Personal freedom is only possible when citizens exercise personal responsibility.
America has seen a steady decline in the exercise of personal responsibility ever since the Baby Boomers rebelled in the 1960s against the values of their parents, America’s Greatest Generation who suffered through the Great Depression and won World War II. This generation, so well-acquainted with the hardships of poverty and war and who demonstrated such a high level of personal responsibility in dealing with these hardships, were suddenly being told by their privileged children that their values were no longer relevant. These Baby Boomers were privileged precisely because their parents sought to spare them the hardships they had struggled so mightily to endure. In doing so, the Greatest Generation merely fostered a sense of entitlement among their children which manifested itself in a narcissistic attitude that places self-fulfillment above personal responsibility.
The Founding Fathers designed a radical new form of government in which citizens would regulate their own behavior and greatly reduce the need for government to micromanage their affairs. Americans would be allowed the greatest amount of personal freedom with the understanding that they practice personal responsibility so as to tread lightly among their fellow citizens also enjoying their personal freedom. Americans had the right to do a great many things, but it was understood that these things were not always the right thing to do and personal responsibility was relied upon to make the proper determinations. Government was only to intervene in those circumstances where clashes in personal liberty could not be resolved at the personal level.
This system worked well for a long time and government remained small as Americans practiced the personal responsibility their parents and social institutions had instilled within them. However, the twentieth century saw great social upheaval in the form of industrialization and war which eroded the power of social institutions to instill personal responsibility and contributed to the fraying of the American social fabric. As Americans drifted away from situations which grounded them in traditional values, they began to become comfortable with the idea that the satisfaction of their desires was more important than respecting the freedom of their fellow citizens.
The streak of individuality that has always made America so strong was corrupted into a self-centered worldview. Gradually, the notion of doing unto others by respecting their rights and demanding the reciprocation of this respect that had allowed this individuality gave way to demands that others tolerate behavior outside the norm without complaint.
Homosexuals tired of being picked on by police took to the streets to protest their unfair treatment as American citizens before the law. The result of treating homosexuals as second-class citizens has been the repeal of sodomy laws, repeal of the ban on homosexuals openly serving in the military, the overrepresentation of homosexuals in the political arena, the legitimacy of homosexuality throughout American culture, and an attack on traditional marriage. Despite protests to the contrary, these actions have weakened personal responsibility by contributing to the idea that any and every sexual deviancy is acceptable and reinforced the idea that citizens have little responsibility to respect the rights of their fellow Americans. Homosexuality is wrong from both moral and biological standpoints, but also wrong is the attitude that the rights of homosexuals for equal treatment under the law can be trampled by those opposed to their lifestyle.
By showing contempt for homosexuals as a group, Americans failed to practice personal responsibility by respecting the rights of their fellow citizens and homosexuals compounded this error by failing to respect the rights of those showing contempt. This situation is true of blacks and other minorities and any group whose personal liberty was not respected through personal responsibility. America’s social problems can be traced back to this failure to respect the rights of others through the practice of personal responsibility.
Getting back to the fraying of America’s social fabric, the pushback resulting from this failure to respect the rights of others through the practice of personal responsibility has forced the government to intercede with increasing frequency to resolve those conflicts Americans could not resolve at the personal level. As Americans see the decline in personal responsibility threatening their personal liberty, they increasingly turn to government to legislate these protections. The social fabric is further strained as a vicious cycle of increasing decline in personal responsibility and increasing legislation to mitigate this decline ensues. Meanwhile, government increases in size and power, further threatening personal liberty.
Is personal behavior in the privacy of one’s own home between consenting adults really no business of society? Is there no behavior that is so repulsive as to warrant its forbiddance? Is every behavior acceptable given enough time to get comfortable with the idea of its practice? The notion that society doesn’t have an obligation to regulate personal behavior is ludicrous. Americans have perverted the notion of personal freedom by subverting the idea of personal responsibility. We no longer police our actions through personal responsibility, and the government is unable to protect everything without completely eliminating personal liberty.
Liberals would have us believe that morality can’t be legislated, but nothing is further from the truth. Morality is the foundation of laws prohibiting murder, rape, robbery, fraud, theft, and assault as specified in the Judeo-Christian teachings of the Ten Commandments. Morality can certainly be legislated, but personal responsibility can not. No compilation of laws can ensure ethical or responsible behavior, but society must exercise constant vigilance in promoting these behaviors and training its citizens in their practice through ingrained reinforcement. The failure of citizens to practice personal responsibility can’t be reclaimed through legislation.
The Internet has allowed people to explore areas of immorality previously unavailable on a large scale. Ideas that once repulsed society to the point that they remained unthinkable, have become available as Internet fodder to the point that people are becoming numb to their ability to shock. Television continues to sink to the lowest common denominator as Americans get over their ability to be shocked and prurient content becomes the norm. America continues to morph into a modern day Sodom & Gomorrah as once outrageous and shameful behavior ceases to shock and becomes acceptable. When everything is acceptable, then nothing can be forbidden. This includes the sexual exploitation of children, the abortion of unwanted fetuses, and the ability of the strong and well-connected to exploit the weak.
Americans used to be able to agree to disagree on contentious issues, thereby resolving them on a personal level without resorting to legislation that eroded the freedom of all Americans in the vain pursuit of protecting their rights. We need to regain this ability if we ever hope to reclaim our liberty from an expansive government more interested in micromanaging our lives than protecting our liberty. We need to learn to better live together respecting the rights of our fellow citizens while not always agreeing with their beliefs or practices. We need to agree that certain behaviors destroy the fabric of society and should be off-limits in a bid to strengthen our morality along with our respect to others. Only by learning to live together can we shrink the size of government, reclaim our personal liberty, and restore America’s place of preeminence in the world as a moral beacon of freedom.