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Citizenship

Meritocracy is Elitism

July 19th, 2011 // 6:01 am @

Modernism dislikes all types of elitism– except for meritocracy.

When elite status is merited, according to this view, it is a good thing.

In such a society, our elites are:

“…made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians. These people, whose origins lay in the salaried middle class and the upper grades of the working class, had been shaped and brought together by the barren world of monopoly industry and centralized government.”

Cool quote, right?

This was written by George Orwell in his description of Big Brother’s society in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Some may think that a meritocracy is the same as Thomas Jefferson’s “natural aristocracy,” but in fact the roots of the two are quite different.

In a meritocracy some rise to elite status through their individual merit, which is determined by the institutions of society.

In short, the current elites get to choose their successors—those of merit determine which people in the rising generation are to be people of “merit.”

In contrast, Jefferson’s natural aristocracy rose because of their “virtue, wisdom and service” to humanity.

And the current societal servants don’t choose tomorrow’s natural servants—they arise naturally according to their service.

Meritocracy offers special perks and benefits for those who are accepted by the current generation of elites.

A natural aristocracy looks around, sees needs and gets to work meeting these needs.

Meritocracy is the best way to choose elites (far better than basing it on land ownership or heredity, for example), but elitist society of any kind is far from the best choice.

Leaders arising naturally through genuine merit is a different thing than meritocracy.

Government by the people is a real concept, not just an idealistic dream.

It gave us the most free and prosperous nation and society in history, and it can do so again.

To repeat: merit, not meritocracy.

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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 &Citizenship &Culture &Education &Featured &Leadership &Postmodernism

Where is Wisdom?

July 8th, 2011 // 7:18 am @

Throughout the history of Western Civilization, a high priority has been placed on Wisdom.

The great classics are the Western world’s repository of wisdom, and the application of wisdom to governance, art, science, business and all fields has resulted in success and progress.

Over time these two children of wisdom (progress and success) started their own traditions and today they are competing schools of thought replete with their own unique literature, institutions and promoters. Unfortunately, both have largely lost touch with their original connection to Wisdom.

In politics, the left is dedicated to progress and the right to success. Nearly everything conservative politics supports is based on the goal of achievement and success, while most of the liberal agenda cares primarily for social progress.

In science and the arts this division fuels the split between artists/scientists and mere marketers, and religion has found a role in modernism partly as a voice against excesses of the search for progress and success.

Professions in business, law, medicine, journalism and education have long been places where leaders could promote success and societal progress, but in recent decades the emphasis on wisdom in the professions has waned.

Attorneys, doctors, professors, journalists and executives are very different people when they are earning than when they are learning, as an attorney friend told me.

As a group, the professions have split—some professionals on the conservative, success-oriented side of the ledger with its focus on achievement and others on the liberal, progressive side and its belief in institutional power and government programs.

The fact that in all of this the goal of a wisdom society is almost lost is a modern tragedy. Unless it is reversed, it will only be the first tragedy of many—societies which lose their focus on seeking and applying wisdom inevitably lose their prosperity, freedoms, strength, power and standard of living.

The likelihood of Washington fixing this problem is very slim—Washington is, in fact, the epicenter of the problem.

The party of progress and the party of success constantly block each other’s goals, ignoring wisdom in a battle which has kept the nation in a rut now for decades.

As a society, we seem to want our political leaders loyally partisan rather than notably wise.

If politicians won’t solve our problem, where will wisdom leadership come from in our society? Go to a major bookstore—a few shelves of success literature are surrounded by many shelves promoting societal progress.

The coffee shop, small reading tables, and dress of the shoppers point to progressive society.

The occasional suit enters briskly, finds what he wants, and exits. Too busy to lounge with the other readers, he often skips the store and sends an assistant or gets his books online.

This description is, by the way, a precise depiction of our university campuses.

The thinking style of life and the active style are too seldom combined, and a result is that wisdom is too often lacking. This needs to change, or the future of freedom will suffer.

