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Book Reviews

Prodigal Politics

April 13th, 2011 // 8:25 am @

Right, Left, and Above

Sometimes the best political analysis is found in surprising places. For example, Timothy Keller’s excellent book The Prodigal God gives a deep and profound analysis of modern conservatism and liberalism–clearly and effectively showing the truth, as well as the glaring flaws, of each. James Redfield’s insightful book The Twelfth Insight does the same. Both are essential reading for anyone today who cares about the future of freedom.

Consider the following quotes from The Twelfth Insight:

Quote One: “I’m pretty sure the government will be declaring martial law pretty soon, and people need to be prepared. The first thing they’ll do is take up all the guns and many books.”

It was becoming pretty clear that I was talking to someone on the extreme Right politically.

 

 

“Wait a minute,” I said casually. “None of that can happen. There are constitutional safeguards.”

“Are you kidding?” he reacted. “One or two more Leftist judges, and that won’t be the case anymore. Things are out of control. The country we grew up in is being changed. We have to do something now. We think the Document is going to call for a real rebellion against the Leftists.”

“What?” I said forcefully. “I can’t see anyone getting the idea of rebellion from this Document–maybe a more enlightened Centrism. Have you read it?”….

 

 

“You better wake up,” one of them yelled. “You people on the Left are ruining this country, and we’re not going to stand for it much longer. We’d rather have the corporations take over than you idiots.”

 

Quote Two: “You’re one of those Right-wingers,” the loud man said, waving a finger at Coleman. “If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be talking like this.”

Coleman shook his head. “I’m only saying that it takes a balance. Some people want big government totally regulating everything and others want big corporate influence and very little regulation. I think the best position is right in the middle…”….

“Where are you going, Right-winger?” one of the other men shouted. “You aren’t going to win. If we have to install a dictator, we’ll do it. You aren’t going to win!”

Quote Three: This type of controlling is the chief characteristic of those both Left and Right, who have a primarily ideological approach to politics. They don’t want to debate the issues. They want only to shout down the opposition and win….

Both extremists were using the same tactic. If someone disagreed with them even slightly, they were simply pushed into the opposite extreme category–so they could be dismissed and dehumanized and not taken seriously. That way, each side–far Left and Right–could justify their own extreme behavior. Each thought of themselves as the good guys having to fight to save civilization from a soulless enemy….

“[C]ivility is the first thing that goes out the window. Those holding on to the old worldview often begin to cling to their obsessions with ever greater ferocity…”….

“The political Left and Right are both moving to the extreme because each thinks the threat is so great from the other side that extreme measures need to be taken. And of course, it’s all self-reinforcing.”

In addition to the competing views on the Right and Left, Redfield discusses those in the world who actually want conflict–for the benefit of their politics or positions of power. Hamilton discussed these same three groups in Federalist Paper number 1 (the effectual introduction to The Federalist).

A Parable for Our Time

One major problem with our contemporary politics was taught quite clearly two millennia ago in the parable of The Prodigal Son. The word “prodigal” means to be wasteful, which certainly applies to our modern government.  In this parable, a father has two sons.  The first son is obedient and orderly, follows the father and does what the father expects.  The second son asks for his inheritance early, then spends it in riotous living.

When the inheritance is all spent, the second son comes crawling back to his father, begging to be a servant if he can just live at home and have food to eat and a place to sleep.  The father throws a party, welcoming him home as a beloved son.

The elder son is livid.  He sees even more of his own inheritance being spent on his wasteful brother, and he is hurt that his father never threw such a party for him–despite all his years of faithful obedience.

The climax of the parable comes when the reader asks this question: “Why did Jesus tell this story?  What was his point?”  Anyone who has read the parable clearly sees that the point is not to chastise the younger son, but the older.  What does it all mean? Whatever your religion or beliefs, these are interesting and important questions.

Our modern politics fits very well within this parable.  Conservatives believe in standards, responsibility, morals, conformity and in those who do these things reaping the benefits of their orthodoxy.  Especially, they don’t want the father (government) taking their money to benefit those who haven’t taken care of themselves.
Liberals value the freedom to live as they see fit, pursue their own happiness their way, discover and seek and find themselves, not be tied down by dogmatic rules or outdated social customs, and they believe a higher authority (father/government) should always be there to help any who suffers.

