« Lame Blogging Alert | Main | Debate Question of the Day »

July 04, 2009

Brave New World

... what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

- James Madison, Federalist 51

Paradoxically enough, the release of initiative and enterprise made possible by popular self-government ultimately generates disintegrating forces from within. Again and again after freedom has brought opportunity and some degree of plenty, the competent become selfish, luxury-loving and complacent, the incompetent and the unfortunate grow envious and covetous, and all three groups turn aside from the hard road of freedom to worship the Golden Calf of economic security. The historical cycle seems to be: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to apathy; from apathy to dependency; and from dependency back to bondage once more.

At the stage between apathy and dependency, men always turn in fear to economic and political panaceas. New conditions, it is claimed, require new remedies. Under such circumstances, the competent citizen is certainly not a fool if he insists upon using the compass of history when forced to sail uncharted seas. Usually so-called new remedies are not new at all. Compulsory planned economy, for example, was tried by the Chinese some three milleniums ago, and by the Romans in the early centuries of the Christian era. It was applied in Germany, Italy and Russia long before the present war broke out. Yet it is being seriously advocated today as a solution of our economic problems in the United States. Its proponents confidently assert that government can successfully plan and control all major business activity in the nation, and still not interfere with our political freedom and our hard-won civil and religious liberties. The lessons of history all point in exactly the reverse direction.

- Henning W. Prentis

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.

- Uncertain

On Independence Day approximately 300 million Americans will gather in back yards, on beaches, on Main Streets and fairgrounds and scores of other venues as diverse as the fifty states that make up our union. They gather in memory of a singular act in world history: a bold declaration that redefined the respective rights and duties of free citizens and the governments we form to secure our collective and individual rights.

Everything that makes America uniquely American can be summed up in our Declaration of Independence. For perhaps the first time in history, the notion was advanced that government, rather than being an end unto itself, serves at the pleasure of its citizens. Our declaration rejected the Divine Right of Kings, wherein government derived its authority from a superhuman and therefore unimpeachable source, for an infinitely more accountable authority which flows from the consent of the governed.

And therein lay the seeds of a contradiction that would return to devil us again and again over the next two centuries. For in rejecting an authority that transcends human knowledge, we also rejected the idea of moral absolutes. However imperfectly executed absolute monarchies may have been, they were (at least in theory) accountable to God. But to whom is a government of, by, and for the People accountable?

A few years ago, I might have said, "To the Constitution"; for I was raised to believe that America is not so much a pure democracy as a democratic Republic. Our Constitution was designed to fill that void left by divine authority; to be the ultimate law of the land, a final authority to which both laws passed by Congress and regulations promulgated by federal agencies must defer.

The Constitution and its subset, the Bill of Rights, would form the bulwarks against encroachments on our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Note that I said, the pursuit, and not the guarantee of happiness. For wisely, the Founding Fathers understood the great danger of democratic government: that, over time, the same people who willingly surrender some part of their individual liberties to secure their rights against trespass by their fellow citizens will discover that, by banding together, they possess great power over their fellow citizens. In this manner, government becomes - not the protector of individual liberty - but the chief enemy of liberty. The unalienable right to pursue happiness is subtly transformed into an unstated entitlement to the achievement of happiness:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.

Does this sound familiar? Though these words were penned 65 years ago, they echo through every pronouncement of our current President, who, perversely, cites to spirit of independence to make the case for its polar opposite: the dependence of every American on an overbearing and overpowerful federal government.

Today, we are called to remember not only the day our country was born - we are also called to remember the indomitable spirit of the first American citizens who made that day possible.

We are called to remember how unlikely it was that our American experiment would succeed at all; that a small band of patriots would declare independence from a powerful empire; and that they would form, in the new world, what the old world had never known - a government of, by, and for the people.

That unyielding spirit is what defines us as Americans. It is what led generations of pioneers to blaze a westward trail.

It is what led my grandparents' generation to persevere in the face of a Depression and triumph in the face of tyranny.

It is what led generations of American workers to build an industrial economy unrivalled around the world.

It is what has always led us, as a people, not to wilt or cower at a difficult moment, but to face down any trial and rise to any challenge, understanding that each of us has a hand in writing America's destiny.

