Recently, I read Daniel Hannan’s Why America Must Not Follow Europe. You know he’s right, but you hate it at the same time. Mark Steyn‘s After America goes into greater detail on America’s embracing a steroid-infused version of the program that is currently Europe’s death knell. Hannan’s other book The New Road to Serfdom is longer and while it educates, it terrifies. All three of these books need to break sales records in the next week. America needs these warnings before we decide how the next four years should be approached.
One item that has always been uniquely American is the debate fostered by acknowledging the natural equality of every person, defined as each person owning himself. Wait, wait, wait… There are so many qualifications necessary here, you say.
Sure, we had slavery when America was founded. We overcame that disgrace because it was inconsistent with the morally-superior principle of universal human equality. It is demented to destroy the principle of equality because it was been violated by people who were trying to establish it for the first time in history. Thomas Sowell said it best:
However much history may be invoked in support of these policies, no policy can apply to history but can only apply to the present or the future. The past may be many things, but it is certainly irrevocable. Its sins can no more be purged than its achievements can be expunged. Those who suffered in centuries past are as much beyond our help as those who sinned are beyond our retribution. To dress up present-day people in the costumes and labels of history and symbolically try to undo the past is to surpass Don Quixote and jeopardize reality in the name of visions. To do so in ways that harm the already disadvantaged is to skirt the boundaries of sanity and violate the very claims of compassion used to justify it.
At some point, we’ve removed the stain and those who do not move on are not solving the crimes of the past, but perpetuating them. Condemnation of goodness is disgraceful, the same as justification of atrocity. We have no ability to create a perfect system. That is for the next life. The best we can do is mitigate imperfection.
Now, there is something interesting about America that gives us a unique position in the world. We take for granted the right to hold and express our opinions. Why wouldn’t we? We’ve always had that right and it has never been denied. As noted in my last post, the First Amendment’s coverage has been expanded to include things that are not speech under any common understanding of the term.
Hannan notes that in Europe, the opinions of regular people simply do not matter. Those in power retain power, and for the supposed benefit of the people, are absolutely impervious to any influence from those they reign over. The European Union was not subjected to the will of the people; rather it was foisted upon them, often against the will of the overwhelming majority.
Baron de Montesquieu, noted for his famous power corrupts quote, laid out in his Spirit of the Laws that the scale of a people governed should be inversely proportional to the amount of responsibilities the government has. America embraced that, and built a government which was very light on the top, left a great deal of authority to the states whose governments left even more obligation on the local townships and cities where the individual could have the most control.
This created a vibrant atmosphere where everyone’s opinions mattered, where they could directly affect the administration that would deal with their lives, and where the federal government was a distant creature that really had very little impact on the everyday lives of the common man.
Stating that All Men are Created Equal will inevitably bring you to the idea that every opinion must matter and that discussion is enormously beneficial. In Hannan’s books, he talks about how different this is in the United States as opposed to Britain or the EU. If your opinion counts for absolutely nothing, what is the point of talking about it?
The existence of talk radio is an excellent example of the American vibrancy of discussion. Several hosts have been enormously successful and, despite what may be said often about talk radio, there are few other venues where the differences of ideas may be actually debated and weighed for their merit. Local people can call in to the local shows, or even the national shows, and make their case for their particular viewpoint. That’s a good thing, even if it sometimes sounds like bickering.
In order to maintain a free society, people must be engaged, which requires that their opinions be tested regularly. This also means their elective choices must actually have an impact on the local governance. Small government is not merely a mantra of the Tea Parties; it happens to be the most sensible structure for a federal authority that is given certain tasks by its millions of citizens.
Once breaking the Constitutional barrier and enlarging the responsibility of government, natural human equality is destroyed and replaced with one or another form of bigotry. Even before it gets to corruption, it has already arrived at some point of suppressing the liberties of some in favor of those of other people.
We are pretty far away from the original American idea. Glimmers of its brilliance remain, though. Everyone in America knows to his core he is entitled to his beliefs and may decide how to vote for himself. Most of America still asserts the Constitution as the best possible structure for national government.
Our nation is a long way from dead, a long way from Europe. Those trends of European autocracy can be expunged, I believe, more easily than most people know. It seems that Washington D.C. fears the loudest ideological minority, because the rest of us believe those loud people have a right to speak. Don’t be afraid of debate.
More than once this past week, I have heard people admonishing others with that old refrain of ‘don’t discuss politics or religion.’ Nonsense. That’s not the American way! Discussing politics and religion doesn’t have to make enemies! It makes a better society. People who entrench themselves in their views and refuse to discuss them are as bad as people who refuse to acknowledge when a superior argument has clearly defeated their own idea.
The best thing we can do to maintain a free society is to be open and honest and courteous in discussing what a free society actually is and how best to preserving it for those who will follow our generation.