Harry Neuwirth writes from Salem, Oregon.
People have endured centuries of poverty and repression at the hands of tyrants as they struggled toward ill-defined conditions of liberty. Then hope became reality in the 18th century: ". . . to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the Governed . . ." The Union was challenged in the 19th:
. . . our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal." Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation . . . can long endure.
Eighty-seven years before Abe Lincoln's famous speech a courageous congregation of immigrant men and women had animated his proposition with blood, sacrifice, and self-reliance, liberating themselves from the domination of the old world. Under conditions of liberty, America steadily rose in greatness to inspire the world.
Somewhere in mid-20th century America began falling from greatness. A scapegoat needed, politicians became the easiest targets for contempt. Willing accomplices though they've been, lawmakers and the opportunists who press in on them from all sides respond diligently to the demands from the precincts; the demands we put before them. Certainly there is blame to be laid, but most of it is ours, the constituents, and misplaced blame tends to absolve the guilty.
It has fallen to us, the fortunate descendants of the Founders and of our sixteenth president, not simply to embrace liberty, but to determine ". . . whether that nation . . . can long endure." We seem to have no idea of how to keep liberty alive, many of us not even suspecting that we are losing it! We venerate the sacrifice and self-reliance of the Founding Fathers while pursuing policies of comfort and convenience for ourselves, seeing no disconnect between their sacrifice and our privilege. Yet the Founders assigned authority to the people in the Founding documents in an obvious, pleading attempt to remind us that we must prevent power from consolidating into the hands of the power hungry who are always among us. Authority is moving quickly to centers of power because we've abdicated our responsibility as citizens. It's time for the people to resume their sovereignty.
Guilt needs to be properly assigned: Congress and the bureaucracy are merely accessories, not the perpetrators.
Can we moderate and reverse that slide? What can I do; what can my neighbors do to reverse the trend?
A good beginning would be for many millions of us to become serious citizens, informed citizens; muscular citizens; no more voting our emotions in response to salesman-candidates whose only interest is in winning office and fame. From the president to the lowliest clerk, the overwhelming advantage government functionaries have had over us is ignorance. Not stupidity, but ignorance of how things work -- or why they don't work, where responsibility lies, and how to make things right.
Armed with knowledge about the affairs of government, we can begin in earnest to inform functionaries that we want good government, not something for nothing: Provide us with a stable economic and social environment and we can take care of the rest ourselves. We want to be self-reliant again! We are not villeins. We want and need personal responsibility. Life is empty without it. We recognize that depression and ennui that are emerging are the result of their having nothing significant to do; responsibility has been drained from our lives.
To respond maturely to political jabber, we need to become familiar with the fundamentals of government, of economics, of world affairs and the many, many issues that are the legitimate policy issues of a government of free men. In that vein, Hillsdale, a small college in Michigan, has adopted the slogan, "Educating for Liberty," capturing the essence of what would be a fitting slogan for Americans and their broad educational establishment.
But there will be no return to maturity in America without a massive restructuring of the monolithic school system that now reaches into every corner, teaching our children the propriety of dependence and rights. The failure of our schools to inspire us -- and now our children -- into responsible citizenship as those kids drift through the K-12 schools is outrageous. The challenge for adults is to recognize failure, and to work to end it. We have friends and relatives functioning in the public schools whom we hate to offend or drive from our side, but the adults among them are as aware as we are that it's the system that's flawed. Is it rational to demand that children in La Mesa, California, be forced to attend a school paid for by their parents that is micro-managed by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., 2,750 miles away, when the intelligent people who care most about those kids live right next door to the school?
Finally, we must accept citizenship for what it is: A demanding responsibility. We can rely only on ourselves to restore government to what it was meant to be, a stabilizing agency for a self-reliant constituency. *
"It is not possible to know how far the influence of any amiable honest-hearted duty-doing man flies out into the world . . ." --Charles Dickens, Great Expectations