It’s a biblical quote: “A house divided against itself cannot stand” and it was used by Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois on 16 June 1858. In a speech against slavery, he said: “I believe this Government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.” Lincoln was right but at that time he was heavily criticised for his courageous remarks.
Today, we are at a simple crossroads. Two widely different political philosophies are in combat over our future. This is a recurrent situation that waxes and wanes throughout our long history. This fight is strikingly encapsulated in the campaigning antics of the social media age.
Temporarily, in the ascendancy is one approach that thrives on division. Prompting and nurturing conflict wherever it can be found. It’s strangely Darwinian, in setting one against another as a test to see who prevails. Its instruments are aggressive, gaudy and indiscriminate. It drains moral and wastefully plunders optimism.
As if it were the flip side of a coin, then we have a philosophy which prides itself; so easily summed up by the phrase: “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. The notion is that happiness, prosperity and strength come from cooperation and partnership. It’s a constructive approach that believes that human institutions can be built to positively improve life.
Now 2018, we are 160 years from Lincoln’s speech and our national “house” is indeed divided. Whether you call it; Like or Dislike, Left or Right, Remain or Leave, North or South, Public or Private, Nationalist or Internationalist, a polarising tribalism has set into our public debate.
I’ve set out to address the question: Why is it so difficult to occupy the centre ground? Well, there it is; it profits some people to divide and rule. Each of us is too easily drawn into the idea that our utopia can only be built by destroying the imagined utopia of another. OK. It’s not grumpiness that I want to promote. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that there’s no way out of this perpetual conflict and that its all bad.
Back to Lincoln a couple of lifetimes ago. He was defeated so you might conclude that his; “A house divided against itself cannot stand” speech was a failure. Truth is, it was not. Friends later concluded that his speech did awaken people. It was like clearing the path of debris so that people could get from A to B with hope and ambition.
I think, that’s what we need this coming year. A dramatic reassertion that we work better together. A proclamation and a proof that cooperation in Europe is a benefit to every single citizen. Building a better world is a joint activity and not a lone struggle.