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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 : Blog &Citizenship &Culture &Education &Featured

The Little Fix

May 4th, 2011 // 2:45 pm @

Sometimes small and simple things make all the difference. Malcolm Gladwell called this “the tipping point,” and an old proverb speaks of mere straws “breaking the camel’s back.” In my book FreedomShift I wrote about how three little things could—and should—change everything in America’s future.

Following is a little quote that holds the fix to America’s modern problems. This is a big statement. Many Americans feel that the United States is in decline, that we are facing serious problems and that Washington doesn’t seem capable of taking us in the right direction. People are worried and skeptical. Washington—whichever party is in power—makes promises and then fails to fulfill them.

What should America do? The answer is provided, at least the broad details, in the following quote. The famous Roman thinker Cicero is said to have given us this quote in 55 BC. However, it turns out that this quote was created in 1986 as a newspaper fabrication.[i] Still, the content of the quote carries a lot of truth:

“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt.”

Consider each item:

  • Balance the budget. There are various proposals to do this, nearly all of which require cutting entitlements and also foreign military expenditures. Many do not require raised tax rates. But most Americans would support moderate tax increases if Washington truly gets its outrageous spending habit under control. Paying more taxes in order to see our national debts paid off and our budgets balanced would be worth it—if, and only if, we first witness Washington really fix its spending problem.
  • Refill the Treasury. This is seldom suggested in modern Washington. We have become so accustomed to debt, it seems, that the thought of maintaining a long-term surplus in Washington’s accounts is hardly ever mentioned.
  • Reduce public debt. This is part of various proposals, and is a major goal of many American voters (including independents, who determine presidential elections).
  • Temper and control the arrogance of officialdom. This is seldom discussed, but it is a significant reality in modern America. We have become a society easily swayed by celebrity, and this is bad for freedom.
  • Curtail foreign aid. The official line is that the experts, those who “understand these things,” know why we must continue and even expand foreign aid, and that those who oppose this are uneducated and don’t understand the realities of the situation. The reality, however, is that the citizenry does understand that we can’t spend more than we have. Period. The experts would do well to figure this out.

The question boils down to this: Is the future of America a future of freedom or a future of big government? Our generation must choose.

The challenge so far is that the American voter wants less expensive government but also big-spending government programs. Specifically, we want government to stop spending for programs which benefit other people, but to keep spending for programs that benefit us directly.[ii] We want taxes left the same or decreased for us, but raised on others. We want small business to create more jobs, but we want small businesspeople to pay higher taxes (we don’t want to admit that by paying higher taxes they’ll naturally need to reduce the number of jobs they offer).

The modern American citizen wants the government programs “Rome” can offer, but we want someone else to pay for it. We elect leaders who promise smaller government, and then vote against them when they threaten a government program we enjoy.

Over time, however, we are realizing that we can’t have it both ways. We are coming to grips with the reality that to get our nation back on track we’ll need to allow real cuts that hurt. The future of America depends on how well we stick to our growing understanding that our government must live within its means.

[i] Discussed in Gary Shapiro, The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore The American Dream.

[ii] See Meet the Press, April 24, 2011.

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odemille 133x195 custom A Case for InnovationOliver 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 &Citizenship &Culture &Economics &Education &Foreign Affairs &Generations &Government &History

Is America a Democracy, Republic, or Empire?

April 20th, 2011 // 7:09 am @

Some in Washington are fond of saying that certain nations don’t know how to do democracy.

Anytime a nation breaks away from totalitarian or authoritarian controls, these “experts” point out that the people aren’t “prepared” for democracy.

But this is hardly the point.

A nation where the people aren’t prepared for democracy–but where a strong leader is prepared for tyranny–is still better off as a democracy.

A nation where the people aren’t prepared for democracy but where an elite class is prepared for aristocracy is still better off as a democracy.

A nation where the people aren’t prepared for democracy but where a socialist or fundamentalist religious bureaucracy is prepared to rule is still better off as a democracy.

Whatever the people’s inadequacies, they will do better than the other, class-dominant forms of government.