"Indomitable and unyielding spirit". I wonder whether Barack Obama truly understands what those words mean? An indomitable and unyielding spirit fights back against adversity. It does not allow government to command the sacrifice individual liberties in the service of some guarantee of collective economic prosperity which exists nowhere in our founding documents. The Founding Fathers did not envision a government so powerful that it could wipe away the thousand natural inequalities of intelligence, industry, fortune, or ambition that have characterized both free men and servants from time immemorial. Instead, it proposed that government treat all citizens impartially; that it dispense even handed justice to all regardless of station or identity. No government ever formed by man can erase natural inequality without impermissibly infringing on individual liberty.

And yet, we are told by our current government that we no longer have the right to make our own decisions; the mere presence of unequal results is itself an injustice. And ironically, the supposed pretext for this profoundly illiberal encroachment is the one word the Obama administration appears to have banned from our foreign policy: democracy:

Democracy and majority rule give an aura of legitimacy to acts that would otherwise be deemed tyranny. Think about it. How many decisions in our day-to-day lives would we like to be made through majority rule or the democratic process? How about the decision whether you should watch a football game on television or "Law and Order''? What about whether you drive a Chevrolet or a Ford, or whether your Easter dinner is turkey or ham? Were such decisions made in the political arena, most of us would deem it tyranny. Why isn't it also tyranny for the democratic process to mandate what type of light bulbs we use, how many gallons of water to flush toilets or whether money should be taken out of our paycheck for retirement?

The founders of our nation held a deep abhorrence for democracy and majority rule. In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison wrote, "Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.'' John Adams predicted, "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.'' Our founders intended for us to have a republican form of limited government where the protection of individual God-given rights was the primary job of government.

It is not easy to bring free men to such a pass.

The enemies of liberty do so by ridiculing the notion that we have the seeds of greatness within us; by labeling daring and initiative as hubris. In the perverse moral calculus of the second rater, pride in the ideas that made our way of life possible and the celebration of human ingenuity somehow become acts of aggressive oppression:

... the professional fireworks display is an exercise in pomposity, aggression, triumphalism, and hubris. The pyrotechnician—and, more importantly, his patron—intends to ornament the night sky beyond the powers of God himself. He means to inspire awe for little purpose other than to demonstrate his power.

Those who risk their lives to defend our freedoms are equated with those who would suppress freedom:

My childhood friend of 31 years visited my home on base, in Quantico, a few months after I gave birth to my first baby. As we took a leisurely stroll one evening through the lingering humidity of early September, I explained to her how different military life is from the world in which we grew up in San Francisco. We passed rows of colorful houses on the tree-lined, manicured blocks and gazed at the playgrounds around the neighborhood, ready to welcome the children of the officers who live there. American flags hung from virtually every front door. The occasional "My daddy fights for your freedom" bumper sticker adorned some vehicles. As we looped around the bend toward my house, my friend turned to me and asked, "How do you accept what your husband does for a living?"

I glanced at her, startled. "What do you mean?" I asked.

"I guess I just don't know how to accept it. I don't believe in war," she responded, matter-of-factly.

Those who "don't believe in war" might take a moment on July 4th to consider that it was war that made America possible. Without men willing to defend those hallowed sentiments in the Declaration of Independence, they would not be worth the paper they are written on. Our rights are not simply given to us - either by a loving God or a benevolent and all knowing government. They are created and defined each time we stand up for them.

Even at the risk of our lives:

Only once have I exercised my personal privilege in the Senate chambers to relate as incident from my confinement as a POW in North Vietnam at the Hoa Lo prison camp. The treatment has been frequently brutal at the "Hanoi Hilton" as it became known. but after six years the beatings and torture that were once routine became less and less frequent.

During the last year, we were allowed outside most days for a couple of minutes to bathe. We showered by drawing water from a concrete tank with a homemade rubber bucket. One day as we all stood stripped of our clothes by the tank, Mike, a younger naval aviator, found the remnants of an old handkerchief in a gutter that ran under the prison wall.

Mike managed to sneak the grimy rag into our cell and began fashioning it into a flag. Over times we all leant him a little soap and he spent days cleaning it. Although it was just a grey and tattered piece of cloth, we all stole bits and pieces of anything red and blue. At night, under his mosquito net, Mike worked on the flag.
With thread from his one blanket and a homemade bamboo needle, he sewed on stars. He made red and blue from ground up roof tiles, medicine; anything we could scrounge or steal. With watery rice glue, he painted them onto the cloth.