That’s a conservative way of defining liberalism. But let’s consider it from a liberal perspective: The older brother was just plain mean.  That’s often the problem with conservatism, or libertarianism, from the liberal view.  The father used the elder son’s inheritance to take care of the younger son because he needed it–help, love, dignity, some basic human kindness and respect.  Of course any loving father (or government) should do the same.

This is the old conservative-liberal argument, debated since Plato versus Aristotle.  A person needs help.  One side says: “Too bad, he did this to himself, he doesn’t deserve help, don’t help him.  You really have no right to use my inheritance for him anyway!  You might have the power, but it isn’t right!”  The other view argues: “But as a loving father (government), we simply must help him.  Don’t be so mean about it.  Why are you so selfish anyway? We all simply must help the most vulnerable among us.”

The two sides frequently refuse to understand each other.  They may say they understand, but then they launch immediately into a discussion of how their side is right and the other is wrong.  They even call the other side “stupid” or “evil” for not understanding.

The True Elder Brother

What is missing in our current politics is what Keller calls “The True Elder Brother,” the other brother who isn’t depicted in the parable but is clearly meant to be there. As Keller put it: “This is what the elder brother in the parable should have done; this is what a true elder brother would have done. He would have said, `Father, my younger brother has been a fool, and now his life is in ruins. But I will go look for him and bring him home. [Note that this occurs before the younger brother even comes home on his own.] And if the inheritance is gone–as I expect–I’ll bring him back to the family at my expense.’ [Note: he doesn’t leave it to his father’s/government’s expense.]”

This is leadership.  This is the example of a citizenry that handles things.  “Poor, hungry, in need of education?  We’ll help.  We won’t ask government to do it.  We will do it.  Now.  Without waiting, without questions.  Somebody needs help?  Here we are.  Send us.”  Or simply, “Give us your poor, your tired, your struggling masses yearning to be free . . .”

That’s what free people do.  The old liberal argument (“government should use its power and force to fix the problems”) is as bad as the old conservative argument (“it’s their own fault, so too bad for them–let them suffer, or let someone help them, but don’t you dare make me help!”).

But free people act like free people.  They see needs and they go to work helping.  They don’t turn to government (they know that this is a bad use of force) and they don’t ignore the needs (they know that this is selfish and wrong).  Such a society stays free, and if they ever stop being this way they know they will lose their freedoms.  Indeed, they won’t even deserve to be free anymore.

The great question of freedom is, will the people govern or will they politic? Will they lead or snivel? If the first, they will spread freedom; if the second, their freedom will be lost.

Our Job as Citizens

Problems will arise.  A free people handles them, leaving to the government only that which can only be done at the highest levels–like national security and fighting crime.

The problem is that in party politics, everything becomes about government. Liberals want government to fix everything, conservatives want the government to stick to national security, law enforcement, education and projects that benefit one’s own state.  This becomes the ends and means of the whole debate. Meanwhile, who is helping those in need? And who is watching the government to make sure our freedoms remain strong?

Both of these jobs are the roles of the citizenry–not the government–in free nations. But when politics gets involved, we forget and ignore both. When this happens, freedom declines. The solution is simple: as citizens we must stop getting caught up in political issues and give our time to two things: helping those in need, and understanding and maintaining freedom. These are acts of governance, not politics. The one great act of politics we need to do is vote, and elections will be much more simple if the citizens are doing their two great governance roles!

So, let’s test ourselves. Are we deserving of the title of free people, or are we something else? Let’s find out. In your neighborhood:

  • Several poor families need help
  • Immigrants come looking to make a living
  • The environment is being polluted
  • Several minority families can’t afford college for their children

Do you call in the government?  Many liberals and conservatives (along with many socialists and Democrats) would take this path.  It is what the father did in the parable.

In contrast, do you comment on how these people should “get off their butts” and fix their lives, and then do nothing else?  Then, when the government does something, do you throw up your hands in anger and frustration?  Many conservatives and liberals (and many extreme conservatives, libertarians and Republicans) are with you in this choice.

Another option: Do you visit the families, make friends, offer the father a better job or get him an interview with a friend of yours, start a scholarship drive for the college-age kids, get together a service project to clean the polluted areas, etc.?  These are the behaviors of people who deserve freedom.

