The CommonSense Principle captures our conviction that broad support indicates wisdom. When a broad majority emerges across the cultural, political, economic, religious, racial, and social lines that divide us, we can generally trust it. We call this “The CommonSense Principle” because when there is a sense held in common across a diverse society’s fault lines that a policy is good, we can generally trust that it will be a better policy than one supported only by a fervent minority such as the base of one or another party.
This idea doesn’t originate with us. James Madison gave it powerful expression in Federalist #51 when he wrote: “In the extended republic of the United States, and among the great variety of interests, parties, and sects which it embraces, a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good.” Thanks to Madison, this CommonSense Principle is the conviction on which the Constitution is built.
That doesn’t mean it’s infallible. Madison himself acknowledged that diverse majorities “seldom” form except on principles of “justice and the general good,” not that they never do. Broad and diverse majorities can be wrong. They can be devastatingly wrong. We perpetuated slavery for more than 70 years under our Constitution. Of course, the problem lay less with the principle than with the failure to follow it fully. In the earliest decades of the republic, the voting franchise was restricted to white men who owned land. If every American had had a say from the beginning, we would have ended slavery much sooner.
When you join CommonSense American, you add your voice to a diversity of voices. As we take our four steps together, we make it, in Madison’s words, “very improbable, if not impracticable,” that “an unjust combination of a majority” will occur.
2. The Loyalty to Conscience Principle
At CommonSense American, we ask you to honor your own individual judgment about what is good for the country. We have no policy positions as an organization.
Our commitment to loyalty to conscience is in stark contrast to today’s politics. In the perverse ethics of party politics, voting your conscience is an almost unforgivable act. On rare occasions, legislative leaders will tell their caucus to vote their conscience. Why are we willing to accept the fact that the rest of the time they are not voting their conscience?
This kind of party loyalty is the opposite of freedom. If we don’t have the freedom to think for ourselves, none of the other freedoms mean much. Setting aside our own moral convictions is a perverse kind of morality. Submitting our own opinions to “any party,” as Thomas Jefferson observed, “is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.”
CommonSense Americans follow the law of loyalty to conscience in two concrete ways. First, we review briefs individually and online. As a result, our results reflect our unvarnished, individual opinions, not a view skewed by a go-along-to-get-along-with-the-tribe attitude. Second, we each express our own views when contacting our representatives regardless of what those views are.
3. The Golden Rule of Self-Government
The third guiding principle of CommonSense American is the Golden Rule of Self-Government: If we don’t want someone else’s minority opinion imposed on us, then we shouldn’t try to impose ours on others.
The rigorous test of how an idea looks from many different perspectives allows us to identify ideas that can serve our country well.
If any of us, having tried to persuade others to our view on the merits, have failed to attract a broad majority, we don’t resort to force or manipulation. Nor should we allow the imposition of others’ minority views on us.
While none of us should coerce others to our minority views, we should certainly continue to educate, inform, and persuade. As our own country’s experience in self-government demonstrates, even large, diverse, informed majorities can be wrong. It is critical at these junctures that those with a minority view that is nevertheless just and true, continue to work to persuade the majority on the merits. Many of our best steps forward as a nation were taken as ideas that started with minority support grew to gain majority approval.