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A Battle Ahead

June 18th, 2011 // 11:16 am @

A review of The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama’s recent book is an excellent commentary on the history of politics and the underpinnings of our current political systems. Readers may find things to disagree with in a book that covers so many periods of history, but this well-researched work sparks a lot of deep thinking about important and timely topics.

Three Major Advancements

Ultimately, Fukuyama sees the development of political society from tribal through modern times as the result of three major advancements. The future, he suggests, belongs to societies that maintain and effectively institutionalize all three of these organizational advantages. This view flies in the face of some widespread views, but Fukuyama’s arguments are compelling.

Consider, for example, the following likely characteristics of the decades immediately ahead:

1. The invention of centralized governments which allowed societies to grow beyond families and small tribes

The industrial age created an expectation (especially in the British and American worlds) of “sustained intensive economic growth.” Today we feel entitled to unending economic expansion. Any downturn in the economy is seen as a reason to blame our political leaders. We seem to believe that a high level of consistent economic growth is our birthright.

This is a significant development. Never has a generation in the past held such expectations. No longer are citizens content with the up-and-down economic cycle that has characterized all of history. Whether this new expectation can be maintained remains to be seen, but this is our expectation now, and we’ll continue to punish any government official who doesn’t both promise and deliver sustained economic growth.

If it turns out that constant growth is unrealistic, that there really is a natural economic cycle of ups and downs, we’ll consistently elect and then dump every politician from every party—the voters will never be satisfied. With such feelings of entitlement, we’re destined to be perpetually angry at and disappointed with our government.

Globalization has created a world of independent international elites and locally-dependent middle and lower classes.

“In the days when most wealth was held in the form of land, states could exercise leverage on wealthy elites; today, that wealth can easily flee to offshore bank accounts.”

2. The establishment of “uniform laws that apply to all citizens

This is a world-altering event in human history. The advent of widespread human freedom and prosperity came as a result of uniform laws that applied to all citizens—regardless of status, wealth, race, gender, ability or religion. Globalization trumps all this, allowing a global upper class to operate largely above the law while the masses are required to follow the laws of their local nations.

The economic benefit of being in the upper class under such an arrangement is huge—the gap between rich and poor will drastically increase as this reality grows.

Hardin Tibbs wrote:

“The proportion of people in cities is growing rapidly, and the numbers of people left in the countryside are falling. The sprawling urban megacity—somewhere like Sao Paulo, where you’ve got densely populated shantytowns right next to the enclaves of the super-rich—is a growing phenomenon around the world.” (EnlightenNext, Issue 47, 2011, pp 29-41)

3. The creation of governments which are “accountable to their constituents

Two groups will be the winners in the new system: mostly the mobile global upper class, and secondarily the masses in nations where the government is truly accountable to the people. This will impact nations around the globe, as we are already witnessing in the Arabic world.

For China, this is either good news or really bad news. If China’s government remains unaccountable to the people, its economic and military strength will at some point become a weakness. If, on the other hand, the Chinese government reforms and becomes accountable to the people, China may well become the great superpower many have predicted.

According to Fukuyama, the centralized structure of an authoritarian system can seem to “run rings around a liberal democratic one” for a time, because the leaders face little opposition from checks, balances, or other obstacles to their decisions. But this is a frailty if ever the leaders make bad decisions.

A few bad leaders or choices can bring down such a system very quickly. Societies with effective checks and balances on the centers of power are more resilient and less prone to huge decline in a single generation or even decade.

As for the United States and Europe, they must reverse the decades-old trend of centralizing power away from the people.

In short, we are seeing the rise of a global class system with increasing divisions between the haves and the have-nots. Major characteristics of this new reality include the unrealistic expectation of constant economic growth, a global upper class that is increasingly above the laws of nations, the growth of drastically divided cities, and governments that are widely controlled by the wealthy.

One great battle of the 21st Century will likely be about who controls government, the wealthy class or the people as a whole. As Fukuyama shows, through history the nations where government was accountable to the people ultimately achieved the most social success, freedom and prosperity.

The Origins of Political Order is the first of a two-volume set, and hopefully the second volume will tell us more about how the people can win this coming battle.

As the mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme wrote: “the universe is not a place, it’s a story…” (EnlightenNext, Issue 47, 2011, pp. 52-63) The same can be said of the 21st Century, and our story will likely hinge on whether government is ultimately accountable to the people or to a small group of elites.

This is an old battle, but this is the first time it is global in scale. The challenges are thus increased and the stakes are high.

