The Experiment

I think the most important thing that we, as Americans, have lost is our sense of the experiment. This nation of republican self-government is an experiment. Beginning as one, it continues still. It is an experiment to see if people with a generous amount of freedom can govern themselves successfully.

The presence of the experiment fills every word, every syllable of my sentence just written above. “People”: the definition of the word has shifted constantly. “Generous amount of freedom”: the phrase has morphed and morphed and morphed again. “Successfully”: once more, you’d get something different across time and space when you try to lay out the meaning of this word.

We are an experiment, the first in the world of a people deciding to break apart from another people for the purpose of governing ourselves. So much of what we see every day, from the popular to the unpopular, from the wise to the foolish, expresses the ongoing fact of our experimental state.

The Founders, both in 1776 and in 1789, knew the reality of experimentation. I fear we’ve lost sight of it ourselves. We would only improve if we would only recall the fact that the American experience is the American experiment.