AUGUST 16, 1949
HYDE PARK, Monday—In the August issue of the Atlantic Monthly there is an article by Archibald MacLeish, called "The Conquest of America," that I would recommend highly.
He says some things which many of us have been skirting around for a long time. We haven't said them as clearly and as simply as he has, but we have known that something rather like this should be said, even if we couldn't put it into words. I have felt for a long time that we were losing our positive leadership in the world because we didn't seem able to find things we could fight for.
I know the things I want to fight for, and they make me keep on working in spite of my years. In a small gathering of mixed ages the other night someone said to me that they were worried because the younger generation did not seem to be out fighting for anything. It isn't enough just to want to make a living. A good many Americans are doing that more or less successfully. I rather think our trouble is that we have lost faith in the direction in which we, as a country, are going and in our destiny.
We don't know where our democracy is trying to lead, nor even whether we have a philosophy of government. We don't seem to know whether there are any principles for which we would today pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
I think, as a matter of fact, what we need to do is to stop awhile and reappraise our whole manner of life.
We have reached a point where we are responsible not just for protection and for economic help, but for moral and spiritual leadership to a great many countries of the world.
What are we going to say to people who ask us what are the thing we really stand for? Freedom of the individual? Of course, but then we have to examine carefully whether we are guarding that freedom at home. Guarding it from encroachment by government, by special interest or from any kind of coercion.
We want to see people the world over free from fear of want and aggression. How are we going about it? Have we made a study of the world situation and our place in that world? Have we told our leaders what we want and asked them what their plans are?
It is quite evident, in order to achieve these ends, there must be world planning for health, education, economic cooperation. Then wherever possible, we must eliminate barriers, which at present tend to divide nations from each other—racial, religious and cultural barriers. These barriers may gradually melt away before the determined attitude of the people of the world bent on understanding each other and working together to achieve some of the same ends for which the United States of America was founded so many years ago.
The things said in our Declaration of Independence for the struggling colonies of this continent are really what we want to say today for the world as a whole. We are the people to find words to express our aspirations and ways to start the machinery going to achieve our ends. We are held back by our fears, and Mr. MacLeish has pointed those out clearly.
I wonder if we can rise above them and begin to be a constructive world force again.