Climbing the Ladder of History

Human history is the story of man’s climb up the ladder of justice. The West now stands on the step of welcoming the Muslim world. The “long war” so glibly threatened by extremists of all stripes will be the penalty for failure to take this step.

Human history is, or at least one must so hope, the story of man’s climb up the ladder of social justice. Skipping a few steps, let us zero in on the history of the U.S. and summarize it in a sentence: if the first step was declaration of self-evident truths (and a bit of a mix-up with the day’s superpower), the second step was the inclusion of black men in the dream, and the third step was the inclusion of all women.

Each step brought the next into focus. Articulation of natural rights of humans led logically to abolition. Welcoming male ex-slaves as citizens and voters led logically to welcoming women. With each step, the emerging society improved. If the Declaration of Independence gave the vision inspiring the first step, then Lincoln’s warning that a house divided cannot survive articulated the vision of the second.

That double vision of self-evident rights exercised within a united house should today inspire us to raise our sights to the necessary fourth step. It is now time for the West to articulate a vision of a global political system that will welcome Muslims.

So difficult was it for American society to conceive of a social structure including black men that a near-suicidal fratricidal war had to be fought to accomplish it. Society matured a bit as the result of that lesson and outright war between men and women proved unnecessary to accomplish the next restructuring. Difficult though it was to carry through the resolution to share power, each invitation, each compromise with those formerly marginalized strengthened and enriched society. Now it is not national society but global society that must be restructured.

The immediate challenge is one that in particular faces the party leading the resistance, Americans, and the challenge is to articulate both the goal of inclusiveness and a practical process of achieving it. This cannot be simple. That slavery made a mockery of the Declaration of Independence today seems obvious beyond any need for comment, but it took American society a full generation of agonizing argument and another century of refinements even to approach racial equality. Again, the logic of a white man granting to his wife the same rights that he had granted to male ex-slaves today also seems obvious, but that step took three more generations.

Can reform of the complex global political system prove any easier? Provision will have to be made for tribes that choose not to modernize and states demanding a reform of what today are highly discriminatory nuclear rules. But start we must if we are to avoid the Long War nightmare evoked by extremists on both sides.

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