Early in the morning a few days later --- when the guards were not alert --- he whispered loudly from the back of his cell. "Hey gang, look here." He proudly held up this tattered piece of cloth waving it as if in a breeze. If you used a lot of imagination, you could kind of tell it was supposed to be an American Flag. When he held up that grimy rag, we automatically saluted as our chests puffed out and more than a few eyes had tears.

About once a week the guards would strip our clothes, run us outside and go through our clothing. During one of these shakedowns they found Mike's flag. We all knew what would happen. That night they came for Mike. Night interrogations were always the worst. they opened the cell door, and pulled him out. We could hear the beginning of the torture before they even had him into the torture cell.

They "bent" him most of the night. About daylight they pushed what was left of him back through the cell door. He was badly broken, even his voice was gone.

Within two weeks, Mike had scrounged another piece of cloth and began making another flag --- you see, Mike was that kind of American. I related this story on the floor of the Senate to illustrate the power of a symbol, the power of the U.S. Flag.

The Fourth of July allows us to remember that words alone cannot make men free - they must be backed by the will to defend those freedoms. And it is a reminder of something else - that though all men may be created equal in the eyes of justice, all forms of government are most decidedly not equal when it comes to protecting individual liberty. Our task as Americans is to take those two ideas to heart.

They have guided our way for over two hundred years, making America a beacon of freedom and opportunity for all the world. Now is no time to abandon them.

Posted by Cassandra at July 4, 2009 10:32 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


"I don't believe in war," she responded, matter-of-factly.

What she obviously *meant* to say was, "I don't believe that war has ever achieved anything, despite the evidence to the contrary provided by 5,000 years of recorded history."

By phrasing it the way she did, she paints herself as idealistic, rather than as incredibly naive.

Posted by: BillT at July 4, 2009 12:37 PM

When I grow up, I wanna write just like you.

Posted by: DL Sly at July 4, 2009 12:56 PM

Been browsing the TINS! collection again, have ya?

Posted by: BillT at July 4, 2009 01:30 PM

She may not believe in war, but war believes in her.

Posted by: pst314 at July 4, 2009 04:35 PM

I believe in God. In the ideals of this country. And in the ability of some to express those ideals so well. Thank you for your continued great work here, Cass. It makes a day like today even more special.

Posted by: KJ at July 4, 2009 05:47 PM

Sarah Palin is resigning as the Governor of Alaska. I know who is going to miss her the most, the left leaning Mainstream Media. Who will they use for a Punching Bag Now? No more PDS, Palin Derangement Syndrome, to try and bolster their lousy ratings, and dismal newspaper subscriptions . When many of her detractors, go on one of their many irrational rants, about the soon to be late Governor of Alaska. They can expect the response to be: So What, and Who Cares? Sarah Palin isn’t part of the Government anymore, she will be a private citizen. The Easiest Way to Win At Tug Of War.


Posted by: Ree at July 4, 2009 07:22 PM

What KJ said M'lady Cass.

Hope you, the Unit and all about the nation have a great Independence Day knowing what fortunate souls we are to live in this great nation!

And a sincere salute delivered with gratitude from the Hun clan to all in harms way and those who support them!

Now the Hun's heads out to watch things go boom...

Posted by: bt-the resident-curmudgeon_hun at July 4, 2009 08:16 PM

I beleive in hot dogs and baseball and a cold beer in the bleachers. May the best team prevail, and the begin agin tomorrow. The rest is all debatable, except on the Fourh of July.

All my best

Posted by: spd rdr at July 4, 2009 08:29 PM

Thank you, Cassandra, for this and many other columns. And may the Fourth be with you.

Posted by: Jules Bernard at July 4, 2009 11:20 PM

Well, we just got done with fireworks at the end of the driveway. Best 4th of July ever :)

Happy 4th, everyone.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 4, 2009 11:36 PM

Edward Gibbon wrote about Athens: " In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all---security, comfort and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again."

Posted by: Sylvia at July 5, 2009 01:27 AM

Your post was long but I read and believe in every word of it. Thank you. I spent ten years as an officer in the USAF -- the most exciting part of my life. Now, there are fewer and fewer people who have served in our military services. I find that I have a certain patriotic kinship with fellow veterans that seems to be missing with those who have not. Many, though not all, of those who have not served don't seem to feel any obligation to "give back" to our country, only take. To paraphrase from my 50 odd year association with my insurance/financial company (USAA), "veterans know what it means to serve."

Thank you again for a beautifully written essay.

