Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mark Steyn "Live Free or Die"

I receive Imprimis, a monthly journal of Hillsdale College. Hillsdale is somewhat unique in the academic scene. From its web site, "Hillsdale’s educational mission rests upon two principles: academic excellence and institutional independence." Hillsdale accepts absolutely no money in any form whatsoever from the Federal Government.

Most months, the content of Imprimis is an adaptation from a lecture or speech given at the college. In the April edition, the featured speaker was Mark Steyn, who, in the words of Wikipedia, is a "Canadian writer, political commentator and cultural critic." I don't know a whole lot about Mark Steyn, but I've enjoyed listening to him when I catch him periodically on one or another radio show while I'm in the car. He is the author of a book I plan to request from the library, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It.

I did like the adaptation of Mr. Steyn's speech, "Live Free or Die," in this month's Imprimis. Much of his speech is adapted from the above book, which apparently is based in part upon the ideas of Niccolo Machiavelli. This is kind of statement insurance, since the following quotes are highlights of the adaptation of a speech based on a book based in part upon a fifteenth century Florentine writer and statesman. Kind of hard to tell who or what I was quoting. But I'm pretty sure they are all from Mark Steyn. Some of the ideas originated with Machiavelli.

Regarding the title of the speech, "Live free or die", Mr. Steyn points out that the phrase, New Hampshire's state motto, is credited to the state's Revolutionary War hero, General John Stark. Surprisingly, General Stark did not use the phrase during a battle or time of intense debate over freedom. He wrote this phrase many years after the war to close a letter. That point struck Mr. Steyn as applicable to our day and age. It is not only during times of crises that one must hold to one's principles. According to Mr. Steyn, the phrase, "live free or die", is a "bald statement of the reality of our lives in the prosperous West. You can live as free men, but if you choose not to, your society will die."

From Machievelli, Steyn writes, "Indolence is the greatest enemy of a republic." Indolence, I had to check, according to the Mirriam Webster Online Dictionary, is "inclination to laziness : sloth."

Regarding the stunning trend toward European style socialism present in President Obama's recent budget, Mr Steyn has this to say. "The problem isn't the cost. These programs would still be wrong even if Bill Gates wrote a check to cover them each month. They're wrong because they deform the relationship between the citizen and the state. Even if there were no financial consequences, the moral and even spiritual consequences would still be fatal."

I like that above one, because it kind of summarizes the ideals behind much of modern conservatism. I've defended myself and conservatism in general many times against the accusation that conservatives, specifically those in the Republican party, are only concerned with the bottom line. With the cost of everything. Or put more blatantly, with MONEY. I dare not speak for the Republican party as a whole, but my conservative views are based upon ideals and principles. Social and humanitarian costs much more so than financial costs. Although certainly not a perfect match, usually the Republican platform most closely embodies these views.

Many were the voices during the cold war promoting the free market and denouncing Soviet style socialism. Forget the fact that this system just didn't work and that most of the citizens of the USSR were living in conditions far worse than what we Americans would consider abject poverty. One of the most compelling criticisms was that it is not healthy for the human spirit if all choices are made for one, for individuals to have access only to those services deemed appropriate by some civic institution, and worse yet, to have the rewards of one's labors confiscated to pay for this controlled (and broken) society.

Now we see many here in America welcoming steps toward this kind of system with open arms. How soon we forget.

Mr. Steyn delineates four stages to the "enervation of free peoples." I had to look up enervation. From the Free Online Dictionary, enervation means "to weaken or destroy the strength or vitality of."

Stage one, "The benign paternalist state promises to make all those worries about mortgages, debt, and health care disappear."

Stage two, "The state as guarantor of all your basic needs becomes increasingly comfortable with regulating your behavior." Here Mr. Steyn continues, "Free peoples who were once willing to give their lives for liberty can be persuaded very quickly to relinquish their liberties for a quiet life." Mr. Steyn expresses well the ludicrousness of this situation, that we want to be able "to choose from hundreds of cereals at the supermarket" or "from millions of songs" for our iPods, but we don't want to hang on to any choice in our health care system. We appear to want it all planned and provided for us.

Stage three, "When the populace has agreed to become wards of the state, it is a mere difference of degree to start regulating their thoughts."

Stage four, "in which dissenting ideas and even words are labeled as hatred."

I am sure we can all think of examles through which we see these stages progressing within American society. Throughout the article, Mr. Steyn cites several examples from policies and events in America, Britain and Canada. He gives statistics to show that although America is several years behind the European nations and Canada, we are well along on this road to the "enervation of a free people."

