In American History classes, we learned about our country’s birth through revolution. Colonists took up arms to form militias against the British establishment – they were revolutionaries, mind you, not terrorists. The Declaration of Independence testifies to the righteousness and wisdom of the Founding Fathers, dedicated as they were to the philosophical principles of the eighteenth century Enlightenment: humanism, liberty and equality. Founding Fathers, mind you, and liberty and equality for all men – but not women, children, indigenous people or black slaves. Racism and sexism remain structural and systemic problems more than two centuries on, addressed and progressed only through the efforts of dedicated activism.
The American constitution was hailed for its grand experiment in democratic governance. I learned about the complicated internal politics behind the scenes at the constitutional conventions, which informed the development of the constitution’s system of checks and balances. Executive, legislative and judicial branches of the new government were carefully aligned to keep any one element from gaining disproportionate power. The Bill of Rights, with its collection of Ten Amendments, covered specific issues protecting the rights of citizens, such as freedom of religious practice and freedom of speech. There are now twenty-seven Constitutional Amendments in total, the most recent one ratified in 1992 – proof of the constitution’s enduring flexibility. As long as it has been upheld (and it hasn’t always) it has served, more or less fit-for-purpose.
An independent Scotland offers the opportunity to shape a new constitutional settlement. Presumably the ideals of the Scottish Enlightenment would contribute to such an enterprise, as it did the USA. One might even hope that we host a Second Scottish Enlightenment, tuned to the knowledge and ideals of our post-industrial, digital age. Eighteenth century science and philosophy witnessed the move from a religious, mystical paradigm of human institutions to a secular, mechanical paradigm; now twenty-first century science and philosophy are moving us into a networked, living-systems paradigm. Our systems of order and governance will eventually reflect this new understanding of how the universe works – and like all other historic transitions, it will take time.