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Praise for Civic Revolutionaries
"Laden with real-life examples of unconventional civic action now underway across the U.S.A., Civic Revolutionaries provides the intellectual ferment and operational framework for truly exciting advances in America's metropolitan regions during the first decades of the 21st century. I know my friend and mentor John W. Gardner would be delighted by the appearance and likely strong impact of this book."
Neal Peirce, syndicated columnist, Washington Post Writers Group and coauthor, Citistates
"As America faces the future there is no shortage of leaders, but what about stewardsthose people who are change agents that act out of a sense of responsibility for the long-term future of their community? Civic Revolutionaries is the first book to tell us why and how to become one."
John Parr, president and CEO, Alliance for Regional Stewardship
"The need for regional stewardship will become increasingly compelling as the footprint of our daily lives extends beyond traditional political boundaries. The book is filled with insights for those who want to look over the horizon at the future challenges to the leadership of every American political, business, and nonprofit institution created by this new phenomenon."
George Vradenburg, vice chair, Alliance for Regional Stewardship
"This is a book you have to read if you are (or want to be) a community leader. The authors describe a new revolution of civic institution building that is transforming every corner of American life."
Edward J. Blakely, dean, Robert J. Milano Graduate School, New School Universityand member of the board of directors, Regional Plan Association
Individual residents naturally want personal freedom,
and local governments want control over what happens
in their jurisdiction. But regional trends such as
economic change, traffic congestion, and land use
patterns are constraining individual freedom and
undermining local control. An adversarial environment
among jurisdictions and special interests has created
gridlock on important issues. Most people agree
that the value of freedom for individual residents and
jurisdictions is important, but so is the value of working
together to take responsibility as a community for
solving regional problems that affect everyone. The
practical question is how to reconcile the competing
values of individual and community to meet the challenges
At the core of the American Experiment is the balancing act
between two powerful concepts: theindividual and the community.
The Founders believed that both are critical ingredients to
a successful society. Individual freedom and liberty are the well-springs
of creativity and initiative. Community duty and responsibility
are the glue that allows individuals to live together peacefully
and productively. Or as Gardner (1995) put it simply, "Humans are
social beings, and to discuss individuality without talking about the
social system that makes it possible is to talk nonsense" (p. 86).
The American Experience: Resolving the Tension
Between the Individual and the Community
Our nation's founders sought to create a framework that would prevent
the individual and the community from overwhelming each
other-resulting in neither freedom without responsibility nor duty
without liberty. The resulting framework addressed two fundamental
How to balance competing interests (or factions) in a
How to manage the growing complexity of interests of
a geographically dispersed and economically diverse
They succeeded well enough to ensure the survival of the new
nation and set the standard for subsequent generations. Every generation
since has inherited this balancing act-some in times of war,
depression, civic unrest, and social upheaval that have severely
tested their ability to preserve both individual freedom and community
Where individual freedom is guaranteed and flourishes, differences
of opinion and clashes of freedoms are inevitable. The
Founders understood and appreciated the realities of human nature
and knew that any enduring American system had to find a way
simultaneously to encourage the diversity of ideas while tempering
the conflict among interests. They sought to preserve the benefits
of pluralism while guarding against the danger of factions.
James Madison in The Federalist Papers offered perhaps the best
articulation of the Founders' concern about the practical challenge
in balancing "the multiplicity of interests" in a diverse society. In
Federalist No. 10, Madison introduced the challenge of faction,
defining it as "a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority
or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some
common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of
other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the
community" (Quinn, 1993, p. 71). He identified two distinct dangers:
the threat that some individual interests would overwhelm the
rights of some citizens and the threat that factions could undermine
the broader community interest.
At the same time, Madison recognized the reality that "the
latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man" and
"have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with
mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex
and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good."
In fact, "liberty is to faction what air is to fire." However, this reality
did not lead Madison to argue for removing the causes of faction:
"It could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential
to political life, because it nourishes faction than it would be to wish
the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it
imparts to fire its destructive agency" (Quinn, 1993, pp. 70-73).
