Our public life takes shape within a field of competing organizational forms. Corporations, assemblies, constitutions, and federations compete for our loyalties, providing models of proper human existence. Like the family, they seek to provide trustworthy and dependable relationships of power and authority that enable us to live, work, argue, and reconcile with each other. Many crucial decisions of our social life revolve finally around the choices we make as a society among these institutional forms and the means by which we evoke deep sentiments of legitimacy and trust to uphold them.
The primary forms of American public life emerged in the rejection of European monarchy and religious establishment. The Constitution replaced the Crown and the denomination came to replace the one true Church. Fundamental to this revolutionary transition were the emergence of covenantal forms of association and democratic assemblies as the constituent elements of legitimate public authority. Social life was not to be governed by hierarchical and patriarchal authority “from above” but by free agreements of the people forged in open public assemblies. This model of legitimate order flowed through both governmental and religious spheres in complex and interpenetrating ways.