“But the government won’t let us!” many will argue.  “But if we do the work, they just won’t value it.”  “But I’m too busy supporting my own family.” “But really fixing this would cost way too much.” “It’s their problem–why don’t they do it themselves.” “This really is a job for government, not for regular people.” But, but, but.  These are not the words of the free.  Governments can be negotiated with, projects can be structured to include the scholarship recipients, you can make time for freedom or lose it, concerns can be worked through.  Free people figure out how to do things right and do the right things.

The True Citizen

I once taught a college course on the writings of the American founders, and during the semester we discussed broadly and deeply the proper role of government and the need for limitations on government.  I invited a county sheriff, among others, to speak to the students.  He discussed a number of issues of law enforcement, dealing with people, and local government, then he mentioned that he had just written a grant to buy clothes for kids living in trailer parks.  The problem, he said, was that new kids moved into his cities, but since they were poor and could only afford one pair of pants they usually smelled bad to the “good” kids in school.

As a result, the only kids who would befriend them were those using drugs or excessive tobacco and alcohol.  He was very excited about his grant, which he felt would help the “trailer-park kids” make “better” friends and stay off drugs.

I found myself thinking that the so-called “good” kids weren’t really all that good. By that time my class was harassing the man for using government to solve private problems and wasting the taxpayers’ money.  I listened to their exchange for about twenty minutes.  In truth, the students had a good technical understanding of the founders’ writings. They understood that not everything is best run by government. I was glad to see this.  But I also found myself frustrated that they still didn’t quite get it.

Finally, the sheriff got frustrated himself and asked the class: “Okay, fine, I agree that private solutions would be better than government money.  But how many of you are running a private program that would help these kids? I have seven kids who need a new pair of pants right now, today, and our research shows that this one thing will keep six of them off drugs. I’ve got the pants sizes in the car. Who can help me?”

We sat in the embarrassed silence as hardly anyone volunteered.

The sheriff shook his head in dismay and said nothing. Finally, abashed, one student said aloud, “I’m a student, I don’t have any extra money.” Then, to my amazement, another student said, “It’s just not right for government to use money that way.” Others chimed in, and the debate resumed.

Afterwards, a number of students pitched in their money to help, and this experience left us with lots to discuss in later class periods. But I never forgot how quick we are to be the younger brother, the older brother, or even the father, but how slow we are to be the true elder brother.

On another occasion at a formal event in a state capitol building my wife and I sat with a nationally recognized libertarian leader. We discussed a number of topics, but somehow toward the end of the event this man and my wife got on to the subject of libertarianism versus both conservatism and liberalism. When the man said libertarianism was the only hope for America’s future, my wife told him that she hoped not.

“Why?” he asked.  She told him she thought conservatism, liberalism and libertarianism all had some good features and some real flaws, and that the great flaw in libertarianism is that it not only doesn’t want government to help needy people but that it seems to not want anybody to help them.

The man surprised us by trying to convince us that everybody in need got there themselves and deserves to be there, and that the only right thing to do is to leave them to their struggles. Period.  When my wife gave up appealing to caring and later morality, and made a convincing case for the self-interest of charitable acts, the man angrily pulled out his wallet and said, “Fine. Just name a charity, and I’ll write you a check for it right now!” She immediately named one. He angrily shoved his wallet back into his pocket and stormed out of the room. We just looked at each other.

Certainly not all who consider themselves libertarians or far-Right have this view. But far too many people, whatever they call themselves politically, seem to adopt the ideas of the younger or the older prodigal brothers–when we should all be seeking to become the “true older brother.”

Younger brothers turn to the government, elder brothers angrily complain and bluster. Fathers (governments) take from the rich and give to the poor–after using up the majority of the money on administrative expenses. This is the world of politics. No wonder David Hume was so against political parties, and no wonder the founding generation agreed with him on this.

But “true elder brothers,” those who are free and think like the free, choose differently. They see needs and take action. They wisely think it through and do it the right way. They actually end up solving problems and changing the future for good. They are the true progressives–because they actually improve things. They are the true conservatives, because they conserve freedom, dignity and prosperity.

Conservatives most value responsibility, morality, strength, and national freedom, where liberals most highly prize open-mindedness, kindness, caring, fairness and individual freedom. The thing is, both lists are good. They don’t have to be in conflict. Indeed, both are the heritage we enjoy from past generations of free people who at their best valued and lived all of these together.

