first words of the Constitution: “We the People of the United States.” The thirteen original states already viewed themselves as one “People,” and therefore were willing to compromise, even give up important points.  Some states e joined the union, even though they disagreed with aspects of the Constitution. The Constitutional Convention, the various state conventions that ratified the constitution, and the process followed reveals various communities of people, all gathered with a common purpose searching for a common and better solution than the current state of affairs permits. Since its original adoption, the Constitution has had to be revised on several occasions to meet the demands of the times.

Royce especially, understood that American life took for granted a certain amount of attention, struggle, search for power, differences of opinion, and jockeying for position. Left to themselves, this aspect of American life could lead to the dissolution of our national community. In fact, during the Civil War, it did. The only solution to the problem of warring factions is found in the idea of a community made out of many individuals who join together in the common search for a just, fair, and orderly society. Without the willingness to debate, discuss, dialogue, and compromise, eventually there has to be a solution imposed by force. The Civil War was an event of this exact kind.

The impulse we see at work in the violence in our politics and some of our cities today reflects a lack of trust in the American community and in its fundamental values and structures. We’ve lost our sense of being in a national community in which we do not always get exactly what we want, but are willing to join with others in the search for a solution that is as reasonable and fair as possible to all.

Royce understood that’s such a community can only be formed and maintained through a committed form of mutual respect and love he called “loyalty.” Loyalty exists when an individual voluntarily participates in a community and seeks the common good of the community with and above his or her personal preferences in an act of self-giving to the community. Loyalty involves personal sacrifice for the common good and a willingness to explore the best solution to the problem of human progress.

Community and Beloved Community

Royce sees that communities are not all alike, though they have certain features in common. For example, a community is not a melding or absorption of individuals. In any true community individuals retain their uniqueness, individuality, and perspective. A community is bound together by loyalty and love, not by absolute identity or merging of individuals. Communities look backward (and, therefore, have traditions) and all living communities look forward (and therefore are somewhat oriented towards the future. To take a simple example, a fraternity or sorority has both a tradition into which members are initiated and a fraternity or sorority is always taking in new pledges as it looks to sustain itself into the future. Royce calls these two aspects of communities, “Communities of Tradition” and “Communities of Hope. 

The search for truthful, just, and life enhancing community finds its ultimate symbol in the notion of a “Beloved Community.” There is no question but which Royce sees in the church, and perhaps in John’s vision of the Heavenly City” the root and ground of the Beloved Community and a kind of eschatological realization of the hopes and dreams of all lesser communities. In the case of Christianity, the community looks back through the Scriptures to the beginning of the world. Its tradition goes all the way back to the beginning. And, as a community of hope, it looks forward to the end of history and the renewal of all things. Thus, members of the Beloved Community look infinitely backwards and forwards in time, in both tradition and hope, to a future that encompasses all of humanity and human history. This is why Royce sometimes calls the “Beloved Community” the “Universal Community”—all people are invited to pledge their loyalty to and find meaning and purpose in the Beloved Community.

The hope of the Beloved Community is the hope of a place of perfect individuality and perfect community joined in a kind of perfect self-giving love—a love that, for Christians, mirrors the love that constitutes and characterizes the divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each maintaining perfect individuality and joined in perfect community. This universal hope of the reconciliation of the human race, heaven, and earth is an eschatological not historical hope. As I return to the Beloved Community in my next blog, I will talk about the dangers and impossibility of the undisciplined attempt to bring in the Universal Community that Royce envisioned by the means of violence.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] This line of thinking was also followed by Michael Polanyi in his works, most importantly in his Gifford Lectures. See, Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1958).

[2] “Evolutionary Love,” first published in the Monist introduces his theory of agapism, the cosmic principle of love. This love is a cherishing love, because it recognizes that which is lovely in another being and sympathetically supports its existence. Peirce contrasts his “agapism” with evolutionary theories based on a selfish form of love, which had resulted in social Darwinism and “the Gospel of Greed.” Agapism includes helping one’s neighbors, and is a consistent with with a Christian social ethics. See, “Evolutionary Love” at 

https://scrcexhibits.omeka.net/exhibits/show/charles-s-peirce-open-court/-evolutionary-love- (Downloaded August 3, 2020).

[3] Josiah Royce, The Problem of Christianity, Volume 2, Barnes and Noble Digital Library https://books.apple.com/us/book/problem-christianity-volume-2-barnes-noble-digital/id1280399789  (Downloaded July 20, 2020).