I was asked to review a new collection of essays entitled Re-Imagining America: Finding Hope in Difficult Times. Having read the essays over the past few months, however, I no longer want to review the work: I need to promote it. I need, in effect, to take up the challenge that Chris Schaefer so expertly poses in his last chapter as he “delineate(s) a new imagination for our American future.”
Chris can rightfully speak of a “new imagination” because he is well aware of another one, a darker one, one that has grown exponentially more powerful in the last few decades. There was a time when the United States could say that it as a nation stood for something more significant than what it could gain for itself through political, military or economic maneuvering: it could say that its ideals, though difficult to realize, mattered to itself, and the world. Who we were as human beings and as a nation, established patterns of behavior that at the best, and perhaps the most difficult of times, could be called leadership.
The times have changed. With a series of essays written in the past 15 years, Chris has chronicled that change. He positions himself as a ‘witness of the times’ and writes about the American Empire Project that acted as a blueprint for the endless wars we now take for granted; he rejects the simple answers about the fall of the two towers and asks searching ones of his own. In examining“The Global Economic Crisis” he identifies certain villains, none of which are capitalism itself but rather its current oligarchic tendencies. His essay “Income Inequalities and the Fundamental Social Law” is especially poignant. This indignity is fresh in our minds and hearts every day.
Chris’s first ten chapters capture the tenor of the times well because he meticulously builds his case on observations that are factual and extensive, assumptions that are not out of the American mainstream, and insights that come from his lifetime of work with individuals and groups that want to work effectively and meaningfully together. These early chapters present the facts, personal, moral and spiritual, that describe the corruption of our society and make us all hope for something new.
The last two chapters are not a chronicle, though they are not fact-free. They present the challenge that we all need to respond to every single day. Chris calls it ‘building Communities of Conscience.’ Who is to build these communities? The answer is quite significant: the great majority of Americans who do not agree with the direction or identity of American these days. It is such a shock to learn that survey after survey shows that Americans still have the ideals that have characterized them and their actions for centuries. That we are not what we see on the screen. To Re-Imagine America is to find creative ways to let America show its true self, in a way appropriate for societal and individual responsibility and development.
At this point, most authors would pave a way to the future by attacking the ‘active agents’ that appear so colorfully in the first ten chapters. Chris does not make this mistake. Actually, Chris responds to the question that all thinking and concerned citizens of the United States have these days: What Can I Do? According to Chris, many things.
He makes numerous practical suggestions to create a community of conscience that rightly lives in the cultural sphere of influence, that gives us our freedom to be creative, the legal sphere which guarantees the equality we often talk about, and the economic sphere which “serves the needs of people and the earth.” (If you want to know how to urge the three-fold social organism into existence, in real time, read the last two chapters of this book.) When we realize how tuned to the times Chris is, it is not surprising that his Tri-Sectoral Imagination for the American future is quite consonant with what we discover in Strauss and Howe’s The Fourth Turning. We are again at a great turning point in our history in which the future of our democratic experiment is at stake.
Christopher Schaefer is a scholar, yet we need not be afraid to pick up this vital and important work out of fear of not understanding it all. There is something for everyone. Obviously, the time to begin is now and, as the last lines of the book (a quotation from Rebecca Solnit) command: “Dream Big, Inhabit Your Dreams, Don’t Stop Now.” Re-Imagining America: Finding Hope in Difficult Times is published by Hawthorn Press and will be available on Sept. 15, 2019 in the U.K. and on Amazon November 1st.