Showing posts with label Jefferson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jefferson. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Revolutionary Education

I love books and I even enjoy studying, but I hated school. I had been trying to get out of the sordid ordeal since I was three and was wholly unsuccessful. My eighteen-year-long education was a good one by any current standard and I came out of it quite alright, but my own experiences and observations have led me to the conclusion that our educational system is quite broken. This is an observation even the politicians and talking heads on the television share and as another president has come to office more educational "reform" is upon us. Unfortunately this plan is the same as the last: throwing money at the problem. This may be a satisfactory solution for someone who measures his success with opinion polls and newspaper column inches, but anyone concerned with the financial, economic, intellectual, and cultural well-being of the nation is bound to be disappointed.

Yet President Obama’s educational reforms share another trait with those of his predecessor, and this one is a philosophical trait: egalitarianism.  President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act,” told us that if we just test our children over and over again. . . well actually I cannot make any more sense of the law than that. President Obama’s program would make sure everyone could go to college and that. . . again, I am at a bit of a loss. Clearly, simply having standards and spending money cannot help a child learn, and simply paying for kids to go to college will not get them through. Yet we are told every child can, and must.

Let us tackle that first notion: that everyone can learn a given piece of knowledge. The theory that every child has some ability, some intelligence which can be tapped is the notion of Harvard Professor Howard Gardiner and which is known in academia as “The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” This is, as you may guess, in contrast to the notion of a single intelligence element, often referred to as “g” (little “g.”) In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Christopher Ferguson cuts to the point: there is little evidence to support “multiple intelligences” and much to support a unified one. The theory persists, though, because it is politically correct. Every parent likes to think that his or her child can succeed and the multiple intelligences theory, essentially an egalitarian philosophy and not an empirically proven observation, allows them to indulge that pleasant potential. When the student does poorly, it is not the child’s fault for being dim, it the system’s fault for failing him or the teacher’s fault for being unable to tap into his hidden genius. Often also off the table are external factors like the environment of the home and the priorities of the family.  The child is to be dropped off at school and picked up smarter, sort of an educational Martinizing.

I do not know from whence it came or when this notion took root in our educational system but its effects are apparent.  I can say, though, that two of our most educated and illustrious Founding Fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, opposed the notion while still being passionate advocates for education. Indeed both men saw it as a bulwark of democratic society and culture. Adams summed its necessity best, writing in his diary at age 25, “I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading?” (McCullough, 223)  This belief ran so deep that both men saw education as an institution that must be coded into the law. Author of the Massachusetts Constitution, Adams wrote the following into Section II of Chapter 6 of the document:
Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people being necessary or the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people. . . (McCullough, 222)
It is also important to recognize that in the draft of the Massachusetts Constitution he penned, he described men as, “born equally free and independent” and it was the state legislature that changed it to “born free and equal.” (McCullough, 224) Men were equal under the law and equal in God’s eyes, but not equal in ability. Whatever the legislature the thought, they preferred Jefferson’s turn of phrase. But what did Jefferson mean?  I concur with Malone, that “The natural equality he talked about was not that of intellectual endowment, but as Lincoln so clearly perceived, he proclaimed for all time the dignity of human nature.” (Malone, 228)