Winston Churchill was right:

“Democracy is the worst form of government–except for all those others that have been tried.”

False Democracy

When I say “democracy,” I am of course not referring to a pure democracy where the masses make every decision; this has always turned to mob rule through history.

Of Artistotle’s various types and styles of democracy, this was the worst. The American founders considered this one of the least effective of free forms of government.

Nor do I mean a “socialist democracy” as proposed by Karl Marx, where the people elect leaders who then exert power over the finances and personal lives of all citizens.

Whether this type of government is called democracy (e.g. Social Democrats in many former Eastern European nations) in the Marxian sense or a republic (e.g. The People’s Republic of China, The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics–USSR, etc.), it amounts to the same oligarchic model of authoritarian rule.

Marx used the concept of democracy–he called it “the battle for democracy”–to argue for the working classes to rise up against the middle and upper classes and take back their power.

Ironically, he believed the masses incapable of such leadership, and felt that a small group of elites, the “vanguard”, would have to do the work of the masses for them.

This argument assumes an oligarchic view of the world, and the result of attempted Marxism has nearly always been dictatorial or oligarchic authoritarianism.

In this attitude Marx follows his mentor Hegel, who discounted any belief in the power or wisdom of the people as wild imaginings (see Mortimer Adler’s discussion on “Monarchy” in the Syntopicon).

The American founders disagreed entirely with this view.

A Democratic Republic

The type of democracy we need more of in the world is constitutional representative democracy, with:

A written constitution that separates the legislative, executive and judicial powers. Limits all with checks and balances, and leaves most of the governing power in the hands of the people and local and regional, rather than national, government institutions.

In such a government, the people have the power to elect their own representatives who participate at all levels. Then the people closely oversee the acts of government.

One other power of the people in a constitutional representative democratic republic is to either ratify or reject the original constitution.

Only the support of the people allows any constitution to be adopted (or amended) by a democratic society.

The American framers adopted Locke’s view that the legislative power was closest to the people and should have the sole power over the nation’s finances.

Thus in the U.S. Constitution, direct representatives of the people oversaw the money and had to answer directly to the people every two years.

Two Meanings of “Democracy”

There are two ways of understanding the term democracy. One is as a governmental form–which is how this article has used the word so far. The other is as a societal format.

There are four major types of societies:

  • A chaotic society with no rules, laws or government
  • A monarchical society where one man or woman has full power over all people and aspects of the society
  • An aristocratic society where a few people–an upper class–control the whole nation
  • A democratic society where the final say over the biggest issues in the nation comes from the regular people

As a societal form, democracy is by far the best system.Montesquieu, who was the source most quoted at the American Constitutional Convention, said:

“[Democracy exists] when the body of the people is possessed of the supreme power.”

In a good constitutional democracy, the constitution limits the majority from impinging upon the inalienable rights of a minority–or of anyone at all.

Indeed, if a monarchical or aristocratic society better protects the rights of the people than a democratic nation, it may well be a more just and free society.

History has shown, however, that over time the people are more likely to protect their rights than any royal family or elite class.

When the many are asked to analyze and ratify a good constitution, and then to protect the rights of all, it turns out they nearly always protect freedom and just society better than the one or the few.

It is very important to clarify the difference between these two types of democracy–governmental and societal.

For example, many of the historic Greek “democracies” were governmental democracies only. They called themselves democracies because the citizens had the final say on the governmental structure and elections–but only the upper class could be citizens.

Thus these nations were actually societal aristocracies, despite being political democracies.

Plato called the societal form of democracy the best system and the governmental format of democracy the worst.

Clearly, knowing the difference is vital.

Aristotle felt that there are actually six major types of societal forms.

A king who obeys the laws leads a monarchical society, while a king who thinks he is above the law rules a tyrannical society.

Likewise, government by the few can either have different laws for the elite class or the same laws for all people, making oligarchy or aristocracy.

In a society where the people are in charge, they can either rule by majority power (he called this democracy) or by wise laws, protected inalienable rights and widespread freedom (he called this “mixed” or, as it is often translated, “constitutional” society).