Posted by: Peter Conover at July 5, 2009 09:50 AM

Happy 4th! I was reminded of the song we used to sing in Church; Onward Christian Soldiers.

We sang Onward, Christian Soldiers indeed, and I felt that this was no vain presumption, but that we had the right to feel that we serving a cause for the sake of which a trumpet has sounded from on high. When I looked upon that densely packed congregation of fighting men of the same language, of the same faith, of the same fundamental laws, of the same ideals ... it swept across me that here was the only hope, but also the sure hope, of saving the world from measureless degradation.

—Winston Churchill

Being against war does not make it go away. When idealism becomes an ideology it saps the will for survival. As stated above, when Athens turned down this road;

All the kings horses and all the Kings men
Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again."

It is good to have dreams. Some dreams, the important ones, are worth fighting for.

Independence Day! Priceless...

Posted by: vet66 at July 5, 2009 10:23 AM

The irony of war is that a soldier prays for peace. Not because he/she is afraid, but because the benefit has to be more than the cost...and the cost is so very high.

Six years ago today, the Engineer returned from Kuwait. He was in the beginning of what is ending now. It is kind of bittersweet; to see the end of one conflict, but in order for Iraq to keep their brave new world, they will have to be on guard.

That is the price of freedom.

Thank you so much to all veterans, past and gone, and those present and future.

Thoughtfully written and expressed well.

Posted by: Cricket at July 5, 2009 12:35 PM


> By phrasing it the way she did, she paints herself as idealistic, rather than as incredibly naive.

Funny, I would have called it "brain dead".

In my life I have never known war, the pain of war, nor the threat of war, beyond the inchoate and distinct, but still "far off" threat of nuclear war.

I've never been robbed or mugged, and only a few times have I even been in a fight, never a truly life-threatening one.

Despite this, I can, and do, grasp the need to be able to defend yourself -- both as an individual and as a society. And I respect like hell the men and women who make it their job to protect me and people like me, and fools like Cass's friend, even, generally while getting paid a fraction of what so many others get for something far less onerous, far less demanding, and far less life-threatening.

And I think you truly do have to be, as the general said, "stuck on stupid", to fail to grasp the need for people willing to do that, and to hold such people in high regard.

Obviously this is a few days late, but "thanks, folks!"

"If Man wants to be top dog - or even a respected neighbor - he'll have to fight for it. Beat the plowshares back into swords; the other was a maiden aunt's fancy."
- R. A. Heinlein -


Posted by: Obloodyhell at July 8, 2009 12:22 PM

"I guess I just don't know how to accept it. I don't believe in war," she responded, matter-of-factly.

That's nice. She sleeps secure in her bed at night because brave men stand ready to do violence on her behalf. But she ought to understand the necessity of what is done by our soldiers and police.

The only thing that can stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun. This is the justification for both concealed carry, private firearm ownership, law enforcement and the military.

Posted by: Tony at July 10, 2009 04:52 PM

I just ran across this while doing an unrelated search. I include the entire section with words I believe should be added.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

NOTE; The words in italics following have been added by HoJo

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation; but we must be willing to earn that right by hard work, education, training, being on the job regularly, and by being respectful of the rights and property of others.

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation; but we must be willing to toil, invest, and earn that profit on our endeavors.

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living; but to do so the soil must be tilled, the seeds sown, and the harvest gathered.

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad; but we must be willing to invest much of our time, money, intellect, and effort to do so.

The right of every family to a decent home; which we must be able to pay and care for.

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; but we must not only care for our health and strive to remain healthy, but be willing and able to pay the care givers or for adequate health benefits insurance.

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment; but we must remember that if we do not plan and save for these possibilities, someone else must provide or pay for the needed care.

The right to a good education. But we must be willing to study and earn that education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

However, these rights must be paid for with the blood and sweat of the people who work, organize, lead, and support creatively. These are the producers in our nation and those who support those producers, They include those who invest their own private capital and provide good jobs for other producers. All the others fall into the following three categories. 1) The helpless, those who through no fault of their own are physically or mentally incapable of doing for themselves and must by cared and provided for by others. Most are from the very young, the ill, the extremely handicapped, and the aged. 2) The leeches, those fully capable of doing for themselves and being producers, but who choose sloth and living off others by whatever means they can. 3) The looters, those who live by taking from the producers, the helpless, and even the leeches in every possible way. And right now it appears that the looters are running our nation for their own personal aggrandizement.

Posted by: HoJo at April 17, 2010 03:02 PM