The challenge then, as Madison defined it, is that "the causes of
faction cannot be removed and that relief is only to be sought as a
means for controlling its effects." What effects? In Federalist No. 62,
he observed that "liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty
as well as by the abuses of power." Alexander Hamilton described
another effect in Federalist No. 6 when he noted the tendency for
neighboring states to be natural enemies unless bound together voluntarily
in the common cause of a republic, "extinguishing that
secret jealousy which disposes all states to aggrandize themselves at
the expense of their neighbors" (Quinn, 1993, pp. 55, 73, 137).
The Founders answered the challenge of competing interests by creating
a constitutional framework that preserved liberty generally
but also constrained liberty in specific instances in which the liberties
of some would overwhelm those of others, or when the effects
of factions would compromise the broader community interest.
Defining exactly where those lines are drawn is a continuous process
Just as the competition of interests in a pluralistic society is
inevitable, so is the complexity of a problem-solving environment
in a dynamic world. However, an important distinction exists
between the competition of interests and the complexity of the problem-solving
environment. The former deals with individual differences
and often conflicts, and it requires a better understanding of
underlying values among participants in order to develop creative
solutions or even compromises that allow for some degree of progress.
With the latter, the challenge is less about resolving major differences
and conflict and more about finding new ways to mobilize
a multitude of sometimes similar, often complementary interests
into solving a shared, but complex, problem. It is about transforming
a multitude of independent agents into a whole that is greater
than the sum of its parts.
For the Founders, meeting the practical challenge of complexity
meant creating a nation out of thirteen independent states. The first
attempt, in the Articles of Confederation, failed to reconcile competing
interests but-just as important-collapsed under its inability
to manage the growing complexity of a geographically dispersed
and economically diverse nation.
This growing complexity of interests was magnified by the growing
complexity of state lawmaking. State constitutions varied greatly
and were regularly altered, creating a sense of confusion and chaos
within and between states. As one observer from Vermont wrote in
1786, laws were "altered-realtered-made better-made worse;
and kept in such a fluctuating position, that persons in civil commission
scarcely know what the law is" (Wood, 2002, p. 142). Altogether,
the complexity of the problem-solving environment exposed
the inherent weakness of the Articles of Confederation and drove
the Founders to develop a national constitution that would be able
to manage complexity.
In Federalist No. 37, Madison recognized the complexity of the
problem-solving environment when he grappled with how to partition
powers between national and state governments. He identified
three specific challenges: "indistinctness of the object,
imperfection of the organ of conception, and inadequateness of the
vehicle of ideas." In other words, he described a problem-solving
environment in which the problem will be hard to define, the
problem solvers will be imperfect in their abilities to solve the
problem, and "vehicles" to describe and advance solutions will be
inadequate. Despite theses obstacles, Madison argued for moving
ahead, to manage complexity as well as possible, acknowledging
the obstacles, but "with a deep conviction of the necessity of
sacrificing private opinions and partial interests to the public good"
(Quinn, 1993, p. 104).
Thus the Founders created the Constitution not only to manage
differences among factions but also to manage complexity in a
diverse and dynamic nation. In fact, according to Michael Meyerson,
author of Political Numeracy (2002), the Constitution is a document
that sets up a complex adaptive system driven by feedback.
Complex adaptive systems are based on simple rules that recognize
the need for constant change and improvement and provide a
framework for an open society.
For more than two centuries, the Constitution has managed to
adapt repeatedly to an extraordinary array of small alterations and
grand upheavals, both external and internal, while at the same time
maintaining coherence under change. The Constitution in general
and the Bill of Rights in particular are relatively short and simple
principles or rules. However, their application over time is parallel
to the concept of iteration or feedback. As we see with chaotic systems,
the smallest changes can lead ultimately to quite significant
developments through a process of dynamic adaptation. The Constitution
provides simple rules that act as the framework for complex,
nonlinear systems. Elections, legislation, and judicial decisions
all act as self-correcting mechanisms.
In short, the framers created a chaotic Constitution that is well
suited to the changing nature of our complex political and economic
environment. As Jay Harris, former publisher of the San Jose
Mercury News commented, "The genius of the Constitution lay in
what the framers did not attempt to do-they had a clear grasp of
the general ideas and left the details to later interpretation" (2002).
