This midterm cycle has been a time of unprecedented civic engagement, and Carl Anderson sees a lot of consensus in it. The New York Times–bestselling author and head of the Catholic men’s group the Knights of Columbus has a new book, Beyond a House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street, and the Media. He talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about his evidence and some of the most important cultural and political issues of the day, including abortion, marriage, immigration, the economy, and more.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Days after the midterm elections, we have a fair bit of division in Washington still. Why isn’t your book an exercise in fantasy or idealism?
CARL ANDERSON: The fantasy is that we are divided as a people. Washington is divided, in part, because the common belief is that there isn’t really a way forward. But obviously, as the research I discuss in the book shows, there is. By beginning at the country’s moral core, our political leaders can find a way forward that draws the support of the American people, rather than alienates them.
LOPEZ: You write, “On basic moral questions, on what they believe at their core, most Americans stand shoulder to shoulder. They agree that morality has a place not only in our families and personal relationships but also in corporate offices and boardrooms on Wall Street, in the country’s newsrooms and in the halls of political power in Washington.” How do you prove that? And how do you translate that into something concrete that businesses and Washington can work with? Or does it really all start in our families and personal relationships?
ANDERSON: I think that the polling data on each of these issues speaks for itself. People want a consistent moral approach in life, whether in public or in private, whether in politics or in business. Of course it starts with each of us, but after the financial earthquakes of the past two years on Wall Street, and the political shakeups of the same period, I think the entire country is ready for this. In the cases of Washington and Wall Street, if it’s not morals that shows them the way ahead, perhaps it will be self-preservation that leads them to a moral approach, given recent history.
Concretely, this works the same way. People need to make the choice to have that consistent set of ethics — at home, at work, in public, in private. Taking those concrete steps will lead to countless other concrete moral actions, one step at a time.
LOPEZ: The Knights of Columbus are more about charity, fellowship, and catechesis than polling. Why did you get into the business of commissioning polls?
ANDERSON: The Knights have always been about charity, and charity is something that betters our communities and our country. We have long had an interest in working to make our world a better one, not only through charity but also through education. As far back as the 1920s, we commissioned books on issues that needed to be addressed. For instance, we published three books on the contributions of racial minority groups to the United States in the mid-1920s. One of those books, on the contributions of African Americans, was written by W. E. B. DuBois almost four decades before the 1960s civil-rights movement.
We were involved with the polling of younger Americans in the 1980s, and more recently have been polling because we think it is important for people to understand who the American people are and what we believe on moral issues, and to find ways that we can come together to better our nation.
One really great thing that came out of this polling was the news that the two groups most respected for moving the moral compass of the nation “in the right direction” are volunteers and charitable organizations. For us, that means that the hands-on charity that our members do in 14,000 councils in this country and around the world has offered real, concrete hope. That’s something that the entire country can agree is a good first step forward for our nation.
Providing a moral compass is something that we try to do by our actions, through our charity. But it is also something that the Knights of Columbus has long done by promoting — and adding to — public discussion of key issues.