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odemille 133x195 custom Egypt, Freedom, & the Cycles of HistoryOliver 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 : Aristocracy &Blog &Book Reviews &Business &Community &Economics &Tribes

The Social Animal

April 20th, 2011 // 7:31 am @

A review of the book The Social Animal: A Story of Love, Character and Achievement by David Brooks

There are at least three major types of writing. The first might be called Shakespeare’s method, which includes the telling of stories with deep symbolic and archetypal lessons. Many of the great world religious texts used this approach. The Greeks referred to this as poetry, though the meaning of “poetry” is much more limited in modern usage. In the contemporary world we often call this type of writing fiction, though this is a misnomer since the stories used are not actually untrue—they are, many of them, literally true, and nearly all of them are symbolically true. This could also be called the Inspirational style of writing.

A second kind of writing can be summarized as Tocqueville’s method, or the philosopher’s style. Called prose, non-fiction, or editorializing, this type of literature consists of the author sharing her views, thoughts, questions, analyses and conclusions. Writers in this style see no need to document or prove their points, but they do make a case for their ideas. This way of writing gave the world many of the great classics of human history—in many fields of thought spanning the arts, sciences, humanities and practical domains. This writing is Authoritative in style, meaning that the author is interested mostly in ideas (rather than proof or credibility) and writes as her own authority on what she is thinking.

The third sort of writing, what I’ll call Einstein’s method, attempts to prove its conclusions using professional language and appealing to reason, experts or other authority. Most scientific works, textbooks, and research-based books on a host of topics apply this method. The basis of such writing is to clearly show the reader the sources of assumptions, the progress of the author’s thinking, and the basis behind each conclusion. Following the scientific method, this modern “Objective” style of writing emphasizes the credibility of the conclusions—based on the duplicable nature of the research and the rigorous analysis and deduction. There are few leaps of logic in this kind of prose.

Each type of writing has its masters, and all offer valuable contributions to the great works of human literature. This is so obvious that it hardly needs to be said, but we live in a world where the third, Objective, style of writing is the norm and anything else is often considered inferior. Such a conclusion, ironically, is not a scientifically proven fact. Indeed, how can science prove that anything open to individual preference and taste is truly “best?” For example, such greats as Churchill, Solzhenitsyn and Allan Bloom (author of The Closing of the American Mind) have shown that “Tocqueville’s” style is still of great value in modern times—as do daily op eds in our leading newspapers and blogs. Likewise, our greatest plays, movies and television programs demonstrate that the Shakespearean method still has great power in our world.

That said, David Brooks’ new book The Social Animal: A Story of Love, Character and Achievement manages to combine all three styles in one truly moving work. I have long considered Brooks one of my favorite authors. I assigned his book Bobos in Paradaise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There as an undergraduate and graduate college text for several years, and I have recommended his book On Paradise Drive to many students and executives who wanted to understand American and modern culture. In one of the best descriptions of our society ever written, he outlined the new realities experienced by the “average” American citizen, who he called “Patio Man.” I have also enjoyed many of his editorials in The New York Times—and the ongoing, albeit unofficial and indirect, “debate” between his columns and those of Thomas L. Friedman, Paul Krugman, George Will and, occasionally, Peggy Noonan.

The Social Animal is, in my opinion, his best work to date. In fact, it is downright brilliant. I am not suggesting that it approaches Shakespeare, of course. But who does? Still, the stories in The Social Animal flow like Isaac Asimov meets Ayn Rand.  It doesn’t boast deep scientific technical writing, as Brooks himself notes. Indeed, Brooks doesn’t even attempt to produce a great Shakespearean or scientific classic. But he does effectively weave the three great styles of writing together, and in the realm of philosophical writing this book is similar to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. The content of the book, in fact, is as close as we may ever see to a 21st century update to Tocqeville (1830s) and Bryce (1910s).

I know this is high praise, and in our modern era with its love of objective analysis, such strong language is suspect in “educated” circles. But my words are not hyperbole. This is an important book. It is one of the most important books we’ve seen in years—probably since Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World or Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. This book is in the same class as Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations, Strauss and Howe’s The Fourth Turning, or Philip Bobbitt’s The Shield of Achilles. It is as significant as any article in Foreign Affairs since Richard Gardner’s writings. It reads like Steven Pinker channelling Alexis de Tocqueville. The language is, well, beautiful, but beautiful in the modern sense, like the writings of Laura Munson or Sandra Tsing Loh.

