- The problem
- A first step to a solution
- The second step to a solution
- Afterword, and For more information about these questions
(1) The Problem
America needs reform, as our citizens become passive consumers of government services. Become sheep, unable to make the mental and moral effort required to run the Constitutional machinery.
Under a republican form of government the citizenry supposedly accepts the responsibility for managing its own affairs, but over the last quarter of a century the heirs to the American fortune have lost interest in the tiresome business of self-government. Rather than vote or read the Constitution – a document as tedious as the trust agreements that the family lawyers occasionally ask them to sign — the heirs prefer to go to Acapulco or Aspen to practice macrobiotic breathing. They have better things to do with their lives than to be bothered with the details of preserving their freedom. They spend their time making themselves beautiful, holding themselves in perpetual readiness for the incarnations promised by the dealers in cosmetics and religion.
… By abdicating their authority and responsibility, the sovereign people also relinquish their courage.
— From “The Precarious Eden”, published in Money and Class in America, Lewis Lapham (1988)
Unfortunately, the class that has led America — and done so well during our first two centuries — appears to have lost interest in the project. They prefer to skim the profits off the top, and hope the ship drifts along in the trade lane (and stays off the rocks). Reform must come from us, not them.
Who and what is America? How is it possible to sustain the promise of democracy without the revenue to pay for all the degrees of subsidy and entitlement? If the federal bureaucracy in Washington is incompetent as well as corrupt, is it because the constitutional machinery has broken down, or because the ruling and possessing classes had decided that the practice of democratic government was both a risk and a luxury that they were no longer willing to finance?
… The task of restoring belief in the democratic idea — as opposed to promoting the ritual fictions of sham democracy made of Fourth of July speeches and editorials in USA Today — presupposes the collaboration of an oligarchy that sees some advantage in the enterprise.
— From “Democracy at Bay”, published in The Wish for Kings, Lewis Lapham (1993)
(2) The first step to a solution
It’s not a new discussion, and has obsessed Europe’s Left for generations. The form of their discussion is foreign to us, but IMO we can learn much from it — by ripping it free from its original context, much as America’s Founders did with the political theory of their time.
Weber points us toward Nietzsche as the common source for serious thinkers of the twentieth century. He also tells us what the single fundamental issue is: the relation between reason, or science, and the human good. When he speaks of happiness and the last man, he does not mean that the last man is unhappy, but that his happiness is nauseating. An experience of profound contempt is necessary in order to grasp our situation, and our capacity for contempt is vanishing.
Weber’s science presupposes this experience, which we would call subjective. After having encountered it in Nietzsche, he spent the greater part of his scholarly life studying religion in order to understand the non-contemptible, those who esteem or revere and are therefore not self-satisfied, those who have values …
— From The Closing of the American Mind, chapter “Values”, Allan Bloom (1987)
The first step is not knowledge. Not logic. But rage, contempt at what we have become. From that other things can flow, good or bad depending on our character.
“Anger is easy. Anger at the right person, at the right time, for the right reason, is difficult.” — Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, book IV, chapter 5 (lightly paraphrased)
“Telemachus, now is the time to be angry.” — Odysseus, when the time came to deal with the Suitors. From the movie The Odessey (1997)
In this case the time is now. The reason is the preservation of our nation. The target is ourselves, how we have become less than we were. Less than we should be. Less than we can be.
This is the opposite of most proposals offered today, which suggest blaming some combination of the world, the rich, the poor, terrorists, foreigners, or whatever. Or our leaders, who don’t kiss our boo-boos and cut the cake unfairly. Everybody is responsible, except us. Folks proposing such views suggest that we adopt the attitude of alarmed cattle. Or mice.
(3) The second step to a solution
The second step: accepting responsibility for our fate, our lives. Others might be enemies or obstacles, but we must stand upright to begin walking the road to reform.
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For more information from the FM site
To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp interest these days:
- About America – how can we reform it?
- Financial crisis – what’s happening? how will this end? – see section 7: “Theft pretending to be solutions”
- Good news about America, a collection of articles!
Posts about America — are we sheep?
- Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
- de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
- The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
- We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
- This crisis will prove that Americans are not sheep (unless we are), 8 January 2009
- About security theater, a daily demonstration that Americans are sheep, 25 January 2009
- Are we citizens? Or peasants?, 21 May 2009
Posts on the FM site about solutions, ways to reform America:
- Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III – reclaiming the Constitution, 3 January 2008
- Obama might be the shaman that America needs, 17 July 2008
- Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008
- Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
- Fixing America: shall we choose elections, revolt, or passivity?, 16 August 2008
- Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008
- Fixing America: the choices are elections, revolt, or passivity, 18 August 2008
- What happens next? Advice for the new President, part one., 17 October 2008
- What to do? Advice for the new President, part two., 18 October 2008
- How to stage effective protests in the 21st century, 21 April 2009
- Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal, 23 April 2009