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What Biden is Missing About Unity

Before he was elected to office, President Biden was crusading for national unity. I agree that our nation would be better if we were not so divided in nearly every realm of life; however, one must examine the nature of division before solving it. The issue of divisiveness did not start with Obama, Trump, or Biden, nor will it end with Biden because the root of our current political and social division lies in something else entirely – the fetishization of centralized governmental solutions to our country’s problems. Increasing government power acts as a force for social division, not social unity, and the reason for this is two-fold.

According to the social contract tradition on which our nation is founded, any just government power comes from individuals' consensual sacrifice of liberties. In some cases, such as the provision of national security, enforcement of property rights, and creation of a just legal system, these sacrifices of individual liberty provide many benefits for both the individual and society. However, as the government becomes a larger force in daily life, these losses of liberty are increasingly felt and quickly become intolerable as they no longer benefit the individual. Since all may not consent to certain losses of liberty, the more areas in which liberty is lost, the greater the division amongst society becomes.

Further, in a republic such as our own, the government serves as a source of collective decision-making in which the determinations made must be obeyed by all under the threat of force. Conformity to laws is not in and of itself a bad thing. However, as the law grows to encompass a larger portion of one’s everyday life, the pressure for conformity grows increasingly intolerable as individuals find that they have a say in fewer of their own private decisions.

As government grows in size and scope, the individual is forced to conform in more aspects of life and has less ability to act freely and independently. As our laws force people to change how they live and run their livelihoods, the nature of social interaction changes. If the effect of collective decisions on one’s life is limited, one need not be supremely concerned with what a neighbor thinks regarding religion, politics, economics, or philosophy because most (if not all) of these views would have little to no bearing on how one lives. Even if one finds their neighbor’s views distasteful and intolerable, he or she is free to find a more tolerable place to live. However, as the scope of the law grows to affect a greater segment of one’s activities, an individual may come to care intensely about what a neighbor thinks about religion, politics, economics, and philosophy because, through collective decisions, he or she may be forced to conform with those views with which he or she disagrees.

Our social fabric becomes stretched, tattered, and frayed as previously innocuous disagreements with one’s fellow citizens become intolerabilities with which we may be forced to conform to avoid punishment by law.

Through political channels, people today are being asked to come to an agreement in areas in which agreement is impossible. Since we may be forced by law to comply with our neighbor’s views, we cannot help being angry with others who disagree with us because their views have the likelihood to affect us through the enactment and enforcement of the law.

Most presidents have called for unity at the beginning of their terms, yet few ever pause to consider how unity and cohesion might actually be achieved. They seek unity through mandated compliance, not unity through free dialogue and consensual decisions. They seek to use the power of the state to solve cultural and social problems that the state cannot solve. As previous presidents have failed in their “wars” against conditions, commodities, and causes, so too will Biden’s crusade for unity fall flat because his approach is inherently flawed.

If Biden wants to dial down the culture war and bring about unity, he should get the federal government out of the business of “solving” cultural problems. //

Christopher Kitchens


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