The book also manages to bridge political views—I think liberals will find it moving and conservatives will find it convincing. It is not exactly Centrist, but neither is it patently Right nor Left. It will appeal to independents and people from all political perspectives. If it has a political leaning, it is the party of Common Sense—backed by meticulous research.

Moreover, The Social Animal clouds typical publishing stereotypes. I’m not sure where big bookstores will shelve it. It is a book on culture, politics, education, and career. It is a book about entertainment, marriage and language. It is about the upper, middle and lower classes in modern American society, how they interrelate and what challenges are ahead as they clash. It is about current events and future challenges. It is, above all, a book about success. It goes well beyond books on Habits or The Secret or even “Acres of Diamonds.”

As Brooks himself put it:

“Over the centuries, zillions of books have been written about how to succeed. But these tales are usually told on the surface level of life. They describe the colleges people get into, the professional skills they acquire, the conscious decisions they make, and the tips and techniques they adopt to build connections and get ahead. These books often focus on an outer definition of success, having to do with IQ, wealth, prestige, and worldly accomplishments.

“This story [The Social Animal] is told one level down. This success story emphasizes the role of the inner mind—the unconscious realm of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings….

“…we are not primarily the products of our conscious thinking. We are primarily the products of thinking that happens below the level of awareness.”

Brooks argues:

“The research being done today reminds us of the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice, character over IQ, emergent, organic systems over linear, mechanistic ones, and the idea that we have multiple selves over the idea that we have a single self.”

The book deals with such intriguing topics as:

  • Modern dating and courtship
  • Today’s marriages and what makes them succeed—or not
  • The scientific versus popular views of child development
  • Cultural trends such as global-warming awareness assemblies in high schools
  • The scientific foundations of violence
  • The kind of decision-making that leads to success versus mediocrity and failure
  • A veritable manual for success in college
  • The powerful leadership techniques of priming, anchoring, framing, limerance, fractals, metis and multiparadigm teams, among others (it is worth reading the book just for this)
  • How to “ace” job interviews
  • The new phases of life progression
  • Effectively starting a new business—the steps, techniques, values and needed character traits
  • Leadership in the modern corporation
  • How to win a revolution by only making a call for small reforms
  • The effectiveness of a talent for oversimplification
  • The supreme power of a life’s viewpoint

The Social Animal struck a personal note with me because it brilliantly describes the true process of great mentoring that more of our teachers need to adopt and that I wrote about with Tiffany Earl in our book The Student Whisperer. I have seldom seen truly great teaching described better.

This book is primarily about success—specifically success in our complex modern world—but at a deeper level it is about happiness. Brooks writes:

We still have admissions committees that judge people by IQ measures and not by practical literacy. We still have academic fields that often treat human beings as rational utility-maximizing individuals. Modern society has created a giant apparatus for the cultivation of the hard skills, while failing to develop the moral and emotional faculties down below. Children are coached on how to jump through a thousand scholastic hoops. Yet by far the most important decisions they will make are about whom to marry and whom to befriend, what to love and what to despise, and how to control impulses. On these matters, they are almost entirely on their own. We are good at talking about material incentives, but bad about talking about emotions and intuitions. We are good at teaching technical skills, but when it comes to the most important things, like character, we have almost nothing to say.

The book, like any true “classic” (and I am convinced this will be one), is deep and broad. It includes such gems as:

  • “The food at their lunch was terrible, but the meal was wonderous.”
  • “For example, six-month-old babies can spot the different facial features of different monkeys, even though, to adults, they all look the same.”
  • In his high school, “…life was dominated by a universal struggle for admiration.”
  • “The students divided into the inevitable cliques, and each clique had its own individual pattern of behavior.”
  • “Fear of exclusion was his primary source of anxiety.”
  • “Erica decided that in these neighborhoods you could never show weakness. You could never back down or compromise.”
  • “In middle class country, children were raised to go to college. In poverty country they were not.”
  • Jim Collins “…found that many of the best CEOs were not flamboyant visionaries. They were humble, self-effacing, diligent, and resolute souls who found one thing they were really good at and did it over and over again. They did not spend a lot of time on internal motivational campaigns. They demanded discipline and efficiency.”
  • “Then a quiet voice could be heard from the other end of the table. ‘Leave her alone.’ It was her mother. The picnic table went silent.”
  • “Erica resolved that she would always try to stand at the junction between two mental spaces. In organizations, she would try to stand at the junction of two departments, or fill in the gaps between departments.”
  • “School asks students to be good at a range of subjects, but life asks people to find one passion that they will do forever.”
  • “His missions had been clearly marked: get good grades, make the starting team, make adults happy. Ms. Taylor had introduced a new wrinkle into his life—a love of big ideas.”
  • “…if Steve Jobs had come out with an iWife, they would have been married on launch day.”
  • “Epistemological modesty is the knowledge of how little we know and can know.”

