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benjamin-franklin

A Funny Thing Happened When We Gave Up Essential Liberty

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About two out of every three Americans agree the nation is headed in the wrong direction.

The two-thirds isn’t uniform in its disappointment. Many of them also would reject the path many of the others in that super majority prefer to travel. And vice versa. But it’s indisputable that the vast majority have this in common: they think things have gone wrong, and are continuing to go wrong. That appears to be obvious.

So, where did we go wrong?

Allow yours truly to offer this explanation: We went wrong when we decided to be us, rather than to be you and me. That may be too cute by half, but nevertheless correct.

The Civil War was the most glaring example of this turning point, at least in macro-political terms. Up to then, most Americans who bothered to give the subject much thought probably were on the “you and me” side of the coin. Abraham Lincoln, of whom we will have more to say later, was on the “us” side.

Abe won the debate. He won by shooting and bringing under submission more of the “you and me” crowd than the you and me crowd shot and brought under submission those on the “us” side.

At this pivotal point in American history, the nation abruptly stopped being “you and me,” which is to say, it no longer was a federation of independent, equally sovereign states. “These United States” (note the plural) were transformed at the point of a bayonet into “The United States” (note the singular). You could say, “From many, one.” And that is to say, the nation became the preeminent force, rather than the states. Equally sovereign states became equally submissive to the national government.

Since then, the plan has been to progressively whittle away remnants of states’ sovereignty, while adding to the authority – and control – of the national government. Think Obamacare. The federal government requires all states to conform to its vision for providing health care insurance. The laughable “freedom” allowed the states is that they can tweak the system a little bit, but can’t reject it. They are free and sovereign in the same sense a monkey grinder’s monkey is free and sovereign. And it’s a regressively shorter leash.

Over-arching government control from Washington D.C. has become so commonplace most of us probably cannot recall when it wasn’t the dominant force. Certainly, within the lifetimes of nearly everyone alive today, the “us” side has been prevalent, to the degree that the “you and me” side is demonized and oppressed.

Demonizing and oppression often arrive under the guise of “doing good.” Arguably, some good has come from demonizing and oppression by over-arching national government. Few people would make a case today for segregating society along racial lines, for example. Desegregation probably came about sooner because the over-arching federal government forced it on reluctant states, who, as in the Civil War, lost in the confrontation.

But, as history tells us, even fascist dictator Benito Mussolini got the trains to run on time in Italy. The fact that something good can come from doing something bad, isn’t an endorsement for doing something bad. Rather, it’s the “ends justifies the means” way of looking at life. And it ignores the harm done en route by doing bad. Consider, for example, the disasters of affirmative action, quotas and reverse discrimination, all consequences of the federal government attempting to do good.

Alas, we are an ends-obsessed culture. The bottom line, the outcome, the final score increasingly is our highest goal. That has come to mean even in polite circles “doing whatever it takes” to accomplish the goal.

It’s a sad commentary that people need to be reminded that the ends do not justify the means. It’s sadder yet that after being reminded, many still don’t much care, and remain focused on what they want in the bottom line. Regardless. In an over-arching government, the goal of the many necessarily infringes on freedoms of others. To amass vast power, enormous sacrifices must be made. There’s a price to pay, and eventually, as two-thirds of Americans are discovering, the price is considered too high.

Benjamin Franklin put it this way: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

While it is government that imposes top-down conformity, let’s not leave the blame with elected representatives, who after all, wouldn’t hang on to power long if they opposed too many for too long.

Government’s “leaders,” from Honest Abe to the garden variety commonplace to both major political parties today, in the final analysis only represent the will of the people. Encouraged by patriotic and humanitarian “victories” like the Civil War and Obamacare, the will of the people demands bottom-line payoffs.

So the problem isn’t really pandering politicians giving people what they want. The problem is what the people want. And that they want it now, whatever it takes.

This is the root of the “us” problem. Collectively, we have come to believe, and in many cases with ample justification, that we can have what we want more quickly, with less effort and for a lower price if we just hand over some of that individual sovereignty to people in high places with the power to do things we can’t. Things like extract tax money from others’ pockets, and implement the theft at bayonet point.

In this sense, Lincoln, like Barack Obama after him, was merely the instrument of collective tyranny, wielding the tools to do what must be done to get results people demand. Regardless.

Long before Lincoln launched the Civil War to “preserve the union,” which was intended to be an entity subservient to the individual states, men and women in this land were nudging nearer the point at which they were willing to forfeit individual sovereignty in order to make collective gain. Politicians simply jumped aboard the bandwagon.

Perhaps you protest that people are made for community, for social interaction and for each other. No argument here. But there is an enormous difference between individuals each freely choosing to join with others in voluntary community and a communal organization forcibly or coercively demanding people come together. There’s less and less of the former in our land today, and increasingly more of the latter.

When individuals freely choose, they choose according to what you and I want. When the community chooses for us, we are forced to come together whether we prefer it or not, and to accomplish purposes that may be far from what we desire. The inevitable end of the communal route is a destination where more people are dissatisfied than pleased. It’s where we find ourselves today, reaping the consequences of the “us” path to fulfillment, at the point of a bayonet.



 

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