“ . . . with liberty and justice for all,” children recite each morning. Isn’t this the common ground upon which everyone can stand? Many distressed by the today’s political climate urge Americans to remember what binds us together and these principles are surely it.
The history of liberty and justice has never been an easy one. Revolutionary Patriots got their freedom, but there was little justice for Loyalists who had their property confiscated. Black Americans waited a long time for justice to be done, as did women and American Indians. Capitalists have had their freedom while for the average working person justice didn’t arrive until the second half of the 20th century. And to this day, many suffer injustices that are hangovers from an unjust past and from a present in which justice still hasn’t been done.
Today’s political divide continues to reflect this tension. Today conservatives greatly favor liberty while liberals tend to favor the justice side. This reflects historical divisions. When liberty or justice are held as supreme and exclusive political values, democracy is in trouble, as it teetered several times in the past as one side or the other became ideological.
Liberty without justice leads to unsustainable social divisions; justice without liberty disregards individual autonomy.
When the Pledge of Allegiance is recited, especially by those legislators who determine the laws under which we live, it is well to remember that liberty and justice are two ethical values, both valued, neither possible without the other, neither achievable in its pure form, at least not without killing the democracy that we should all hold dear.