There are so many more gems of wisdom. For example, Brooks notes that in current culture there is a new phase of life. Most of today’s parents and grandparents grew up in a world with four life phases, including “childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age.” Today’s young will experience at least six phases, Brooks suggests: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement, and old age.

While many parents expect their 18- and 19-year-old children to go directly from adolescence to the adult life of leaving home and pursuing their own independent life and a marriage relationship, their children are surprising (and confusing) them by embracing their odyssey years: living at home, then wandering, then back home for a time, taking a long time to “play around” with their education before getting serious about preparing for a career, and in general enjoying their youthful freedom. Most parents are convinced they’re kids are wasting their lives when in fact this is the new normal.

The odyssey years actually make a lot of sense. The young “…want the security and stability adulthood brings, but they don’t want to settle into a daily grind. They don’t want to limit their spontaneity or put limits on their dreams.” Parents can support this slower pace with two thoughts: 1) the kids usually turn out better because they don’t force themselves to grow up too fast like earlier generations did, and 2) the parents get to enjoy a similar kind of relaxed state in the “active retirement phase.”

Most odysseys pursue life in what Brooks calls The Group—a small team of friends who help each other through this transition. Members of a Group talk a lot, play together, frequently engage entrepreneurial or work ventures with each other, and fill the role of traditional families during this time of transition. Even odysseys who live at home for a time usually spend much of their time with their Group.

This book is full of numerous other ideas, stories, studies, and commentaries. It is the kind of reading that you simply have to mark up with a highlighter on literally every page.

Whether you agree or disagree with the ideas in this book—or, hopefully, both—it is a great read. Not a good read, but a great one. Some social conservatives may dislike certain things such as the language used by some characters or the easy sexuality of some college students, and some liberals may question the realistic way characters refuse to accept every politically-correct viewpoint in society—but both are accurate portrayals of many people in our current culture.

The Social Animal may not remain on the classics list as long as Democracy in America, but it could. At the very least, it is as good a portrayal of modern society as Rousseau’s Emile was in its time. It provides a telling, accurate and profound snapshot of American life at the beginning of the 21st Century. Reading it will help modern Americans know themselves at a much deeper level.

This is a book about many things, including success and happiness as mentioned above. But it is also a classic book on freedom, and on how our society defines freedom in our time. As such, it is an invaluable source to any who care about the future of freedom. Read this book to see where we are, where we are headed, and how we need to change. The Social Animal is required reading for leaders in all sectors and for people from all political persuasions who want to see freedom flourish in the 21st century.

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odemille 133x195 custom Is America a Democracy, Republic, or Empire?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 &Community &Culture &Current Events &Education &Entrepreneurship &Family &Generations &Leadership &Liberty &Mission &Postmodernism &Service &Statesmanship &Tribes

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.

odemille 133x195 custom Quantity. Quality. Method.

**************************

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

The Most Important Thing

March 17th, 2011 // 1:15 am @

My oldest daughter asked me recently, “What is the most important thing Americans need to know right now about freedom?”

I didn’t even have to think about the answer, it is so clear to me.

My purpose here is to share the single most important thing the people need to know about freedom.

I have shared this idea before, but since it is the most important thing, in my opinion, it bears repeating.

On many occasions I have asked advanced graduate students or executives to diagram the American government model which established unprecedented levels of freedom and prosperity to people from all backgrounds, classes and views.

They always do it in the wrong order, and they get the most important part wrong.

Specifically, they start by diagramming three branches of government, a judicial and an executive and a bicameral legislature, and then they sit down.

They think they’ve done the assignment.

When I ask, “What about the rest?” they are stumped for a few seconds.

Then some of them have an epiphany and quickly return to the white board to diagram the same thing at the state level.

This time they are sure they are done.

“What level of government came first in the American colonies?” I ask. After some debate, they agree that many towns, cities, counties and local governments were established, most with written constitutions, for over two centuries before the U.S. Constitution and many decades before the state governments and constitutions.

“So, diagram the founding model of local government,” I say.

They then set out to diagram a copy of the three-branch U.S. Constitutional model.

