A Better Union?

As my husband repeatedly warns, crusaders don’t do cost analyses. They are too obsessed with change to consider the costs of that change. Unintended consequences invariably result, often giving truth to the phrase that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. (Of course, sometimes the crusaders’ dictatorial intentions are not good from the beginning, even though they phrase their quests in glowing, noble, altruistic terms.)

Grammar teachers have long decried the phrase “a more perfect union” in the preamble to the United States Constitution. Perfect implies—well, perfection. It cannot be improved upon. Furthermore, if you read the phrase as suggesting moving towards perfection, that is a goalpost that is unachievable by human beings. Admittedly, the phrase “a better union” doesn’t have the same ring, but it would have been more honest.

Perhaps in that turn of phrase lies much of human dissatisfaction with life. Who doesn’t want to have a more perfect spouse, employer, employee, friend, or child? Yet, as we all must admit, we too are not perfect and do better to note the positive virtues of ourselves and those in our lives rather than say, “If only…”

On the global front, demanding perfection from a country leads not only to dissatisfaction, but it frequently leads to misery. I have just finished reading a book about the cruel Japanese occupation of Shanghai during World War II. Sadly, after the Japanese lost the war, the savagery they perpetrated was followed by further evil rule. One of our daughters has just finished a book about the French Revolution. While the monarchy’s reign was deeply flawed, each successive overthrowing government brought further suffering. My husband frequently reads about the reduced standard of living in today’s South Africa, featuring increases in crime and decreases in services such as electricity. Yet this chaos was brought about by attempts to improve a bad situation. Canada is facing huge challenges to a system meant for a free people as is the United States. Both have seen progressive movements over the past decades promising, as candidate Barack Obama did on March 18, 2008, reprising the preamble’s words, “a more perfect union.” Europe and the Middle East are mired in conflict that mock the promises of previous generations.

In many cases, both historical and current, the drive to improve circumstances, many of which were far from perfect, end up leaving most people worse off. Should we be complacent about wrong and submit to unjust leadership? No. But, we should be aware that, too often, those crusaders leading the charge, and those who follow them, end up sending us backwards rather than forwards.

Young people are especially susceptible to both naiveté and optimism. This, along with a shocking level of historical ignorance that today seems to increase with more time spent in educational institutions, makes them perfect ‘useful idiots’ —as well as dangerous ones. The years before the American Revolution featured hot heads, gratuitous violence, and rising emotions. By the grace of God and through the articulate voices and hard work of outstanding men and women, judicious adults tempered and channeled the youths’ fervor rather than inciting it. May we merit such leadership in our time.

This Musing is dedicated in memory of Adam Brema, age 47, who came to Israel from Darfur about 15 years ago seeking asylum. He was murdered in the street by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7, 2023.

And with prayers for the safe return of all the hostages, and among them, Carmel Gat, age 39, who was visiting her mother, Kinneret, at Kibbutz Be’eri on Oct. 7, 2023. Kinneret was slain and Carmel was abducted.

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