LETTER TO THE EDITOR / OPINION EDITORIAL – “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.” -Thomas Paine
The Proper Role of Citizens
Since the beginning of our great country, the amount of government control necessary to have a healthy nation has been a passionate debate. The founding fathers envisioned a natural law constitution balanced between the extremes of anarchy and tyranny. One end of the spectrum being a people with no laws resulting in chaos, and the opposite end being a people with too much law resulting in the loss of freedom. The natural law they sought became the American republic – a self-governed people. We have since become a democracy which, according to Aristotle, is just one step closer to oligarchy and tyranny (49).
In trying to fix the problem of either tyranny or anarchy, the pendulum often gets swung too far in the opposite direction, creating another problem of equal frustration. Our founding fathers understood the delicate balance needed to maintain the desired freedoms that bring about peace and prosperity.
According to George Washington, “The (federal) government … can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any other despotic or oppressive form so long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of the people” (Parry 802).
The balance is disrupted when certain fundamental principles are neglected. W. Cleon Skousen in The Five Thousand Year Leap, echos Washington’s sentiments by declaring that one of the greatest principles that cannot be neglected is virtue (41). Skousen states that “a free people cannot survive under a republican constitution unless they remain virtuous and morally strong” (41). The strongest virtue with which to maintain a proper balance in government control is citizen self-reliance.
The more the people rely on the government, the more control they lose over their own lives. We relinquish control when we allow what former Secretary of Agriculture during the Eisenhower administration, Ezra Taft Benson, calls “legal plunder” to occur (9). Legal plunder is when citizens elect to have officials take money or property from one person that it belongs to without consent or by force and gives it to someone whom it does not belong to (Benson 9). If one neighbor were to take money or property from another neighbor without permission, it is called stealing. If we have the government do it for us, it is somehow thought to be alright. Benson describes this as “legal plunder.” It is still stealing even if it is done by someone else with legal authority. This legal plunder also takes the lack of virtue from one citizen that would commit a crime of stealing and puts the crime in the fault of the government itself. The result being a virtuous lacking country that starts at the top in the national leadership and was given permission by the people that turned their control over to those governing leaders.
If a people becomes self-reliant, there is no need to “spread the wealth,” and we would come back to virtuosity. However, should we remain unvirtuous, we become as Benjamin Franklin once stated, “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters” (Skousen 41). When we lack the virtue of self-reliance, and allow the government to take from our neighbors to give to the poor, we are in fact giving ourselves more masters through law and government. The more masters we are creating for ourselves, the less freedom we have. We then are no longer a republic, but a socialist then tyrannical society.
In March of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson was recorded saying, “we are going to take all the money we think is unnecessarily being spent and take it from the ‘haves’ and give it to the ‘have nots’” (Romney 99). This concept is known as socialism. Now to some, socialism doesn’t seem like too bad of an idea – especially to those who “have not” or cannot for themselves. However, because socialism is practiced with force, it takes away from “industry, thrift and self-respect” (Romney 99). When self-reliance is replaced with government reliance, industry decreases and nearly disappears. Benson reminds us that “students of history know that no government in the history of mankind has ever created any wealth. People who work create wealth” (9). Socialism requires the government to take care of everyone equally. If industry decreases in a socialist government, then the government cannot take care of the people, let alone take care of them well or equally.
How does a country bring back balance and restore virtue through self-reliance? By remembering the words of President Grover Cleveland, “though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people” (Benson 8). To be self-reliant is to be self-respecting. We must take responsibility for our own needs and not force others to support us. It is only through this way that a society can then take care of one another.
Independence was a motivation that was embedded into the pioneers of our country. It is something that is now missing in our current generations. Dependency is commonplace. Entitlement, laziness, lack of self-worth, these are all products of a country that is following in a path of socialism based upon the reliance of government. Independence brings back strength and has to begin on an individual basis: self-reliance begins with self.
In order for a country to put control back to the people, it has to begin with the person. When a person is strong, a family is strong. When a family is strong, a community is strong. And when a community is strong, a country can be strong. When a country is strong, the government control is diminished and there is balance once again. Independence is strength.
How does an individual become self-reliant? Our current system has so many flaws, that it perpetuates dependency. There is not much motivation to get off of our current welfare system once a person is on it. For example, if a family of six is making $20k a year, they can have full health coverage and $700 a month for food stamps (Utah). If that family is then offered another job that will pay them $30k a year instead of their current $20k a year, it isn’t financially worth taking the new job. The extra $10k a year that they would be making isn’t enough to compensate for the food stamps and free health insurance that they were already getting and would not be getting if they took the higher paying job. Therefore, self-reliance needs to become a desire first. It needs to be understood that self-reliance is independence which means freedom. There is no freedom for anyone that is on welfare, and the longer a person is on it, the harder it is to get off of it.