Jefferson still of course believed in the value and necessity of an educated public, so much that he made proposals for a system for his own state of Virgina. It was to consist of a low-level education provided free for all [white] children, to which parents could continue to send their children beyond the norm, but for a fee, and a higher-level school funded mostly by the parents. “Only the youths of great native ability raked from the rubbish annually," and subjected thereafter to a specified process of elimination, were to be supported by the State. A final survivor of the competition was to be sent annually to the College of William and Mary, at the charge of the Commonwealth.” (Malone, 282) In “Notes on Virginia” Jefferson summarized his ideas:
. . . The ultimate result of the whole scheme of education would be the teaching all the children of the State reading, writing, and common arithmetic; turning out ten annually of superior genius, well taught in Greek, Latin, geography, and the higher branches of arithmetic; turning out ten others annually, of still superior parts, who, to those branches of learning, shall have added such of the sciences as their genius shall have led them to; the furnishing to the wealthier part of the people convenient schools at which their children may be educated at their own expense. (Malone, 283)
Jefferson believed, as did Adams, that ability to some extent varies.  It is not absent from or endemic to any particular economic or social group, it simply varies from individual to individual. Those individuals with intelligence, the intellectual aristocracy, had to be charged with the tasks of society only they could fill. So great was Jefferson’s belief that some men be found who were able to guard “the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens” that he sought to “make higher schooling available without charge to selected youths of marked native ability who would emerge from the unprivileged groups,” that society may not “leave the public welfare dependent on the accidental circumstances of wealth or birth.” (Malone, 282) Today, Jefferson would be skewered by every progressive activist and special interest group for using the word “rubbish” and suggesting there exists some innate aristocracy. Yet Jefferson has not a cold heart toward the intellectually unsophisticated, they are to be educated in the rudiments.

The simplicity of the Jeffersonian model hides its author's perceptiveness. To the chagrin and consternation of small-government advocates and laissez-fair capitalists (myself included), he does advocate publicly-funded education. Yet it is not because it is a natural right, but because an educated people is a prerequisite for any democracy (direct or indirect.) “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization,” he wrote, “it expects what never was and never will be.” Perhaps most importantly these ideas on education do not extend government beyond its intended role: securing individual rights. We cannot expect a people ignorant of their own history and system of government, and of its virtues and requirements, long to remain free. For example, it is important for people to understand the concepts of natural rights and republicanism, that they not themselves attempt, or be mislead by others, to increase or misuse government power. An uneducated individual is a threat to everyone's rights. However opponents of public education might disagree, Adams Jefferson’s thoughts offer instructive advice about any educational program and from their words I quote or infer several guidelines:
  1. If possible, parents must pay for their children’s education. 
  2. Some material is appropriate for curricula, others not.  
  3. The most resources should be devoted to the best students.
  4. Education is not a right: thus it can be denied if your child is disruptive, et cetera.
  5. We must acknowledge that some children will be below others in competence.
Jefferson sought both to broaden the general knowledge of the people and to raise up the gifted that they may do the most good. Today, these simple rules would sink the career of any political candidate who dared voice them.  Today, I see none of these principles in practice, rather I see their opposites.
  1. Some parents do not pay directly for the public schools they send their children to while parents who scrimp and save to send their children to private or parochial schools pay taxes toward a public educational system they do not use.
  2. Federal funds are doled out indiscriminately to universities, either completely blindly or by the pressures of special interest groups, funding who-knows-what programs.
  3. Teachers spend their time trying to find something low students can do while the more capable students languish, and millions of dollars are spent on personal aids for the still-lower students.
  4. Education is frequently identified as a right, effectively destroying classroom order since students cannot be reprimanded or expelled for behavior or rejected for advancement due to inability to advanced beyond a particular level, since they are “entitled” to the education.
  5. We expect the same results for all students, mistaking equal opportunity for equal outcome.
These ideas from Adams and Jefferson are practical steps toward stabilizing an educational system that is spiraling out of control in every way. These ideas are compatible with our system of government and the precepts of our society. They know no prejudice or discrimination. They give every child the most education he is receptive to. The security of our liberties and the vibrancy of our culture are at stake and we need a change in a rational direction. Perhaps the biggest step forward would be achieved by first glancing backward.

[1] Ferguson, Christopher J. Not Every Child Is Secretly a Genius. Article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. accessed 06/14/2009 (subscription required)
[2] Jefferson, Thomas. Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, The. Accessed 8/29/09
[3] Malone, Dumas. Jefferson the Virginian. Little, Brown and Company. Boston. 1948.
[4] McCullough, David. John Adams. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. New York. 2001.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Libertarian Case for “Free” Health Care?

