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Without the inner meaning of democracy, for Needleman therefore, the outer forms will not withstand the forces of subjectivity, fear and suggestibility that spin our world again and again into false hope and eventual violence and despair. It will become more understandable that attempts to imitate or follow the model of American democracy by other nations and communities – Eastern Europe beware – may not lead toward the resonant hope that was and still is implied in the American vision, precisely because the sense of a second "inner" democracy is not seen or embraced. The deeper meaning of democracy can be seen only by understanding the deeper structure of the human self.

In fact, as America evolved through the 19th century, vast capital, submitted to the hard-driving Protestant ethic, flourished under the bold and brilliant monetary and financial innovations of Alexander Hamilton. With the continuing opening of the frontier, the culture of "the first democracy" emphasized individualism at the expense of community and do-it-yourself free enterprise at the expense of older and gentler forms of agrarian co-operation.

The “second democracy", for Needleman, is a community devoted solely and entirely, as per Vaclav Havel (see Chapter 11) to truth. It does not accumulate wealth. It does not put “ships upon the sea". It does not make war. It is not “strong". it is not an “economic force" in the world. It does not have an army. It does not make treaties. It does not devise financial innovations. How then does it exist? In order to bring home more forcefully the re-visioning of the American story, for Needleman, it is now time to summon, for him, America's greatest prophet.


Twenty years after Lincoln's death Walt Whitman said:

He was quite thoroughly Western, original, essentially non-conventional, and had a certain outdoor or prairie stamp ... I should say the invisible foundations and vertebra of his character, more than any man's in history, were mystical, abstract, moral and spiritual – While upon all of them was built, and out of all of them radiated, what the vulgar call horse-sense, and a life bent often by temporary but most urgent materialistic and political reasons.

From the very beginning of his essay on Lincoln, Whitman cries out for what Needleman has referred to as the mythic meaning of America:

For, I say, the true nationality of the States, the genuine union, when we come to a mortal crisis, is, and is to be, after all, neither the written law, nor (as generally supposed), either self-interest, or common pecuniary or material objects – but the fervid and tremendous IDEA, melting everything else with resistless heat, and solving all lesser distinctions in vast, indefinite, spiritual, emotional power.

The purpose of such an idea, that is democracy, says Whitman, involves:


Supplanting old belief in the necessary absoluteness of established dynastic rulership, as furnishing the only security against chaos, crime and ignorance ... man, properly trained, in sanest, highest freedom, may and must become a law, and a series of laws, unto himself, surrounding and providing for, not only his own personal control, but all his relations to other individuals, as to the State


Our idea of quality, Whitman tells us, is a trace, an echo of the ancient doctrine of inner transcendence that was brought to the world by the teachers of wisdom, Jesus no less than Buddha or the sages and saints of India and China. But for Whitman the political idea of equality is not just a symbol, but it also opens up the question of the cultural and social conditions within which democracy serves its deepest purpose.

To be a voter with the rest is not so much; and this, like every institute, will have its imperfections. But to become an enfranchised man, and now, impediments removed, to stand and start without humiliation, and equal with the rest; to commence the grand experiment of development, this is something.

The Individual

Whitman's Democratic Vistas presents a continuous back and forth movement between an emphasis on the idea of the People and on the idea of the Individual. It is the same back-and-forth we see in the logic and actions of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. The people is not the crowd. The Individual is not the ego. It is the ego and the crowd that opposes each other. But there is another kind of self-identity, mysterious and concrete, waiting, as it were, at the horizon in the subtle light of morning. This mysterious selfhood constitutes the hidden meaning of the idea of democracy: the government "of the people, by the people, for the people".

Bibles may convey, and priest expound, but it is exclusively for the noiseless operation of one's isolated self, to enter the pure ether of veneration, reach the divine levels, and commune with the unutterable.

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