Friday, February 12, 2010

What Did We Do (or Not Do) to Deserve This?

It's been said, with varying degrees of spite, elitism, and resignation, that people get the government they deserve. Now, I'm not enough of a liberal to believe in collective guilt to that extent. What I say is that, given the wide spectrum of political opinions (and delusions), and the equally wide spectrum of willingness to act on one's opinions (and delusions), that some people do, indeed, get the government they deserve, some get a worse government than they deserve, and some get a better one. I'm not sure, for example, how one can blame people today for the continued and apparently eternal abuses of the New Deal, which their grandparents supported but they didn't, because they weren't alive at the time. And typically the worst abuses of any government program only come to full fruition after those responsible for originating them are long gone. What good does it do to, at this late date, blame FDR for the demonetization of gold, or Nixon for the demonetization of silver? And how about Truman, who got us joined at the hip to Israel? And how about all the architects of the Vietnam war, the effects of which are still with us in the form of thousands of disabled veterans in VA hospitals? Most of “the best and the brightest” have gone on to their reward (or whatever). What today's citizens can be blamed for in these cases is not the original criminal acts, but the fact that they have never been reversed or disavowed since, because there has been no pressure from the citizenry to do so. The American Empire plunges on into ever-greater follies, and the debasement of the currency continues apace. These are things that could be remedied, if there were sufficient political will.

Or could they? The perennial question is whether things have gone so far down the road to totalitarianism that no effort on the part of the citizenry, short of violent revolution, can reverse the trend. The arguments that the Founding Fathers made to declare independence are being revived and refitted to the present situation, but is it too soon for that, or too late? The way human nature tends to work, we look out for “Number One” first... home and hearth... and politics is something we take little note of until the wolf is at the door – by which time it's typically too late. But this is, in fact, what the ruling elite count on – the reliable apathy and distractedness of the public. And, in fact, they do everything they can to aid and abet those processes. If Sy Syms thought that “an educated consumer is our best customer”, then for politicians of today an educated voter is their biggest danger. Much better to administer the soma and the Kool-Aid, beginning with the public schools and then continued by the media and by “games and circuses”. And one can, indeed, argue that falling for all of those things is a big part of what it takes to deserve bad government. And from a strictly libertarian, or Objectivist (a la Ayn Rand) standpoint, this is true – every individual, every citizen, is responsible for staying informed and for all of his actions at all times, and therefore all must equally share in the guilt for bad government. But I'm not sure this is any truer than the Protestant premise that every man should be his own priest and interpreter of Scripture. Shouldn't it be one of the primary functions of government to keep people from having to worry about government -- most of the time, at least? This is not to advocate ignorance, simply a layer of security that any decent government ought to be capable of providing... a layer of protection, if you will, from enemies both domestic and foreign (which, in the present day, would include predatory bankers, stock market operators and real estate combines as well as the highway robbers and card sharps of old). And, of course, Job Number One of government should be to protect people from... the government! And this is done through the self-limitation that the Constitution was supposed to provide a structure for... but which is largely ignored at this point. And this, in turn, is because people, and our leaders in particular, are all too human -- much more human, in fact, than the Founding Fathers may have made allowances for, despite their best efforts. But the truth is, nothing written on parchment, no matter how explicit, is going to stop people who are power-crazed and want only to rule by hook or crook. And honest citizenry with immoral leaders equals an immoral country -- more so, in fact, than honest leaders with an immoral citizenry would (assuming such a thing is even possible).

I'll say this much. Even if it is too late, we cannot act as if it were too late – because we might be wrong. If there is any chance of salvaging liberty before we enter into a new Dark Age, we ought to make our best attempt. That way, at least whoever cares, and tries to do something about it, won't be forced to admit they have the government they deserve – even if everyone else, sadly, does.

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