Last month author, columnist, and intellectual-at-large Christopher Hitchens spoke about George Orwell and Hitchens’ new book, Why Orwell Matters, with Russ Roberts of the Library of Economics and Liberty. (A link to the audio recording of the interview is in the footnotes. [1]) It is always a pleasure to listen to Hitchens even though, perhaps especially, when I disagree with him. This interview is no different and I would like to draw attention to one argument Hitchens offered regarding the issue of health care insurance since I have not heard it from anyone else of late.

Long time member of the left, one might expect from Hitchens one of the typical arguments for “free” health care for all. Seemingly, he offers something different. Is he even more inclined today “to stress those issues of individual liberty,” as he said several years ago in a Reason interview? [2] Paraphrasing, Hitchens said: if you offered people health care and freed them from the burden of worrying, “if I lose my job and fall ill, I’ll be doomed,” you will be making them more free. It appears an interesting and novel argument in favor of the proposed “health care reform.” Amongst the many arguments offered in favor of the proposal in recent months this is interesting insofar as it appears to have a legitimate philosophical base. Who doesn’t want freedom? Freedom is great! America is founded on the notion of freedom, we should make people free!

We must first, though, define freedom before we can know whether or not we possess it. In this task I turn to the great author and scholar C.S. Lewis, whose indispensable book Studies in Words will assist us. The modern English free like the Ancient Greek eleutherios and Latin liber originally carried connotations of both autonomy and legal status. The words also contain both ethical and social connotations: that a man is both free insofar as he is not a slave and free insofar as he acts as befits one who is free (as slaves were thought inherently to be nosy, ungenerous, carry grudges, et cetera.) Additionally, the English free grew to be used in the sense of “enjoying the freedom of a city” and by extension, being a citizen of that city and enjoying the commensurate rights, namely the right to vote. With those notions in mind, we may examine the cultural meaning of free. Chief amongst these distinctions is there are certain occupations that befit the free man because he undertakes them for their own sake and not for utility. Even commercial work does not make one free in this sense, since it is done to contribute to some other end. Lewis adds, “Only he who is neither legally enslaved to a master nor economically enslaved by the struggle for subsistence, is likely to have, or to have the leisure for using, a piano or a library.” I believe this definition is most similar to what Hitchens means by “freedom.” If only we could free people of the fear they might not be able to support themselves, they will be able to do their jobs better, more joyfully, et cetera. These are variants of what I call “Star Trek Syndrome,” which is the supposition that if we removed from man his need to support himself, he would be free to devote his time to some worthy pursuit. Yet Hitchens’ idea still sounds credible, as no man living with the anguish of uncertainty can be happy.

Alas, there exist two flaws in this argument. The first is this: it assumes the government is a “rights bursar,” that it exists to (or even simply, may) create and grant freedom. This is an incorrect assumption, as our society, unlike those that heretofore defined free, is one founded upon the principle of natural rights. In a society in which social mobility is impossible, where one is either citizen or slave or lord or serf, where there is neither legal ability nor practical chance for improvement, freedom is essentially inherited. The connotations and prejudices contained in the ancient definitions are foreign to our definition of liberty. In our society, freedom is simply the ability to act uncoerced by force and it is considered distinct from prosperity or happiness. Our government exists but for one purpose, to guarantee our natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The government does not exist to invent additional rights and to grant them to the people, nor can it do these things. The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States of America contain acknowledgments that men are inherently, i.e. already, free. In the definitive biography of our third President, Dumas Malone summarized the Jeffersonian outlook:
Like so many of his ‘enlightened’ contemporaries, Jefferson believed that men had originally been in a state of nature; that they had then been free to order their own actions and to dispose of their own persons and property as they saw fit; that government was instituted among them in the first place by consent.” [3]
Thus the government’s purpose is to safeguard those freedoms, neither to add to nor subtract from them. This concept of natural rights represents a fundamentally different worldview from both its predecessors and successors.