Once that desire for freedom through self-reliance is created, the next step toward an individuals independence is education. Aristotle’s view on education for the survival of the constitution was thus: “The best laws, though sanctioned by every citizen of the state, will be of no avail unless the young are trained by habit and education in the spirit of the constitution” (118). Preservation of freedom depends upon a people educating themselves in the law that they are governed by. Aristotle continues his explanation of this importance with, “men should not think it slavery to live according to the rule of the constitution; for it is their salvation” (119). The constitution is the set of laws that protects the people from the government. If the people don’t know the constitution, the government can take more control.
There is an often forgotten importance in having an education to maintain independence. And I’m not just talking about an academic education to get a better job to support oneself and one’s family (although that is helpful), I’m talking about the kind of education that teaches self-respect through self-reliance. How is this done? Their is an old saying that applies to this important type of education: “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat everyday.” Learning to be self-reliant is freedom. The simple education of learning how to feed ones family by fishing, hunting, or gardening is very basic, but it is the fundamental steps to becoming independent instead of relying on the government to feed a person and their family.
After the desire and education, it must be understood that working is important. Anytime a person completes a task, there is a feeling of accomplishment. That feeling of accomplishment is accompanied with self-respect. A person who works for what they have has a greater respect for themselves and has gratitude for what they have: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly” (Thomas Paine). Working has many benefits beyond a paycheck. Working is a virtue that goes hand-in-hand with self-reliance: they cannot be separated. This brings us back to the second half of Benson’s quote mentioned above concerning industry: “People who work create wealth” (9). In this regard, however, wealth is to be understood as money as well as a wealth of knowledge that can be gained from working and a wealth of (once again) self-respect through self-reliance.
Alright, so self-reliance through a desire for freedom, an education, and hard work is the proper role of a citizen and is the direction in which society needs to go in order to create a balance in government control. That sounds great, but how is it done and why should it be done? Is it just to bring back virtue to the country? Why should one care about that? James Madison answered the later question quite profoundly:
Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical [imaginary] idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men; so that we do not depend upon their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them. (Skousen 44-45)
Madison is saying that a free country cannot survive without virtue. If the people lack virtue, they will elect corrupt leaders. When the leaders are corrupt, freedoms are taken away and the republic dies. This is the great importance of virtue, and a people cannot be virtuous if they are complacent and rely solely on the government to assist them.
Lastly, to address the more difficult question: how is it done? Jeanne-Marie Col wrote a great article titled “Managing Disasters: The Role of Local Government.” In this article she compares the disaster of Hurricane Katrina with the Tangshan earthquake in China on July 28, 1976. Although Col is looking at the role of government in her article in relation to the two disasters, her main argument is actually based upon the preparedness of the people: “Qinglong County officials took seriously the creation of a ‘culture of preparedness,’ believing that if people thought about the possibility of large natural events, they would not be surprised if one occurred and they might remember what to do” (119). Col was saying that the local government in Qinglong had taught their county preparedness. If people have a mentality of preparedness and self-reliance, they can be ready for anything on their own without having to rely on government aid to save them in a disaster (whether it be a large scale problem that affects a whole community, or a localized problem, such as the loss of a job, that affects a single family).
It is easier to prevent and prepare for a problem then to fix it. Right now we need to fix a big problem in our country. There are too many people needing government assistance because they are not self-reliant – they have handed their freedom over to the government, throwing off the balance of control in our country. To fix the problem, we need to teach prevention and preparedness. Just as the people of Qinglong County created a “culture of preparedness,” so must we be a people of preparedness that are willing to fight for our freedom by becoming self-reliant.
Aristotle, and Benjamin Jowett. Politics. Los Angeles, CS: Indo-European, 2009. Print.
Benson, Ezra Taft. The Proper Role of Government. Salt Lake City: Hawkes Pub., 1975. Print.
Col, Jeanne-Marie. “Managing Disasters: The Role of Local Government.” Public Administration Review. Vol. 67, Special Issue on Administrative Failure in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina (Dec., 2007). pp. 114-124. JSTOR. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.
Parry, Jay A., Andrew M. Allison, W. Cleon Skousen, and George Washington. The Real George Washington: The True Story of America’s Most Indispensable Man. Malta, Idaho: National Center for Constitutional Studies, 2009. Print.
Romney, Marion G. “Socialism and the United Order Compared.” Conference Report. (Apr., 1966). pp. 95-101. Web. 9 November 2010.
Skousen, W. Cleon. The Five Thousand Year Leap: 28 Great Ideas That Changed the World. Franklin, TN: American Documents, L.L.C., 2009. Print.
“Thomas Paine.” Thomas Paine. Ed. Erik Klemetti, Jonathan Schmalzbach, Douglas Heller, and Mark Biddle. Independence Hall Association, 1999. Web 28 Feb. 2013.
Utah. Department of Workforce Services. Notice of Decisions. Utah: Salt Lake City, 2013. Print.
Submitted by Tiffany Draper
Letters to the Editor are published “as received” without edit. They represent the views of the submitting writer and not those of St. George News.
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