Nope.

This sad deficit of knowledge indicates at least one thing: Americans who have learned about our constitutional model have tended to learn it largely by rote, without truly understanding the foundational principles of freedom.

We know about the three branches, the checks and balances, and we consider this the American political legacy.

But few Americans today understand the principles and deeper concepts behind the three branches, checks and balances.

The first constitutions and governments in America were local, and there were hundreds of them.

These documents were the basis of later state constitutions, and they were also the models in which early Americans learned to actively govern themselves.

Without them, the state constitutions could never have been written. Without these local and state constitutions, the U.S. Constitution would have been very, very different.

In short, these local constitutions and governments were, and are, the basis of American freedoms and the whole system.

The surprising thing, at least to many moderns, is that these local constitutions were very different than the state and federal constitutional model. There were some similarities, but the structure was drastically different.

The principles of freedom are applied differently to be effective at local and tribal levels.

A society that doesn’t understand this is unlikely to stay free. Indeed, history is exact on this point.

Another surprise is that nearly all the early townships and cities in the Americas adopted a very similar constitutional structure.

They were amazingly alike. This is because they are designed to apply the best principles of freedom to the local and tribal levels.

And there is more.

This similar model was followed by the Iroquois League as well, and by several other First Nation tribal governments.

Many people have heard this, but few can explain the details of how local free governments were established.

This same model of free local/tribal government shows up in tribes throughout Central and South America, Oceana, Africa, Asia and the historic Germanic tribes including the Anglo Saxons.

Indeed, it is found in the Bible as followed by the Tribes of Israel. This is where the American founders said they found it

The most accurate way, then, to diagram the American governmental system is to diagram the local system correctly, then the state and federal levels with their three branches each, separations of power and checks and balances.

But how exactly does one diagram the local level?

The basics are as follows: The true freedom system includes establishing as the most basic unit of society—above the family—small government councils that are small enough to include all adults in the decision-making meetings for major choices.

This system is clearly described in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Volume 1, Chapter 5,[i] and in Liberty Fund’s Colonial Origins of the American Constitutions.

It is also portrayed in the classic television series Little House on the Prairie and in many books like Moody’s Little Britches, Stratton-Porter’s Laddie and James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans.

In fact, if you know to look for it, it shows up throughout much of human history.

These adult town, city or tribal councils truly establish and maintain freedom by including in the most local and foundational decisions the voices and votes of all the adult citizenry.

These councils make decisions by majority vote after open discussion. They also appoint mayors/chiefs, law enforcement leaders, judges and other personnel.

All of these officials report directly to the full council of all adults and can be removed by the council.

Where representative houses and offices are much more effective at the larger state and national levels, the whole system breaks down if the regular citizens aren’t actively involved in governance at the most local levels.

In this model, every adult citizen is officially a government official, with the result that all citizens study the government system, their role in it, the issues and laws and cases, and think like leaders.

They learn leadership by leading.

Without this participatory government system at the local levels, as history has shown, freedom is eventually lost in all societies.

Once again, the most successful tribes, communities and even nations throughout history have adopted this model of local governance which includes all citizens in the basic local decision making.

The result, in every society on record,[ii] has always been increased freedom and prosperity.

No free society in recorded history has maintained its great freedom once this system eroded.

Tocqueville called this system of local citizen governance “the” most important piece of America’s freedom model.[iii]

Indeed, the U.S. Constitution is what it is because of the understanding the American people gained from long participation in local government councils.

These were the basis of state constitutions and the federal Constitution. If we don’t understand the local councils, we don’t understand the Constitution or freedom.

Today we need a citizenship that truly understands freedom, not just patriotic, loyal or highly professional people. This is the most important thing modern Americans can know if we want to maintain our freedom and widespread prosperity.

Endnotes:

[i] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (from the Henry Reeve text as revised by Francis Bowen, edited by Phillips Bradley, and published by Alfred A. Knopf).

[ii] See the writings of Arnold Toynbee and the multi-volume writings of Will & Ariel Durant.

[iii] Op cit., Tocqueville.

Category : Community &Culture &Government &Liberty &Tribes

The Declining American Dream

January 31st, 2011 // 9:55 am @

We still hear about the American Dream. But more and more it seems we’re in a Matrix-like dream state where our perceptions are being manipulated. It’s actually a pretty common plot in cinema: The Minority Report, The Sixth Day, Total Recall, Inception, The Adjustment Bureau and others riff on this theme. We’re living in a reality out-of-synch with some truth we’ve lost, and we don’t even realize it. Somehow our collective memory and our assumptions of “normal” are slowly morphing, and our definition of the American Dream at present is so far removed from the original concept as to be a pretty fair Doublespeak[i] idiom.