A second flaw is this: who would provide these rights? If, as we have said, a man is born free, then he inherently has a right to his life and thus must be left free to use his mind to decide how best to support himself. The concept of making a man more free by alleviating him of the necessity of supporting himself is in contradiction with the above principle. In creating a legal responsibility for supporting a man, you in fact diminish everyone’s rights, enserfing both the poorer and richer parties to a distributive entity. The only way to “free” one group of people from the “burden” of supporting themselves is to have another group of people support them. The underlying assumption here is that it is not my job to support myself, but someone else’s, i.e. that I am entitled to my own freedom at the expense of someone else’s. Here we must differentiate between two concepts, freedom and prosperity. In the ancient definitions, the prosperous man is free. In our era, the free man is able to become prosperous. To impose the older definition on our society would be to mandate an average level of prosperity, i.e. the more prosperous must be brought down to average to raise those below average to the same point, that way everyone can be said to be prosperous, and thus free. The root of this conclusion is an egalitarian assumption: that equal opportunity must result in equal outcome. If we are all equal in ability, this argument goes, then it must be an unjust system or society that represses some. Without commenting on the truthfulness of this claim, I will say only that it is a concept alien to our foundational laws. It is an extra-legal belief which, of course, your are free to adopt and live by, but not free to impose on others.

If we exercise our memories (or hit the history books) we will recall this view is not new. Proposals for “additional” rights have been made before by many 20th century Progressives. In his 28th Fireside Chat on January 11, 1944 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “Necessitous men are not free men." Clearly we see the old arguments and the new are one and the same. From the same speech: [4]

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, or 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 farmers to raise and sell their products at a return which will give them and their families a decent living;

The right of every business man, 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, and sickness, and accident and unemployment;

And finally, the right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security.
Aside from the problem of the authority by which those rights would be precisely (i.e. actually and usefully) defined and administered and the myriad problems of implementing them, author and philosopher Ayn Rand succinctly addressed the fundamental problem of these supposed rights in her 1963 essay, Man’s Rights, asking: “at whose expense?” [5] Is a nation in which some men work to provide these “rights” for others more or less free than one in which each works to support himself? Rand added, “A right does not include the material implementation of that right by other men; it includes only the freedom to earn that implementation by one’s own effort.” [5] One is free to pursue happiness, one is not owed happiness itself. In a time of great crisis, FDR asked Americans to sacrifice liberty for security. Americans have, at various points over the past 60 years taken that offer from various people, parties, presidents, congresses, et cetera. We accepted Social Security, which is now bankrupt. We accepted Medicare, which is now bankrupt. We accepted a government monopoly on education and national education standards, and school systems are in shambles. We incentivized home ownership and regulated our economy with disastrous consequences. All of these programs were supposed to make some people, the unfortunates, more free. All of these programs and more will have to be supported at the expense of some: are they more free or less free?

Today, amidst another crisis gladly not as great, our current president asks the same. Perhaps more of the poison is the cure? Yet FDR’s “rights” have indeed secured something: a government continually growing in size and power. Let us return to the understanding that freedom is the right to life, liberty, an the pursuit of happiness. Admittedly, these rights do not spell security. They spell liberty, which cannot be invented, bought, and doled out, only recognized, fought for, and preserved. What man, then, shall we call free? He, “whose life is lived for his own sake not for that of others.” [6]

[3] Malone, Dumas. Jefferson the Virginian. Little, Brown and Company. Boston. 1948. p. 175
[5] Rand, Ayn. Man’s Rights. Signet. New York New York. 1961 (p. 113)
[6] Aristotle. Metaphysics 982b

Lewis, C.S. Studies in Words. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK. 1960 (Ch. 5: “Free”)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Four Summers - Lessons From Thucydides & The Founding Fathers

Today is the anniversary of the publication of George Washington’s Farewell Address to the American people before he left office. I was planning on making the address my first post on APLV. As it happens, though, another man recently has been the subject of some attention, the historian Thucydides. He was discussed both in Donald Kagan’s article [1] in this month’s edition of The New Criterion and by Victor Davis Hanson in a column on his website. [2] With those articles in mind I revisited selections of The Peloponnesian War and too saw the timeliness of Thucydides observations and his role as a "student of human behavior." (Kagan's phrase.) I also observed some noteworthy similarities among the thinking of its author and those of our Founding Fathers.