I encourage you to read the entire article. And give some thought to subscribing to Imprimis. It is a quick read that one can easily fit into a busy life. Although on occasion I am perplexed or even dismayed by something I read in it, I am always challenged to think through and evaluate my own positions.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

On Apathy and Big Government

From National Service, Political Socialization, and Citizenship by Eric B. Gorham.
An apathetic public also abdicates responsibility for solving problems to representatives and administrators (who in a democracy, are checked by an active public).
A good reason to make the effort to learn and be involved in the political process.

When fewer and fewer citizens care, when progressively more voters feel alienated, when everyday people feel as though their voice can't be heard, big government is the natural outcome. The elected officials who lack the input of their constituents or who only hear the input of a certain segment of their constituency will not make decisions that reflect the desires of those they represent. Only those whose voices are loudest.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Founding Principles

In this series on Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin, I'll save Mr. Levin's definition of liberalism for the next post. In his book, he introduces how he will use the term, then segues to a short discussion of various issues the Founding fathers needed to address within the framework of the government they were implementing.

The main issue Levin wants his readers to remember is that the Founders were very careful to protect the populace, the individual citizens and the separate states from an over-reaching national government. A main goal was to give the federal government just enough power to protect the citizenry and to ease some of the interstate difficulties encountered under the Articles of Confederation. These were mainly issues of currency, foreign policy, and trade policy.

The Founders also operated within a world view which presupposed both a set of moral principles and the tendency of human nature to seek power over others.

Through the compromises and protections that are included in the Constitution and the first ten amendments (the Bill of Rights) the Framers strove to balance governmental authority and individual liberty.

The government was to be divided into three separate branches providing the checks and balances we all hopefully learned about in grade school civics lessons. The Framers gave specific powers to the Federal Government. Outside of that each state made its own decisions and provided its own services. And the Bill of Rights was added to protect against specific evils the implementation of which might have been open to interpretation in the body of the Constitution itself. The Founders also made possible a path for future changes by way of amendments. But because they understood how fickle pure democracy can be, even referring to it as mob rule, they made ratification of these amendments challenging.

This basic nature of the constitution was understood and for the most part, operated within for over one hundred years. I am always amazed at how James Madison and the others foresaw so many potential difficulties and put together a document with the tensile strength to withstand each challenge that might arise. A document that still serves other countries as a basis for their own constitutional governments. .

But during the twentieth century the country somehow lost sight of these Founding Principles. There has been one assault after another on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. A bloated Executive branch has created layers of regulation without the input of the Legislative branch. The Judiciary has become a forum to reinterpret both the constitution itself and older laws that one judge or another thought ought to mean something new. And the members of Legislative houses have abdicated their constitutional responsibilities in favor of whatever ploys will ensure their re-election.

There is a term from physics that goes along with tensile strength that suits well the current state of our nation. If I remember correctly, tensile strength is the measure of the elasticity of a material, how far it can be twisted, turned, stretched, compressed, or bent before breaking or rupturing. Further, yield strength is the point at which the material is permanently misshapen by the twisting, turning, stretching, compressing, or bending. Because of the constant abuses against our founding document, I fear we might be fast approaching its yield strength?

New Author I Really Like

He's not really a new author, but new to me. It's Minnesota author, Vince Flynn. He writes political thrillers. He researches his stuff well. Although he began writing them in a pre-9-11 world, so many of the things he addresses ring true to what the world has learned during and since that fateful day.

Except for his first book, the novels revolve around Mitch Rapp, a guy independently contracted by CIA to perform all sorts of amazing feats.

I've read Flynn's first three books. I have another here waiting that I am not letting myself start just yet. And the next one is requested and on it's way through our local library.

Besides the suspenseful plots, Flynn creates memorable, endearing characters. Some really stupid maddening ones, too, but still realistic, multi-faceted personalities.

Flynn's books are somewhat similar to those written by Tom Clancy, with a few points that make them more suitable to my lifestyle.
  • Similar to Clancy, Flynn uses lots of detail, but it is not so overwhelming as Clancy's. I never have too much extra concentration, so I've not read many of Clancy's since I started having children.
  • Flynn's books are also shorter, so they fit in my discretionary time better. I remember when I used to read Tom Clancy's books, because of the incredibly suspenseful plots, I never dared to start them unless I knew I had the luxury to just sit and finish.
  • I think Flynn's books have less foul language and fewer "adult" situations than Clancy's. I don't remember Clancy's earlier books being too "gritty," but the last one I read really turned me off because of the way in which he described his "adult" situations. More like "frat house" descriptions. I think it was The Bear and the Dragon. Getting back to Vince Flynn, his first book I did not let 14 year old son read. Compared to most adult fiction, it was not terrible, but I still didn't want Matt to read it. The second and third, I didlet him read, but I discussed a few of the books' situations with him. Not perfect, but so much better than most adult books and even better than many young adult ones.
And one last thing I think is just kind of neat. Flynn's first novel was self published. I really admire the guts it would take to do something like that and the skill required to make it a successful venture.