The beauty of the Constitution is its elegant simplicity. It is a simple
set of rules for governing complex behavior.
The Founders established the framework for problem solving for
future generations but did not solve all the problems in their time.
They did not address the issue of slavery, which led to the great division
of the Civil War. In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln
finally connected the promise of equality in the Declaration of Independence
(that all men are created equal and have certain unalienable
rights) with the idea of the national Union of "We the People"
created by the framers of the Constitution. Lincoln makes clear that
lives were lost in the Civil War to ensure that everyone had a place
in America's future and that the Union "of the people, by the people,
for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Out of the Civil
War, America redefined its social compact based on core values of
freedom, equality, and opportunity for all.
A half century after Lincoln, Herbert Croly in The Promise of
American Life ( 1989) gave the turn-of-the-century Progressive
movement a rationale in his famous formula of seeking Jeffersonian
ends (equality and opportunity) through Hamiltonian
(centralized) means. This rationale justified the creation of a strong
central government to compete with the increasingly centralized
economy dominated by the large monopolistic industries of that era,
known as "trusts." This general formula has endured for almost a
century through wars, depression, the New Deal, and the Great
Society. However, the creative tension between the individual and
the community resurfaces as times change and new circumstances
force us to consider new ways to address this issue.
The Tension Today: Practical Challenges to Address
Among the important challenges that today's civic revolutionaries
experience in balancing the values of the individual and the values
of the community are the following:
The challenge of community building: from forced compromise
to free choice
The challenge of competing interests: from conflict to
The challenge of complex environments: from chaos to
Alone, the compromise of federalism (the framework that provided
a separation of powers between the national and the state
governments) created by the Founders of the Constitution, and subsequent
refinements, may not fit our current situation very well. The
national government may simply be too far removed from the real
problems facing individuals and communities today. In many
respects, a government that was designed as a workable model for a
nation of a little more than three million people has become more
of a distant bureaucracy that is ill equipped to solve the increasingly
complex problems of today.
Current circumstances suggest that the Croly formula may no
longer be viable. In fact, the reverse may be necessary: Hamiltonian
ends (vital economy and community) through Jeffersonian
means (decentralization). We may need a more distributed model
based on regional networks or compacts forged through cooperation
and bargaining among leaders at the neighborhood, city, region,
state, and national levels. A distributed model may be the way we
need to resolve the tension between individual interests and community
Gardner (1970), who spent much of his life working to resolve
the creative tension between individual freedom and liberty and
community responsibility and duty, suggests a balance between
The significant question is not whether the individual
should be completely free of his society or completely subjugated.
It is a question of what are the ties and what are
the freedoms. The ties must be the life-giving ties of
shared values, a sense of community, a concern for total
enterprise, a sense of identity and belonging, and the
opportunity to serve. The freedoms must be the freedom
to dissent, to be an individual, to grow and fulfill oneself,
to choose in some measure one's own style and manner of
serving the community [p. 46].
In his writings, Gardner grappled with how to resolve the tension.
Through his actions, he promoted practical efforts that offered
individuals creative opportunities to serve the community. To the
end of his life, he sought ever better ways to engage people in their
community, to define through action the relationship between individual
freedom and liberty and community responsibility and duty.
Addressing the creative tension between the individual and the
community is not an academic exercise, but rather an exercise that
offers specific, practical challenges. For the Founders, these challenges
were as real and practical as they are today.
Excerpted from Civic Revolutionaries
by Douglas Henton John G. Melville Kimberly A. Walesh
Copyright © 2003 by Douglas Henton, John G. Melville, Kimberly A. Walesh.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|Introduction: The Creative Tensions of the Continuing American Experiment||1|
|1||Individual and Community: Creating Common Purpose||21|
|2||Trust and Accountability: Building Webs of Responsibility||59|
|3||Economy and Society: Strengthening the Vital Cycle||89|
|4||People and Place: Making the Creative Connection||127|
|5||Change and Continuity: Creating Vigilance for Renewal||157|
|6||Idealism and Pragmatism: Building Resilience of Place||197|
|7||The Rise of the New Civic Revolutionaries: Answering the Call to Stewardship||231|