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.


madhenmom said...

Good post, Mary. I've been appreciating the thoughtfulness in your recent posts (not that your previous ones weren't thoughtful - you know what I mean). I guess I've been feeling too enervated myself to comment. :)

It is discouraging how lazy it seems our country is becoming. I think back to the CNN reporter at the tea party who was brushing aside the dad's arguments with, "But aren't you happy you're getting $400." Apparently the price for selling your soul and your children's future is $400.

I get discouraged, but, I take comfort in the number of parents who are diligently raising their children to think and to be citizens. And, of course, the fact that God is in control.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen this WSJ article re: Hillsdale College?

I keep messing up signing in using my google acct. so I'm going anonymous.


theMom said...

No Char, I hadn't seen it. I've got it loading right now. Thanks.

Re difficulties, I think there is some glitch about leaving comments. Some blogs I have no trouble. But ever since we started our private blog, I can't leave messages on any of yours or Madeline's. And I can't leave messages on Louisa's or Joe's either. So there must be some cookie thing or something. I am not techno-saavy enough to even think about how to fix it. I just go anonymous or send an e-mail. I'm glad to hear I'm not alone in the comment difficulty thing. :-)