How much does America owe to the Shakers?

Dictatorship replaces dictatorship which is then replaced by a democratically elected government

Don’t let the title of this blog post scare you. I’m not talking about reparations to the Shakers, much like reparations to African-Americans or descendants of African-American slaves. There is no comparison. Instead, I’m talking about what America owes to the Shakers in terms of recognition. You have to understand, that just like with any other social and cultural experiment throughout our history as a human species.

Things that we assume as being right or predestined today, were actually quite precarious in the past. In fact, it only takes one bad decision for things that we assume to be a forgone conclusion, to have never taken place at all. The United States, as awesome as it may seem to a lot of people, actually almost did not happen. If on that fateful day, during the height of Shay’s Rebellion, the rebels were able to successfully persuade George Washington to lead a coup d’etat, the history of the United States may have a lot in common with the history of Haiti, many Latin-American countries, as well as many countries in Europe.

In other words, dictatorship replaces dictatorship which is then replaced by a democratically elected government, which then fails miserably and is replaced by another dictatorship. But that didn’t happen. I mean, I’m not a big fan of “Big Man Theory” of history, where some sort of overarching, unstoppable and invincible individual ego or personality, basically shapes history. By enlarge, the theory has been disproven, but you really can’t argue with the fact that if George Washington was a different kind of man, the United States would’ve been a different kind of country.

It is not human nature, generally speaking, for people to give up power. Seriously, people who are able to do that, in a principled way, are few and far between. While you wrap your mind around these turning points when trying to navigate the question of what America owes the Shakers, if anything, Americans can do well to recognize that the Shakers insistence on handwork, common values, and an unshakable faith in God and absolute truth, laid a solid foundation for American material, intellectual and spiritual progress.

It’s very easy to say that truth changes from time to time. It’s very easy to say that things that were too yesterday, don’t necessarily have to be true today because you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. In other words, the truth revolves around you.

Well, let’s follow that logic. What if everyone subscribes to that? And everybody is just following their own truth. Well, there’s going to be a lot of conflict.

There will be no standards. Everybody will, basically, be left to their own. Now this doesn’t mean that people have to kill each other, the law still applies. But something fundamental is lost. Because we no longer go back with the same touchstone, we no longer have the same standards.

It’s as if we’re playing our own music and instead of a symphony, we create noise. That’s what we owe the Shakers. We owe them for their standards, their willingness to stand up for the concept of universal truth. Not personal truth, not truth that is here today, gone tomorrow, but truth that will withstand the test of time. This, of course, is rooted in their Christian faith.