As such, I thought I would share some selections with you so the similarities of both the events described and the authors’ observations might be more discernible and useful. Amongst other qualities, these men shared an uncommon perceptiveness.


Summer, 427 B.C. - Thucydides describes the Revolution at Corcyra.

From Book III of The Peloponnesian War [3]

For not long afterwards nearly the whole Hellenic world was in commotion; in every city the chiefs of the democracy and of the oligarchy were struggling, the one to bring in the Athenians, the other the Lacedaemonians. Now in time of peace, men would have had no excuse for introducing either, and no desire to do so; but, when they were at war, the introduction of a foreign alliance on one side or the other to the hurt of their enemies and the advantage of themselves was easily effected by the dissatisfied party. And revolution brought upon the cities of Hellas many terrible calamities, such as have been and always will be while human nature remains the same, but which are more or less aggravated and differ in character with every new combination of circumstances. In peace and prosperity both states and individuals are actuated by higher motives, because they do not fall under the dominion of imperious necessities; but war, which takes away the comfortable provision of daily life, is a hard master and tends to assimilate men's characters to their conditions.

When troubles had once begun in the cities, those who followed carried the revolutionary spirit further and further, and determined to outdo the report of all who had preceded them by the ingenuity of their enterprises and the atrocity of their revenges. The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing. Frantic energy was the true quality of a man. A conspirator who wanted to be safe was a recreant in disguise. The lover of violence was always trusted, and his opponent suspected. He who succeeded in a plot was deemed knowing, but a still greater master in craft was he who detected one. On the other hand, he who plotted from the first to have nothing to do with plots was a breaker up of parties and a poltroon who was afraid of the enemy. In a word, he who could outstrip another in a bad action was applauded, and so was he who encouraged to evil one who had no idea of it. The tie of party was stronger than the tie of blood, because a partisan was more ready to dare without asking why. (For party associations are not based upon any established law, nor do they seek the public good; they are formed in defiance of the laws and from self-interest.) The seal of good faith was not divine law, but fellowship in crime. If an enemy when he was in the ascendant offered fair words, the opposite party received them not in a generous spirit, but by a jealous watchfulness of his actions. Revenge was dearer than self-preservation. Any agreements sworn to by either party, when they could do nothing else, were binding as long as both were powerless. But he who on a favourable opportunity first took courage, and struck at his enemy when he saw him off his guard, had greater pleasure in a perfidious than he would have had in an open act of revenge; he congratulated himself that he had taken the safer course, and also that he had overreached his enemy and gained the prize of superior ability. In general the dishonest more easily gain credit for cleverness than the simple for goodness; men take a pride in the one, but are ashamed of the other.

The cause of all these evils was the love of power, originating in avarice and ambition, and the party-spirit which is engendered by them when men are fairly embarked in a contest. For the leaders on either side used specious names, the one party professing to uphold the constitutional equality of the many, the other the wisdom of an aristocracy, while they made the public interests, to which in name they were devoted, in reality their prize. Striving in every way to overcome each other, they committed the most monstrous crimes; yet even these were surpassed by the magnitude of their revenges which they pursued to the very utmost, neither party observing any definite limits either of justice or public expediency, but both alike making the caprice of the moment their law. Either by the help of an unrighteous sentence, or grasping power with the strong hand, they were eager to satiate the impatience of party-spirit. Neither faction cared for religion; but any fair pretence which succeeded in effecting some odious purpose was greatly lauded. And the citizens who were of neither party fell a prey to both; either they were disliked because they held aloof, or men were jealous of their surviving.