Like Plato, Aristotle considered the governmental form of democracy bad, but better than oligarchy or tyranny; and he believed the societal form of democracy (where the people as a mass generally rule the society) to be good.

Democracy or Republic?

The authors of The Federalist Papers tried to avoid this confusion about the different meanings of “democracy” simply by shortening the idea of a limited, constitutional, representative democracy to the term “republic.”

A breakdown of these pieces is enlightening:

  • Limited (unalienable rights for all are protected)
  • Constitutional (ratified by the people; the three major powers separated, checked and balanced)
  • Representative (the people elect their leaders, using different constituencies to elect different leaders for different governmental entities–like the Senate and the House)
  • Democracy (the people have the final say through elections and through the power to amend the constitution)

The framers required all state governments to be this type of republic, and additionally, for the national government to be federal (made up of sovereign states with their own power, delegating only a few specific powers to the national government).

When we read the writings of most of the American founders, it is helpful to keep this definition of “republic” in mind.

When they use the terms “republic” or “a republic” they usually mean a limited, constitutional, representative democracy like that of all the states.

When they say “the republic” they usually refer to the national-level government, which they established as a limited, constitutional, federal, representative democracy.

At times they shorten this to “federal democratic republic” or simply democratic republic.

Alexander Hamilton and James Wilson frequently used the term “representative democracy,” but most of the other founders preferred the word “republic.”

A Global Problem

In today’s world the term “republic” has almost as many meanings as “democracy.”

The term “democracy” sometimes has the societal connotation of the people overseeing the ratification of their constitution. It nearly always carries the societal democracy idea that the regular people matter, and the governmental democracy meaning that the regular people get to elect their leaders.

The good news is that freedom is spreading. Authoritarianism, by whatever name, depends on top-down control of information, and in the age of the Internet this is disappearing everywhere.

More nations will be seeking freedom, and dictators, totalitarians and authoritarians everywhere are ruling on borrowed time.

People want freedom, and they want democracy–the societal type, where the people matter. All of this is positive and, frankly, wonderful.

The problem is that as more nations seek freedom, they are tending to equate democracy with either the European or Asian versions (parliamentary democracy or an aristocracy of wealth).

The European parliamentary democracies are certainly an improvement over the authoritarian states many nations are seeking to put behind them, but they are inferior to the American model.

The same is true of the Asian aristocratic democracies.

Specifically, the parliamentary model of democracy gives far too much power to the legislative branch of government, with few separations, checks or balances.

The result is that there are hardly any limits to the powers of such governments. They simply do whatever the parliament wants, making it an Aristotelian oligarchy.

The people get to vote for their government officials, but the government can do whatever it chooses–and it is run by an upper class.

This is democratic government, but aristocratic society. The regular people in such a society become increasingly dependent on government and widespread prosperity and freedom decrease over time.

The Asian model is even worse. The governmental forms of democracy are in place, but in practice the very wealthy choose who wins elections, what policies the legislature adopts, and how the executive implements government programs.

The basic problem is that while the world equates freedom with democracy, it also equates democracy with only one piece of historical democracy–popular elections.

Nations that adopt the European model of parliamentary democracy or the Asian system of aristocratic democracy do not become societal democracies at all–but simply democratic aristocracies.

Democracy is spreading–if by democracy we mean popular elections; but aristocracy is winning the day.

Freedom–a truly widespread freedom where the regular people in a society have great opportunity and prosperity is common–remains rare around the world.

The Unpopular American Model

The obvious solution is to adopt the American model of democracy, as defined by leading minds in the American founding: limited, constitutional, representative, federal, and democratic in the societal sense where the regular people really do run the nation.

Unfortunately, this model is currently discredited in global circles and among the world’s regular people for at least three reasons:

1. The American elite is pursuing other models.

The left-leaning elite (openly and vocally) idealize the European system, while the American elite on the right prefers the Asian structure of leadership by wealth and corporate status.

