(Boston) If a traveler would discern in a single place in a single day the origin and meaning of these United States of America, no better setting could be found than this city’s justly famed Freedom Trail. Along the winding cobblestone streets and adjacent harbor that George III decried as a ”hotbed of sedition and treason” one can trace the footsteps of Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Paine, Samuel Adams, and many others who prepared the way for Revolution and Independence.
A harsh climate, and the isolation imposed by a broad ocean made self-rule a necessity and eventually these early Americans came to greatly prefer this freedom to the decrees and exactions of a distant and arbitrary central government.
Thus was born the concept of “We the People” and the radical proposition that ordinary men were actually fit to govern themselves.
To paraphrase Lincoln we are now engaged in a historic Presidential election to test whether that proposition- government for the people, by the people, and of the people- and the nation to which it gave birth can long endure.
Pitted against the vision of the Founding Fathers- reinforced by the words and deeds of Lincoln- is a radically different conception of man’s capacity for self-governance. This Doctrine- called Progressivism- rejects the Natural Law- Rights derived from the Creator- enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s belief in the capacity of ordinary men to rise through their own efforts.
The roots of Progressivism can be traced to the doctrines of 19th century European Socialism which saw History as a long leftward march characterized by unending class struggle leading toward “Social Justice” defined as the equal distribution of wealth.
From the beginning Progressivism had a deep distrust of democracy and individual freedom. Writing in 1914 the Progressive philosopher Herbert Croly (The Promise of American Life) rejected “the traditional American confidence in individual freedom” because it “resulted in a morally and socially undesirable distribution of wealth”.
Because the modern world had become too complex to allow self-rule by ordinary men, Progressives believed- though hesitated to preach openly- that power must be entrusted to elites- experts, technocrats- who would rule on behalf of their fellow citizens (e.g. Obamacare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board).
If one would see the full flowering of this approach to governance, one need look no further than today’s European Union where democratic usages are being steadily drained from member states and replaced by faceless, unelected, and unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels. There elections are lamented as “political interference”, annoying distractions that impede the spinning of ever expanding webs of regulation to shape and control the daily lives of citizens too unenlightened to know what is good for them. This ultimately becomes the world that Orwell foresaw in his allegory Animal Farm.
In his inaugural address of 1801 Thomas Jefferson posed this question :
“Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? …. Let history answer this question.”
Nearly two centuries later Ronald Reagan who had seen history’s answer in the horrors of Hitler’s National Socialism and Stalin’s Union of Soviet Socialist Republics renewed Jefferson’s timeless question:
“From time to time, we have been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”
Today there is an immediacy to this question, and the existential threat posed by Progressivism has been best articulated by Paul Ryan who said the following in a recent interview: “What I’ve been trying to do is indict the entire vision of Progressivism… the intellectual source of the big government problems that are plaguing us today ….a cancer because it basically takes the notion that our rights come from God and nature and turns it on its head and says …No, they come from government… It’s a complete affront to the whole idea of this country”
Not since Pearl Harbor has our country faced such peril. The growing culture of Dependence fostered by Progressivism that continually erodes the foundation of our Democracy was well described by Hayek in his 1944 classic The Road to Serfdom.
The pundits describing this fateful election speak often of an impending “fiscal cliff”, but Americans should be in no doubt that there is much, much more at stake than mere money.
William Moloney is a Centennial Institute Fellow and former Colorado Commissioner of Education. His columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, U.S.A. Today., Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun. Denver Post, and Human Events.
Wednesday night, Washington, D.C. – American Enterprise Institute & Heritage Foundation scholars, media members, writers, donors, Congressmen gather along with 20 CCU Washington Week students & faculty. The occasion; Arthur Brooks, president of AEI, is speaking about his new book, “The Road to Freedom”. The lecture focused on the battle between conservatives & liberals in the public square. Brooks explained that as president of AEI it is clear that the truth and statistical backing rests within the conservative ideas and policies. Despite this, the left is winning the battle. Brooks believes this quandary is caused by the failure of conservatives to make a strong moral argument for our beliefs and our ignorance of the neuropsychological proof that moral arguments affect human brains in a way far more powerful than solely logical arguments.
