The Founders’ vision of a free people exercising personal responsibility under a minimum set of laws has been corrupted by power-hungry progressives who see government as the answer to all problems in a futile search for utopia.
An understanding of this situation requires one to realize that the Progressive movement began as a response to the Gilded Age in which vast fortunes were made during a time of unprecedented growth and stood in stark contrast to the poverty of the average American. Like all good intentions, the Progressives sought to address the more pronounced injustices and inefficiencies of the socio-political system of the time with a belief in the ability of experts and in the efficiency of government intervention. Under Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, business trusts were broken up with increased regulation, the Panama Canal was completed, and passed the Pure Food and Drug Act to clean up the food and pharmaceutical industries.
These were noble and much needed efforts at the time, but once the more egregious injustices were addressed, attention turned to other lesser problems in an effort to extend the focus of government towards their solution. Thus was established the cycle of expanding government power to address increasingly minute problems that eventually crossed over into the realm of personal responsibility. We’ve seen this pattern replicated in the union model as workplace safety and arbitrary employment practices have been replaced by ever increasing pay and benefits packages to the detriment of both the unions and American manufacturing.
As has been pointed out numerous times, Americans don’t lose their freedoms wholesale, but rather a bit at a time through measures viewed as entirely reasonable on their own. However, when viewed in the aggregate, one can’t help but notice the loss of freedom and the gain of so little. The all too familiar pattern follows the same script: a progressive measure is introduced to address some supposed legal deficiency, progressives present statistics and studies proclaiming the deficiency to be a major unrealized problem threatening lives and property, the opposition warns that this is an intolerable loss of freedom to accomplish little, and a confused populace shrugs in the belief that it is powerless while the opposition accedes to the measure after receiving no public support in opposition.
After the major problems had been addressed by the progressives, and attention had turned to lesser problems, a way was needed to condition the populace into accepting the progressive vision without question as some pushback had developed in the fear that freedom would be eroded. This problem was solved with the introduction of social programs that began a cycle of dependency on the government by Americans discouraged and defeated by the Depression. Once Americans became dependent upon the government, they stopped caring about the morality of government or the loss of freedom and waited for their check every month. Government dependency is the antithesis of personal responsibility, eroding all sense of doing the right thing for the good of society and resulting in a narcissistic attitude of self-importance at the expense of all others.
America was not founded upon the belief that government could solve every problem or support every citizen. America was founded upon the belief that a free citizenry exercising personal responsibility guided by moral principles forged in the Judeo-Christian religious tradition would tend to obey the Golden Rule and require little legal oversight and thus little government. They envisioned a government only powerful enough to accomplish the basic task of defending America. They were repulsed by the thought that government would grow so powerful as to micromanage the lives of its citizens. To avoid this possibility, they included the Second Amendment as a way to insure that Americans had the ability to reclaim their freedom.
America’s Founding Fathers rebelled against Great Britain, the most powerful nation in the world, for acts that today seem so trivial as to beg the question of why. The colonists were taxed in minor ways to pay for their protection by Great Britain in what appears today as a most reasonable proposition, but was viewed as absolutely unacceptable at the time. These men risked their fortunes and their lives in a hopeless struggle against a powerful enemy for the sake of principle and we are the beneficiaries. We should be ashamed to have allowed so much of our freedom to be taken when it was purchased at so dear a cost. We cynically think of those who sacrifice as fools because we see so little caring by society.
Science and technology have advanced mankind by great strides through increased production that has led to the sustainment of larger populations able to enjoy significantly more leisure time. We have tended to fill this increased leisure time creating new laws that infringe on our liberty and increase our dependency on government in a vicious cycle that feeds upon itself. To break this cycle, we must rediscover the vision of our Founding Fathers and resolve to return our government to its fundamental purpose of protecting Americans. Our government exists to serve us; we don’t exist to serve our government. This was the fundamental difference between the government established by our Constitution and the governments by which it was preceded. Americans have come to fear their own government and see it as an obstacle to success. It is this perception we must change if there is any hope for the future of the American experiment in government.