If conservatives, extreme conservatives and libertarians would all just be nicer, more caring and open, more tolerant and helpful, American freedom would increase. If liberals and progressives would all work to provide more personal service and voluntary solutions with less government red tape, we would see a lot more positive progress and change.

Freedom works, and we need to use it more. Less politics, more freedom. America needs this. When it is time to vote, we should fulfill this duty. Before and after the voting, we should fulfill the other vitally important roles of free citizens: build our communities and nations, support a strong government that accomplishes what governments should, study and truly understand freedom, keep an eye on government to make sure we maintain our freedoms, and voluntarily and consistently help all those in need.

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Oliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 


Category : Blog &Book Reviews &Citizenship &Community &Culture &Family &Liberty &Postmodernism &Statesmanship &Tribes

Book Review: Rascal by Chris Brady

November 1st, 2010 // 2:00 am @

In his modern classic, Rascal: Making a Difference by Becoming an Original Character, bestselling author Chris Brady introduces two groups that are currently leading our nation and world.

Both groups can be found in Wall Street, Main Street, Las Vegas, Silicon Valley, Hollywood and in both of the major parties on Capitol Hill.

Both groups have great impact in the world, but the direction and focus of each group is significantly different. And unfortunately, members of one of these groups are far too rare.

The first group is what Brady calls:

“…the Council of They. They are the thought police, the guardians of political correctness, the masters of conformity, the keepers of the status quo. It is They who struggle to keep life always the way They say it should be, who fight change, who persecute creativity, and hurl criticism at anything that smacks of originality or authenticity.

“They try to say who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’ They seem to have so much power that good, creative people leave their lives on the shelf rather than face their wrath. They will try to influence how you live, what you do, whom you should marry, and how you should raise your children. They want control, obedience, and blind acquiescence…

“The only problem is, that herd of people following along in step aren’t going anywhere, and as long as anyone listens to them, he or she won’t go anywhere either.”

Like almost anything in our modern society, it is tempting for Republicans to point to this definition and say that the Council of They is Democrats, and for Democrats to say exactly the same about Republicans.

Many in the media, ironically, would think of the Tea Parties—who are clearly not following the path outlined by the experts.

Perhaps the reason this resonates on both sides of the political debate is that herd thinking has become too widespread across our society.

The second group doesn’t really act like a group, because it is made up of independent individuals who do their own thing.

Indeed, perhaps because of this choice to act according to their own views (not as followers of the herd mentality), Brady calls these people “Rascals.”

“What Rascals do is get out of line. In fact, many Rascals have heard most of their lives that they are out of line in one way or another! Rascals don’t fall for the lure of going along or becoming someone else just to please others. Rascals follow their convictions and confidently head in the direction of their destiny, mindful of their Creator and not of the crowd.

“Non-conformity is not what we are talking about, but rather, authenticity….The first rule of becoming a Rascal is to slay the dragon of They. Rascals, quite frankly, don’t care what They say. Rascals don’t take their cue from the peanut gallery. Rascals are driven by their own sense of purpose and direction.”

Brady rejects the definition of the term “Rascal” as unprincipled or dangerous to society, and instead focuses on people like John Wycliffe, the American founders, Mark Twain, Harriet Tubman and Mother Teresa who see what is needed in the world and go against the norm in order to make the world better.

One of his heroic “rascals” is the freedom-loving Chinese man who stood in front of the tank in the famous video clip from the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

Some of the very most important Rascals in history are regular people who ignore the path of the masses and take action to make a positive difference in society.

For those who want to be such leaders, Brady includes an excellent test to help you find out how much of an independent-minded leader you are.

I highly recommend this book to everyone.

What America Needs

Modern America needs a generation of great leader-citizens. Many great leaders like Gandhi, Andrew Carnegie, Margaret Thatcher, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and others have done things in ways outside the mainstream—ways that are creative and genuine.

Such people have been called by many names, including Outliers, Pioneers, Explorers, Beagles, Founders, Mavericks, Trailblazers, Disruptive Innovators, and Leaders.

I have referred to them as Statesmen and also Social Leaders. I have written about them, and how to join them in making a real difference, extensively in my books and articles.

Most recently I described the coming impact of their independent thinking on the political future of America in my book FreedomShift.

