What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: TheAirstreamGuy
Man prefers to delegate to others that which he considers unworthy of his time. Generally prone to seek recreation and relaxation before toil and travail, he must of necessity prioritize his duties and tasks and determine how his time will be spent. In doing so, he ranks these activities according to the importance he feels they merit. This selective process often results in the outsourcing of individual political responsibility.
Frederic Bastiat once wrote that “Between [man’s] destitution and the satisfaction of his wants there is a multitude of obstacles, which it is the goal of labor to surmount.” (Economic Sophisms, p. 185) The labor Bastiat mentions is the nature of human action; man works so that he may satisfy himself with that which he desires most.
In isolation, man alone must satisfy his many wants. Hungry without food, he must plant and cultivate a harvest. Cold without clothing, he must spin and weave. Vulnerable without shelter, he must gather materials to construct a suitable home. Solitude in this respect becomes tiresome, with each day’s activities focused mainly on subsistence and survival.
When he abandons his solitude and enters a market environment, man finds himself able to specialize in a craft and be compensated by the services of others. Through such a division of labor, the carpenter is able to procure food, water, and any other basic need he may lack, without having to directly labor for such items.
As he thus focuses on and develops a specialty, man tends to prioritize, and hence limit, the various ways in which he may spend his time. Choosing among the roles of family man, artisan, politician, business owner, community leader, activist, volunteer, nurturer, religious servant, lecturer, etc., he must define what roles he will assume and fulfill. Time is a precious commodity; he therefore considers his priorities and arranges his schedule as he sees fit.
In such a process, the roles with little to no return on investment are either ignored, outsourced, or left to others. One such role that often falls along the wayside is that of “informed voter”.
The role of informed voter, contrary to conventional wisdom, is not passive nor superficial. It is interrogative, proactive, and persistent, for it requires a constant attention to current events and policies. This role is assumed by the man who realizes that he, being one of “we the people”, wields considerable influence and power in the destiny of his nation.
Of such men, Thomas Paine wrote:
“In the representative system, … every man is a proprietor in government, and considers it a necessary part of his business to understand. It concerns his interest, because it affects his property. He examines the cost, and compares it with the advantages; and above all, he does not adopt the slavish custom of following what in other governments are called leaders.” (Thomas Paine, via Quoty)
Implied in the role of informed voter is the idea of civil service—the willingness to sacrifice time and effort to contribute to the community. An indolent informed voter is no better than the ignorant one—both do nothing to improve their surroundings and influence the course of action. Few people, it seems, see the value in civil service.
Through daily labor in his career and other assumed roles, man is keenly aware of the competition for his time and energy. Most of these activities bring an immediate and visible benefit, thus enticing the individual to choose them over others that yield a lesser return. As a husband and father, man is blessed with loving interaction among family members each day. As a day laborer, he is able to bring home money with which to buy food and supplies. As a churchgoer, he is able to feel peace in his life and enjoy the association of fellow believers.
Civil service, however, does not usually provide such immediate gratification and benefit. George Bernard Shaw is quoted as having said “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” The responsibility of which Shaw spoke requires endurance, vision, and patience. Its reward comes after periods of toil and opposition, when one finally sees the cause of liberty advanced, or the general welfare increased. Too few individuals have the stamina to altruistically and voluntarily work towards this end.
Certain roles and responsibilities in life may be delegated to others without significant problems. One may hire a maid to clean, or a tutor to instruct one’s children. Negative consequences inevitably result, however, when this delegation of responsibility leads to a complete detachment of care; neglect produces ineptitude and ignorance. If the maid becomes autonomous enough that the entire house becomes reorganized and redecorated, the landlord may have trouble finding his belongings or might worry about theft. If the tutor is given free reign to teach the child, incorrect ideas and values may find themselves ingrained in that child’s mind after a short time.
Worse yet is the widespread neglect towards civil service. Government being the organized collective force, it behooves each individual—the basic unit of government—to be aware of current issues, and, where needed, maintain an active role therein. This duty is the common lot of all those who enjoy the liberties they are afforded. As Judge Robert H. Jackson once opined, “It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.” (Robert H. Jackson, via Quoty)
Those who abdicate or ignore their political duties indirectly delegate them to another. For this reason, neglected political power is outsourced to those who assume control—usually elected leaders or influential activists. By outsourcing their political responsibility to another individual or organization, man loses the opportunity to effect change and steer the course of events as he might prefer. It is ironic, then, that those who complain the loudest about the current state of affairs are often those who do nothing to change them. Edmund Burke commented wisely on this matter when he said that “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” (Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents, 1770)
Noting this necessity of righteous and moral association, Congressman Ron Paul spoke of the need to speak up and speak out in the political arena:
“Let it not be said that no one cared, that no one objected once it’s realized that our liberties and wealth are in jeopardy. A few have, and others will continue to do so, but too many—both in and out of government—close their eyes to the issue of personal liberty…”
Despite the many affections for his time, man must prioritize wisely and assume those roles that not only will provide an individual return on investment, but also will create a legacy and secure a future for his posterity that will afford them greater liberties and opportunities. Present political responsibility must not be sacrificed for activities of lesser universal import, nor outsourced to others who have an equal responsibility of their own.
It is the duty of each child of the Constitution to be, as Paine said, a “proprietor in government”. Such a societal structure will foster the association of the good, as Burke recommended, and ensure that the flame of liberty burns bright for generations to come.