To illustrate the failure of strictly logical arguments versus a moral case Brooks tells a joke – ‘Three friends go out golfing; a psychologist, a priest and a free market economist. They find themselves playing behind two incredibly slow golfers. These golfers are painfully slow and are ruining the friends’ day at the golf course. After several holes of impatiently waiting behind these two men who are shooting upwards of 12 strokes per hole, the three ask the caddy to allow them to play through. The caddy replies “you guys are free to play through, but I want you all to be aware of how rude you’ve been… Remember the fire at the schoolhouse last year, and the two firemen who lost their sight while rescuing 13 children from the blaze? Well that’s them and this weekly golf game is their most coveted source of fun since losing their vision, and you three have been heckling them this entire time.” The psychologist replies, “Wow, here I’ve devoted my life to trying to help people and I just learned a valuable lesson today.” The priest says “Oh my, I have a contrite heart and I have been humbled by these two great men.” The free-market economist pauses for a moment, and then says, “It would be more efficient if they were to play at night!”’(Paraphrase Quote)
Clearly the economist in this joke has made a factual and relevant argument, but he has completely failed to address the moral reality of this situation and thus ignored an integral element of human nature. This anecdote masterfully illustrates the climate of political discourse between the right & left today. Brooks went on to show that the right is not devoid of moral substance. Rather he showed that every claim has moral implications, and that we must reach towards those implications in our argumentation in order to reach others with the truth where it so often is overlooked.
(Denver Post, Jan. 29) So now we’ve heard the State of the Union according to Obama and the State of the State according to Hickenlooper. We’ve seen Gingrich’s debating prowess and Romney’s tax returns, Santorum’s sweaters and Ron Paul’s scowl. But how much does that really tell us about the shape America is in? If we’re not the land of the free, we’re nothing, right? Economists James Gwartney, Robert Lawson, and Joshua Hall, like a team of doctors taking your vitals before surgery – the operation in this case being the potential removal of elected officials across the land – bring grim news that Americans’ freedom to better ourselves economically has slid drastically in this decade. Hardly the change we hoped for.The authors’ “Economic Freedom of the World 2011,” a data-rich report from the Fraser Institute in Vancouver, BC, uses five indicators to rank 141 countries on how well they allow you and me to work toward affluence, keep what we earn, and use it as we choose, free from government interference. Since 2000, our country fell down the scale faster than almost any nation on earth.Notice that this occurred under various combinations of unified and divided control in Washington. The unrelenting trend, with bipartisan culpability, has been “liberty yielding and government gaining ground,” as Thomas Jefferson warned. Notice too that the report’s data end in 2009. The humongous deficits and health-care takeover since then have only worsened our score.America still ranks 10th in the Fraser global index (exactly where we place in another valuable economic-freedom scorecard just updated by the Heritage Foundation). But look who’s ahead of us: Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Chile, the United Kingdom, and tiny Mauritius. Then blush to see the company we’re in among the getting-less-free-fastest club: only the Latin caudillo regimes of Venezuela and Argentina, and the North Atlantic basket cases of Iceland and Ireland, have regressed as badly as Uncle Sam did in recent years. No wonder big majorities are now telling pollsters they believe we’re in decline and will leave our kids a narrower horizon of opportunity.But not all the tidings are bad. Colorado as a state, when ranked against our 49 sisters and the 10 Canadian provinces by another team of Fraser Institute scholars in “Economic Freedom of North America 2011,” trails only Alberta (the oil-rich neighbor whom Obama spurned with his Keystone pipeline veto), Delaware, Texas, and Nevada. We actually gained one place over the previous year, 2008 to 2009.This result again, paralleling the experience in Washington, has been achieved even as party control seesawed at the state capitol. You can be sure that’s mostly because our Colorado constitution, unlike the federal constitution, has a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to restrain government growth. And partisans on both sides shouldn’t forget that the North America scorecard (EFNA) has a two-year data lag exactly as the world rankings do. Hence it doesn’t reflect the Democrats’ “dirty dozen” tax increases in 2010, nor the Republicans’ sad 2011 performance with a state enabling bill for Obamacare and no effort to repeal Bill Ritter’s car tax – er, fee.Fraser rates the 60 states and provinces on 10 criteria under the headings of size of government, takings and discriminatory taxation, and labor market freedom. If Colorado had passed Right to Work in 2008, we’d rank even higher. And that’s not just a bragging point. EFNA includes statistical proof that living standards rise in a state with almost 1:1 correlation to the rise of economic freedom. Occupying the best cabin on a sinking ship counts for little, however. If the Canadians, Brits, and Aussies continue outdistancing the U.S. in that precious freedom Jeb Bush has called “the right to rise,” all of our red- and blue-state political cheering will be just so much white noise.