If most of the intelligentsia in the United States aren’t seeking to bolster the American constitutional model, nor the elite U.S. schools that attract foreign students on the leadership track, it is no surprise that freedom-seekers in other nations aren’t encouraged in this direction.

2. The American bureaucracy around the world isn’t promoting societal democracy but rather simple political democracy–popular elections have become the entire de facto meaning of the term “democracy” in most official usage.

With nobody pushing for limited, constitutional, federal, representative democratic republics, we get what we promote: democratic elections in fundamentally class-oriented structures dominated by elite upper classes.

3. The American people aren’t all that actively involved as democratic leaders.

When the U.S. Constitution was written, nearly every citizen in America was part of a Town Council, with a voice and a vote in local government. With much pain and sacrifice America evolved to a system where every adult can be such a citizen, regardless of class status, religious views, gender, race or disability.

Every adult now has the opportunity to have a real say in governance. Unfortunately, we have over time dispensed with the Town Councils of all Adults and turned to a representative model even at the most local community and neighborhood level.

As Americans have ceased to participate each week in council and decision-making with all adults, we have lost some of the training and passion for democratic involvement and become more reliant on experts, the press and political parties.

Voting has become the one great action of our democratic involvement, a significant decrease in responsibility since early America.

We still take part in juries–but now even that power has been significantly reduced–especially since 1896.

In recent times popular issues like environmentalism and the tea parties have brought a marked increase of active participation by regular citizens in the national dialogue.

Barack Obama’s populist appeal brought a lot of youth into the discussion. The Internet and social media have also given more power to the voice of the masses.

When the people do more than just vote, when they are involved in the on-going dialogue on major issues and policy proposals, the society is more democratic–in the American founding model–and the outlook for freedom and prosperity brightens.

The Role of the People

Human nature being what it is, no people of any nation may be truly prepared for democracy.

But–human nature being what it is–they are more prepared to protect themselves from losses of freedom and opportunity than any other group.

Anti-democratic forces have usually argued that we need the best leaders in society, and that experts, elites and those with “breeding,” experience and means are most suited to be the best leaders.

But free democratic societies (especially those with the benefits of limited, constitutional, representative, and locally participative systems) have proven that the right leaders are better than the best leaders.

We don’t need leaders (as citizens or elected officials) who seem the most charismatically appealing nearly so much as we need those who will effectively stand for the right things.

And no group is more likely to elect such leaders than the regular people.

It is the role of the people, in any society that wants to be or remain free and prosperous, to be the overseers of their government.

If they fail in this duty, for whatever reason, freedom and widespread prosperity will decrease. If the people don’t protect their freedoms and opportunities, despite what Marx thought, nobody will.

No vanguard, party or group of elites or experts will do as much for the people as they can do for themselves. History is clear on this reality.

We can trust the people, in America and in any other nation, to promote widespread freedom and prosperity better than anyone else.

Two Challenges

With that said, we face at least two major problems that threaten the strength of our democratic republic right now in the United States.

First, only a nation of citizen-readers can maintain real freedom. We must deeply understand details like these:

  • The two meanings of democracy
  • The realities and nuances of ideas such as: limited, constitutional, federal, representative, locally participative, etc.
  • The differences between the typical European, Asian, early American and other models competing for support in the world
  • …And so on

In short, we must study the great classics and histories to be the kind of citizen-leaders we should be.

The people are better than any other group to lead us, as discussed above, but as a people we can know more, understand more, and become better leaders.

Second, we face the huge problem all great democratic powers have eventually faced: how to reconcile our democratic society at home with our imperialism abroad.

As George Friedman has argued, we now control a world empire larger than any in history, whether we want to or not.

Yet a spirit of democratic opportunity, entrepreneurial freedom, inclusive love of liberty, freedom from oppressive class systems, and promotion of widespread prosperity is diametrically opposed to the arrogant, selfish, self-elevating, superiority-complex of imperialism.

This very dichotomy has brought down some of the greatest free nations of history.

On some occasions this challenge turned the home nation into an empire, thus killing the free democratic republic (e.g. Rome).