Thus revolution gave birth to every form of wickedness in Hellas. The simplicity which is so large an element in a noble nature was laughed to scorn and disappeared. An attitude of perfidious antagonism everywhere prevailed; for there was no word binding enough, nor oath terrible enough to reconcile enemies. Each man was strong only in the conviction that nothing was secure; he must look to his own safety, and could not afford to trust others. Inferior intellects generally succeeded best. For, aware of their own deficiencies, and fearing the capacity of their opponents, for whom they were no match in powers of speech, and whose subtle wits were likely to anticipate them in contriving evil, they struck boldly and at once. But the cleverer sort, presuming in their arrogance that they would be aware in time, and disdaining to act when they could think, were taken off their guard and easily destroyed.

Now in Corcyra most of these deeds were perpetrated, and for the first time. There was every crime which men could commit in revenge who had been governed not wisely, but tyrannically, and now had the oppressor at their mercy. There were the dishonest designs of others who were longing to be relieved from their habitual poverty, and were naturally animated by a passionate desire for their neighbour's goods; and there were crimes of another class which men commit, not from covetousness, but from the enmity which equals foster towards one another until they are carried away by their blind rage into the extremes of pitiless cruelty. At such a time the life of the city was all in disorder, and human nature, which is always ready to transgress the laws, having now trampled them underfoot, delighted to show that her passions were ungovernable, that she was stronger than justice, and the enemy of everything above her. If malignity had not exercised a fatal power, how could any one have preferred revenge to piety, and gain to innocence? But, when men are retaliating upon others, they are reckless of the future, and do not hesitate to annul those common laws of humanity to which every individual trusts for his own hope of deliverance should he ever be overtaken by calamity; they forget that in their own hour of need they will look for them in vain.


September, 1789 - From the Correspondences of John Adams, on the French Revolution of the Summer of 1789.

To his Dutch friend, Francis van der Kemp: [4]

“The French Revolution will, I hope, produce effects in favor of liberty, equity, and humanity as extensive as this whole globe and as lasting as all time.”

To another correspondent: [4]

In revolutions, “. . . the most fiery spirits and flighty geniuses frequently obtained more influence than men of sense and judgment; and the weakest man may carry foolish measures in opposition to wise ones proposed by the ablest.”


September 19, 1796 - George Washington’s Farewell Address, [5]

. . . Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the Constitution, alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that for the efficient management of your common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.


September, 2009 - Conclusion.

I can add little to those comments without resorting to summarizing. I hasten to add, though, I am not advocating silence or complaisance by citizens. Sometimes, rather often, it is indeed necessary to speak up on behalf of one’s ideas, either to define and argue them or simply to disagree. As Thomas Jefferson wrote to William Branch Giles, a member of The House of Representatives in 1795: [6]

Where the principle of difference [between political parties] is as substantial and as strongly pronounced as between the republicans and the monocrats of our country, I hold it as honorable to take a firm and decided part and as immoral to pursue a middle line, as between the parties of honest men and rogues, into which every country is divided.

Yet Jefferson was also attuned to the nuances of government and society, and years later in his own First Inaugural Address said: [7]

Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.

We must aspire to such finespun thinking, as rare amidst today’s political hullabaloo as it is necessary for all hoping to preserve their own rights and also a civil, functioning national dialogue. After the crazy Summer of 2009, historian and author Victor Davis Hanson reflects on the social and political frenzy, offering some advice: [8]

The solution, of course, is for the majority to simply say enough is enough, and declare a personal code of decency: “I will not stoop to smear and slur, won’t interrupt a speaker, won’t call anyone a Nazi, won’t do to others what they’ve done to me.” Only that sort of code will end the craziness. . .

The point is not to ostracize or point fingers at others in moralistic fashion, but just simply say, “That’s not my way.”

Otherwise, we won’t have a tennis match, an awards ceremony, a Presidential speech, a congressional debate — much of anything without some hysterical rant from the unhinged.


[2, 8]


[4] McCullough, David. John Adams. Simon & Schuster. NY, NY. 10020 (p. 417-418)