Back when the Cleavers[ii] and even the Bradys[iii] were the icons of American families, what was the definition of “The American Dream”? What did it mean to be “middle class”? There are some features of it that were fairly well accepted once upon a time:

1. Home Ownership I

Perhaps the most traditional measure of middle class and the American Dream is the ability for every man to be the king of his own castle. In this the U.S. was a beacon to the world, and other countries even began to adopt the value that every person might aspire to own his own dwelling. The historical and sociological significance of home ownership includes the moral and political empowerment of being “landed,” and affiliation with the natural aristocracy. Homeowners were believed to have a deeper sense of responsibility to invest in their property improvement, an elevated pride in and loyalty to their neighborhoods and communities, and a higher commitment to the good of society in general.

2. Home Ownership II

Now we have to dig a little deeper into our genetic memory. Home ownership a generation or three ago meant not only that you weren’t renting from somebody else, but after a maximum of thirty years in your home you weren’t renting it from the bank, either. A 30-year mortgage left the likes of Ward and June Cleaver without a house payment right about when the grandkids started showing up, and they were able to be a boon to their young married children as they were starting out. If the idea of Home Ownership I as a definition of “The American Dream” is still generally accepted (and I believe it is), the Home Ownership II definition has been deleted from our collective memory. Not only do we have a 30-year mortgage that gets refinanced ad infinitum, but we have seconds on our vanishing equity—and our seniors are living on the funds derived from reverse mortgages.

3. One Income

For the Cleavers and the Bradys, Home Ownership I and II were accomplished on one income. Dad had evenings and weekends for leisure; mom could volunteer with the PTA and community service organizations. Both could participate in book clubs, bowling leagues, gardening and other vocations. The Women’s Lib movement sent the modern woman into the workforce by choice; now Home Ownership II is entirely out of reach for the middle class, and Home Ownership I requires a minimum of two incomes—and often multiple jobs for an individual worker—in order to be a reality.

4. Two Cars

The family had a car—and later two. They were American made with pride, and they were built to last. Paid with cash from savings, or with a little help from the local bank, they were paid off long before they were sent to the salvage yard. Some families even scandalized the neighbors by giving each of their teens a car as soon as they were legal to drive.

5. College for Kids

Part of the understanding for middle class families was that they would be able to pay for their kids to get a college education. Now all that’s left of that understanding is the guilt for failing to live up to it. No one seriously expects one-income families to be able to pay off the house and cars and simultaneously send several kids to the University. Scholarships, loans, grants and lingering debt into the career years are now the means for those who want a college education.

6. Discretionary Income

With all of the above, it was still an expectation that a married couple could live within their means and have savings, investment, yearly vacations with the whole family at some destination spot, and still have a few dimes to rub together at the end of the month.

7. Retirement

Ah, and after all this came the golden years. The Cleavers could now spend their expanded leisure time, afforded by an empty nest and the retirement from the company (complete with gold watch honors), in community service and nurturing the rising generation. They had savings, investments and retirement income to fall back on, a house and car paid free and clear, and the greatest resource: Leisure Time. They were elders in their community, and relied upon for wisdom.

The percentage of families enjoying these luxuries shrinks every year. Where did our American Dream go? Somehow, point by point, it has slipped away from us, and taken with it our definition of “middle class.” Would that we could wake up and reclaim the best of that dream; instead, we’ve awakened to a reality where our elusive American Dream is just out of reach; and these seven points that were once considered the legacy of any hard-working family are being deleted from our list of aspirations. If they are middle class expectations, the majority of America is no longer middle class.

[For a follow-up article on the how and why the middle class is shrinking, and how to reverse the trend, read Oliver’s article, “The Rule of Leisure,” featured in the February 2011 monthly newsletter for The Center for Social Leadership.


[i] See Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four.
[ii] From the 1950 – 60s classic sitcom about the traditional nuclear family of Ward and June Cleaver, “Leave it to Beaver”.
[iii] From the classic 1970s sitcom about the non-traditional nuclear family of Mike and Carol Brady, “The Brady Bunch”.

Category : Blog &Community &Culture &Economics &Entrepreneurship &Family &Generations &Politics &Postmodernism &Producers &Prosperity

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