Other nations lost their power in the world because the regular people of the nation did not reconcile their democratic beliefs with the cruelty of imperial dominance and force (e.g. Athens, ancient Israel).

At times the colonies of an empire used the powerful democratic ideals of the great power against them and broke away.

At times the citizens of the great power refused to support the government in quelling rebellions with which they basically agreed (e.g. Great Britain and its relations with America, India, and many other former colonies).

Many of the great freedom thinkers of history have argued against empire and for the type of democratic republic the American framers established–see for example Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristotle, the Bible, Plutarch, Tacitus, Augustine, Montaigne, Locke, Montesquieu, Gibbon, Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, and Madison, among others.

The Federalist mentions empire or imperialism 53 times, and not one of the references is positive.

In contrast, the main purpose of the Federalist Papers was to make a case for a federal, democratic republic.

Those who believe in American exceptionalism (that the United States is an exception to many of the class-oriented patterns in the history of nations) now face their greatest challenge.

Will America peacefully and effectively pull back from imperialism and leave dozens of nations successfully (or haltingly) running themselves without U.S. power?

Will it set its best and brightest to figuring out how this can be done? Or to increasing the power of empire?

Empire and Freedom

Some argue that the United States cannot divest itself of empire without leaving the world in chaos.

This is precisely the argument nearly all upper classes, and slave owners, make to justify their unprincipled dominance over others.

The argument on its face is disrespectful to the people of the world.

Of course few people are truly prepared to run a democracy–leadership at all levels is challenging and at the national level it is downright overwhelming.

But, again–the people are more suited to oversee than any other group.

And without the freedom to fail, as Adam Smith put it, they never have the dynamic that impels great leaders to forge ahead against impossible odds. They will never fly unless the safety net is gone.

The people can survive and sometimes even flourish without elite rule, and the world can survive and flourish without American empire.

A wise transition is, of course, the sensible approach, but the arrogance of thinking that without our empire the world will collapse is downright selfish–unless one values stability above freedom.

How can we, whose freedom was purchased at the price of the lives, fortunes and sacred honor of our forebears, and defended by the blood of soldiers and patriots in the generations that followed, argue that the sacrifices and struggles that people around the world in our day might endure to achieve their own freedom and self- determination constitute too great a cost?

The shift will certainly bring major difficulties and problems, but freedom and self-government are worth it.

The struggles of a free people trying to establish effective institutions through trial, error, mistakes and problems are better than forced stability from Rome, Madrid, Beijing, or even London or Washington.

America can set the example, support the process, and help in significant ways–if we’ll simply get our own house in order.

Our military strength will not disappear if we remain involved in the world without imperial attitudes or behaviors. We can actively participate in world affairs without adopting either extreme of isolationism or imperialism.

Surely, if the world is as dependent on the U.S. as the imperial-minded claim, we should use our influence to pass on a legacy of ordered constitutional freedom and learning self-government over time rather than arrogant, elitist bureaucratic management backed by military might from afar.

If Washington becomes the imperial realm to the world, it will undoubtedly be the same to the American people. Freedom abroad and at home may literally be at stake.

The future will be significantly impacted by the answers to these two questions:

Will the American people resurrect a society of citizen readers actively involved in daily governance?

Will we choose our democratic values or our imperialistic attitudes as our primary guide for the 21st Century?

Who are we, really?

Today we are part democracy, part republic, and part empire.

Can we find a way to mesh all three, even though the first two are fundamentally opposed to the third?

Will the dawn of the 22nd Century witness an America free, prosperous, strong and open, or some other alternative?

If the United States chooses empire, can it possibly retain the best things about itself?

Without the Manifest Destiny proposed by the Founders, what alternate destiny awaits?

Above all, will the regular citizens–in American and elsewhere–be up to such leadership?

No elites will save us. It is up to the people.

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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 : Aristocracy &Blog &Citizenship &Constitution &Foreign Affairs &Generations &Government &History &Leadership &Liberty &Politics &Postmodernism &Statesmanship

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.

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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.

 


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