Chicago Design Museum
Great Ideas of Humanity is an ongoing collaborative project of the Chicago Design Museum. Inspired by John Massey’s iconic campaign, “Great Ideas of Western Man,” designers are invited to graphically interpret noteworthy ideas from literature and spoken word. Early in 2018, I was presented with the following statement by Henry Ward Beecher, “The real democratic American idea is not that every man shall be on a level with every other, but that every one shall have liberty, without hindrance, to be what God made him.”
In a handful of words, Beecher’s statement of “the real democratic American idea” asks far more than it answers. It dispatches the notion of equality, replacing it with a vague, possibly less desirable, concept of liberty to “be what God made” us. It’s a statement that points to the ongoing tension between popular ideology and the historic roots of our politics in enlightenment thinking. It implores us to ask who God is, and what we were made to be. My goal was not to resolve the paradox of Beecher’s idea, but to illustrate it with beauty and provoke others to take part in a discourse on what our democracy does and should mean.