History Calls – Will We Answer?
Throughout history, man has made advances that were the result of individual genius, and advances that were the result of the joint work of many. Each advancement made has been, goes the cliché, on the shoulders of the giants that came before. The concept of democracy as first practiced by the Greeks can be argued to be the result of the genius of one man. The creation of the theory of relativity by Einstein was the work of a singular genius. More often, though, the same great stride is made – almost simultaneously – in many places around the world. When that happens, it is the result of a confluence of ideas that together affect the consciousness of many and that lead almost inexorably to one conclusion. Darwin’s Origin of Species was a new idea, but it wasn’t his alone. The accumulation of biological and archaeological knowledge, plus the weakening hold of religious dogma around the world was leading many people down the same path. Darwin merely had more and better firsthand knowledge and the brain required to put it together – and publish – first.
The United States of America was the result of the confluence of many ideas, and some lucky accidents of geography, and psychology, and timing. It was, in fact, one of those rare, low probability events that just happened to work. Beginning with John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government in the late 17th century, great thinkers were publishing works on the inherent rights of man, and the ills and excesses of government. America became, during that time, the place that those who didn’t fit into their own societies could go and be free to do what they wanted, rather than what society dictated they do. It was a place for the religiously oppressed, the economically restricted, the nonconformist. Mix a population of that type with a burgeoning philosophy of self-reliance and individual rights, economic freedom, the autonomy that a a new land and 3,000 mile of separation provides, add a dash of tyrannical rule by a monarch on the other side of the ocean and not right in the head, stir vigorously with an iron military fist, and we got the American revolution.
That part’s not surprising. What is surprising is that we won, and even more suprising is the government that came out of that victory – the first government to recognize, in writing, the danger of government. Throughout the writings of the Founders, it is apparent that they all understood that government is the concentration of power. That government, always and everywhere, tends to grow at the expense of those it governs. “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government” said Thomas Jefferson. “There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty” said John Adams. “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one” wrote Thomas Paine. “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master” said George Washington. Government, like fire, is a tool we cannot live without, but a tool that can wreak destruction if it’s not carefully controlled. Destruction on a small scale, like “no-knock” raids on the wrong house, or destruction on vast scales like World Wars, and on medium scales like Stalin’s purges and the Killing Fields of Cambodia.
In democratic governments the accumulation of power is usually gradual and slow, not noticed generally. In fact, major accumulations are often greeted with the approval of the populace, because these accumulations must be accomplished with the cooperation of the governed. Almost never is there recognition that power accumulated by government is done at the expense of the individual, nor is there much consideration of the possibility of future abuse. Power is yeilded most often for what are considered the best of reasons – the promised betterment of others, or the defense of the population against some new threat.
Don’t misunderstand – I’m not here shouting “Conspiracy! Conspiracy!” I’m fully aware of Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by human stupidity.” But Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis illuminated the problem:
“Experience teaches us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent.”
“The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”
Henry Louis Mencken described the mechanism:
“The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods.”
So, knowing these things, why does government still grow? Because of human nature.
Greed. Selfishness. Fear. Hate.
Charity. Compassion. Love. Honor.
And it does so because of ignorance. Because not everyone does know these things. Our democratic form of government offers almost universal suffrage. The only requirements are citizenship and the age of majority. The only disqualifications: a criminal record or mental incompetence. (Which, were there any justice, would bar most politicians from office.) There is no requirement – nor should there be – that voters actually have any knowledge of that on which they are voting. Like all rights, the right to vote comes with a responsibilty to exercise that right intelligently, but there cannot be any law to force one to do so, and most don’t. And why? Because staying current is damned near impossible for any one person to do. It’s too much work. And if you depend on someone else to do that work for you (as we’ve depended on Big Media to do for decades) how can you know you can trust them?
I read an interesting essay a couple of days ago that helped inspire me to write this one. That essay was The State of the Republic, written in May of this year by Barry Hirsch. In it were these thoughts:
Democrats in general, and progressives in particular, are hell bent on converting our democratic republic into a quasi-socialist state. Everything they think, say and do supports this. Republicans in general, and conservatives in particular, espouse preserving the republic as close to its original concept as possible, yet, for years they’ve been merely leaving ruts in the dust with their heels as the country is dragged ever closer to socialism.
The prognosis isn’t good, ladies and gentlemen, because we have been systematically outflanked on almost every front. For remedial action to take place, the majority of America must first understand what has happened, experience the outrage of betrayal, distill true civic motivation, and resolve to embark undeterred upon the path to restoration. That, my friends, is a tall order.