Centuries ago the great classical economist J.B. Say invented a name for people who go against the norm, change things for good even in the face of societal opposition, and turn unproductive commodities into productive resources for society. He called them Entrepreneurs.

More recently, Jonathan Fields called them “Career Renegades,” people who overcome the widely-promoted fears that unless we follow the “normal” paths outlined by society we’ll end up failing.

In the new post-meltdown economy, success at all levels and walks of society is more and more dependent on being this innovative type of person. In our time, perhaps the best name for such people is “supermen” and “superwomen.”

Whatever we call them, today they lead most small businesses and more of them are found in small business than anywhere else. America needs more of them.

We live in a society in desperate want of leadership from such people. The future of our national prosperity depends on how well they overcome the current challenges to the economy—including government overreach—and apply innovation, initiative, ingenuity, creativity, tenacity, and social leadership in our nation and world.

Such leadership is needed in business, family, neighborhoods, the arts and sciences, society and government. Each of us should consider in what ways we can improve ourselves and provide such leadership.

Our national future may well depend on how effectively we make and implement this choice. And it is time for Washington to decrease regulation, taxes, and get out of the way of the small businesspeople who can rebuild our economy.

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Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Aristocracy &Book Reviews &Entrepreneurship &Leadership &Mission

A Review of Launching a Leadership Revolution by Chris Brady & Orrin Woodward

September 15th, 2010 // 4:00 am @

launchingaleadershiprevolutioncoverAs a fan of leadership books, I try to read everything that comes out in this field.

Unfortunately, reading hundreds of books on the same topic means there is seldom something really new—fresh, exciting, revolutionary that uplifts the entire genre.

The last such surprise for me came several years ago in the writings of Steve Farber. But now, finally, comes another great addition to the leadership genre: Launching a Leadership Revolution by Chris Brady and Orrin Woodward.

Their subtitle, “Mastering the Five Levels of Influence,” sounds like typical management book fare, but it isn’t.

Each level is vital, well-taught and interesting, and together they form a truly revolutionary model for leadership.

This is not exaggeration—this book is excellent! I rank it right along with the best of Drucker, Bennis, Blanchard, Gerber, Collins, Deming, and Farber. It is destined to be a classic.

Brady and Woodward teach that everyone will be called upon for leadership at some point in their life.

They then turn leadership upon its head, noting that while many people seek leadership for the perceived benefits of power, control, or perks, the true life of a leader is actually built upon

“…giving power (empowering)…helping others fix problems…and serving others. Leaders lead for the joy of creating something bigger than themselves.”

This follows Greenleaf’s tradition of servant leadership, but with a twist.

Launching a Leadership Revolution shines because it gets into the specific work of leadership. It outlines many pages of work leaders must do, and explains which work to focus on most.

But the book seldom uses the word “work”, instead preferring the active “working.” Just the list of “working” items for leaders is worth more than the price of the book.

Maybe the best thing about this book is the authors’ ability to take traditional, classic leadership basics and give them new, profound definitions.

For example, the definition of learn goes from the old “a leader is always learning” to “a leader must be able to learn from anyone.”

Imagine the leadership revolution that would occur if top executives and government officials really did seek to learn from everyone!

Another example: The meaning of perform is transformed from “please your boss” or “improve the bottom line” to “persevere through failure to find success.”

This is the best definition of leadership performance I’ve ever read in print. And the book teaches the reader how to do it.

Likewise, the advice to develop others as leaders moves beyond all the clichés to become “learn to trust your people.” It includes fitting them to be truly trustworthy.

That’s what leadership should be– but seldom is even considered.

There are many other examples. This book is a revolution that builds on the best ideas and thinkers of the past by applying them in fresh new ways applicable to the information age.

We learn from case studies such as George Washington, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin and many others right along with contemporary needs and challenges.

Above all, the book places leadership success squarely on the success of mentoring and gives excellent advice to mentors on how to help people bring out the leadership inside them.

Everyone serious about Leadership Education will want to read this book, and apply the principles to our learning and mentoring.

In truth, great leadership is simply using great influence for great things, and this book can help each of us do this.

In these times of government bailouts and “fixes,” it is important to remember that the American Dream never was a government program. The American Dream was a leadership revolution, where regular people chose leadership and became leaders.

This revolution is still needed today, perhaps more than ever before in history.

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Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Book Reviews &Education &Leadership &Mission

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