Commentary: What Is Being Lost?

I am not moved to write commentaries for the site very often, but I've been move of late and can't seem to hold back. As I watch events in the United States unfold, I can't help feeling that something is being lost. There's a tradition in the U.S. that just seems to be bleeding away, an ounce at a time. The feeling in the country is taking on a new complexion, and I'm not comfortable. Something is being lost. Something important. Something foundational to the character and culture of the country.

In an interactive form of government such as ours, the relationship between the people and the government can often be described as synergistic. What the one does affects the other, and vice-versa, often more than we recognize or want to believe. That interaction can be positive or negative. We retain for ourselves rights and freedoms, which attaches to us the initiative to act in the sphere of influence governed by those rights. To yield the initiative to the government is to yield the freedom to act as we wish in regards to the attached freedom. But the populace today seems to feel that they can get something for nothing, that they can ask the government to act for them in increasingly intrusive ways without loosing freedoms. The citizens of our country increasingly want the government to protect them against what Shakespeare called the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” while believing that the freedom to strive to outrageous and audacious things will not be abridged.

It doesn't work that way. Freedom and consequences are married in an ironclad bond that, with respect, makes a Catholic marriage seem slippery. To be free to succeed is to be free to fail. To be free to excel is to be free to underachieve. In fact, the very meaning of “try” contains both the options of success and failure. And life and humanity are bound up in the concept of trying. That relationship extends beyond mere human endeavor and into the realm of circumstance as well. How? If we ask the government to protect us from the physical circumstances around us, we yield to it the power to control whatever is necessary to provide the protection to us, ie., the freedom to take the steps we choose for ourselves to protect ourselves and our families.

But even more, as we ask of our government that it protect us more and more, we yield something deeper within ourselves that is hard to get back and to foster in ourselves. We could see this quality being lost in New Orleans when the hurricanes hit though it was retained in the little towns of Slidell and Pass Christian in Mississippi that were hit as hard as, or even harder than, New Orleans. New Orleans and its citizenry were unable and unwilling to make their own decisions, evacuate themselves, take care of each other, and plot a course to the future. They ended up ravaged and railing against the Federal Government for not preventing the results of the natural catastrophe. The little towns in the Mississippi Gulf evacuated themselves, reached out to one another, and then were helped to rebuild largely by private organizations and individuals.

So what is the quality that is being lost? It is self-sufficiency. It is independence. It is personal responsibility. And it is personal initiative. As we ask more of our country and yield more freedom and more of our income through taxes, we can't help but also be infected with a spirit of entitlement. And just as the other qualities are locked together in a way that can't be broken, entitlement crowds out all of these qualities that have, since the founding of the country, been the backbone of its citizens. The very first battle of the Revolutionary War was fueled by the individual initiative of the citizens of the small hamlets surrounding Boston who decided they would no longer stand the privations and predations of a tyrannical government attempting to dictate the terms, limits, and possibilities of their lives.

We the People must resolve to take our own destiny into our own hands, and once again reduce our governments to the status of our servants.