Many of us are proud to be known as Georgians. After all, our state is known for its hospitality and laid-back ways as well as for being the seat of Atlanta, the commercial dynamo of our region. Yes, we have our problems — racial divisions and economic disparities among them — but many Georgians reflect positively on the often hard-scrabble history their ancestors, black or white, have fought through to get us where we are today.
Unfortunately to many, where we are is not such a pretty place. Our social adhesiveness is under threat by systemic stresses and by the assaults of social and political activists now aided by the flash communication of social media. Ideas exchanged more by click-bait than through thoughtful discourse lead to a wariness and cynicism that draws us into ourselves or into communities of like-minded others. This causes the political spectrum to bulge at its ends, left and right, as the moderate middle diminishes. That flow is a threat to our country, but few seem to stand in its way crying, “Wait! Wait, there is another way!”
That other way is illustrated by something else we Georgians ought to be proud of but rarely, if ever, think about: the Great Seal of the State of Georgia. That may sound silly; but have you ever looked at it? It symbolizes an idea that has been ours since the days of the Revolution and, properly applied, illustrates a ground as solid for our country’s future as it has been in our past.
In the seal, three columns support a great arch, which a soldier guards. The arch signifies the Constitution, the word plainly written on it. The American Constitution was the first ever to be written by representatives of the people governed. It was developed in a process that considered not only the traditional laws of the mother country, but of those going back to the great antiquities. All those histories were sifted and refined to arrive at a document that would provide the basic, organizing principles of a free government. Importantly, it included a method for amendment to ensure the document remained amenable to the future. No instrument of government had ever done that. Ever.
The three columns supporting the Constitution are Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation. Wisdom, the quality that comes from experience and sound judgment, a quality necessary for the maintenance of any government over time. Justice, the trait that comes from impartial administration of laws that conform to the electorate’s belief of moral good. Without the people’s sense of justice, no constitution will long survive. Finally, and perhaps most on-point for the present, Moderation.
Moderation is the enemy of extremism. It objects equally to the world’s Hitlers and Stalins and to their faint shadows in the right and left extremes of American politics. Moderation does not mean weakness or lack of principle; it means forbearance and sensibility as guiding principles over emotionalism and irrationality. It means being considerate of others’ opinions and beliefs while holding to your own and working together to find a compromise that results in action. Moderation disdains the “my-way-or-the-highway” politicians who stand more for party than for the working government envisioned by the Constitution. Our state seal has always said that Moderation is a key support of the Constitution. Our social and political lives today threaten that support. You might think about that the next time you feel the urge to share some click-bait piece of political sloganeering or to summarily dismiss any social opinion not your own.
Terry Turner, a resident of Colquitt County and professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, conducted counterguerrilla operations in Vietnam as a U.S. Army infantry officer then went on to write “Once a Warrior King” and other books under the pen name David Donovan.