Recent history being our guide, I think the first sentence is essentially accurate. The second sentence is half-truth, as while the Republicans talk a good game, those heel marks appear awfully light to me. But I fully agree with Mr. Hirsch’s last statement – embarking on a path to restoration, or to any path other than the one we’re being led down is, indeed, a tall order. How do we accomplish this reversal? Mr. Hirsch advises:
First, the generations now of the age of exercising civic power are products of incremental miseducation, and those presently in the government indoctrination system will be worse off than their predecessors. At least the majority of adult Americans now in the civic loop can read and comprehend basic principles. Those in the pipeline will not be able to do that effectively, because they aren’t being taught the tools necessary to think comprehensively; they are instead being brainwashed. The current crop of adults has been conditioned in the mindset that things are more or less as they should be. This makes them unreceptive to ideas that would place their emotional comfort in jeopardy. That is the first hurdle that must be cleared, and they must then be convinced to replace their local, state and federal representatives with people who are dedicated to restoring the republic. They must see to it that their kids are either placed in private schools with civics curricula that accurately impart the principles upon which the nation was founded, or commit to teaching their kids the truth themselves.
Mr. Hirsch has the key – education – but while he sees the problem, and he sees the solution, he recognizes the barrier, the hurdle, that must be overcome before the solution can be implemented.
How do we overcome that hurdle when it will make people uncomfortable and “place their emotion comfort in jeopardy?” What would it take to engender the “outrage of betrayal” in the majority of the population?
The attack on Pearl Harbor awoke America to an uncomfortable reality. September 11, 2001 did too. What would it take to make the majority recognize the danger of government again and do something about it? Some overwhelming travesty of justice? Well, we’ve seen several travesties in recent years, but none of them awoke the populace. At least, not the majority of the populace. But, as Jesse Jackson once said, “In politics, an organized minority is a political majority.” Nothing illustrates that better than the power of the merely (yes, merely) 4 million member NRA – recognized as one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. The NEA holds similar power, as does the AARP.
Education is the key, but Mr. Hirsch, I think, sees the wrong lock. Not the population at large, but a segment of it is all that is truly needed, and it can stop the apparently inexorable slide toward statism. Last week, Jeff Soyer of Alphecca wrote, tongue-in-cheek, that we needed libertarian bloggers in high public office. (Small “l” libertarians.) And he said this: “The fact is, us(sic) bloggers have some power now. We really are the new media. Let’s get cracking!”
And you know what? He’s right! He’s just aiming too high to start. A number of us have experienced the outrage of betrayal. Our emotional comfort is worn thin. And we’re more than just the “new media” – much more.
The internet is the most important step forward in human communication since moveable type. It is, arguably, the most important invention in history. Steven Den Beste lists it among his four most important inventions in history: “spoken language, writing, movable type printing and digital electronic information processing.” These technologies, in conjuction with other advances, allowed man to spring ahead to greater individual power and freedom. As someone said, were it not for moveable type, Martin Luther’s 95 theses, and Luther himself, would have disappeared into the maw of the Catholic Church. Instead, the printing press spread his ideas throughout Europe and fomented a revolution. The people of that time used the technology, then not 100 years old, to educate themselves. Thus it is now with the internet, raised to an exponential power. Not only can we learn, we can discuss, argue, and fact check – and we can do it across the country in realtime. Fact and truth, reality and reason rule on the Web. “Idiotarians” don’t fare well here because illogical or mendacious appeals to emotion can be (and are) exposed with ease, and the information is disseminated with almost no effort whatsoever. We represent a minority, but an organized, informed, intelligent minority – and that can make us a political majority.
One problem, though, and it’s illustrated by another quote:
“It stands to reason that self-righteous, inflexible, single-minded, authoritarian true believers are politically organized. Open-minded, flexible, complex, ambiguous, anti-authoritarian people would just as soon be left to mind their own fucking business.” R.U. Sirius
Ain’t it the truth?
We are living at one of those historical confluences of technology, thought, and opportunity. The possiblity exists that we, the denizens of the internet, the anti-idiotarians, could be the spark of a revival of the rights of individuals in opposition to the creeping statism that we see every day. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” is the inscription on the National Archives building in Washington. We’ve fallen down on the job.
Time to pick up the (much lighter) burden, and get back to what made this nation great. Let’s not let this opportunity slide by, and descend again back into bondage.