21 November 2011

Quote for today on self-reliance, politics, and government

The punishment, which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government, is to live under the government of worse men. – Plato

First, let me say that I'm not advocating any particular party or agenda in this post.

I recognize that we all have our own deep-seated political beliefs. If I advocated a particular point of view, you'd either be nodding your head in agreement or stop reading at some point.

In many ways, people thoroughly embracing a political party (and its viewpoints) like this has fulfilled the prophetic words of George Washington in his Farewell Address in 1796. In that address, Washington states that the "spirit of party ...  agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection."

Basically, he's pointing out that political parties: tend to create an us-versus-them mentality between groups and/or regions; can raise false alarms among the people; and even promote riots and insurrection (some of more radical/violent elements of the current "Occupy" protests seem to be examples of the latter point).

However, note that, while political parties may not be healthy for our republic, that does not excuse any citizen from their responsibility to participate in politics and government.

So, how does this relate to self-reliance? That's a fair question. To answer it, let's first look at another passage from George Washington's Farewell Address:
The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, 'till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole People is sacredly obligatory upon all.
In this quote, Washington points out that we Americans can collectively shape our government, but also that the resultant government is then binding on all citizens.

This the leads us to the the initial quote by Plato, above. Discussion and participation in politics is not obligatory, but living under the resulting government is. Thus, as Plato points out, those who don't participate in shaping our government are condemned to live under the rules established by those who do.

What's more, both Thomas Jefferson and Alexis de Tocqueville (an early observer of American democracy) stressed that people could best learn how to govern themselves and remain true citizens by participating in local politics.

Note that they emphasized "local" politics. That's not because national (Federal) government or politics are less important. Rather, they stressed the local because our form of government was originally designed to be bottom-up; the voice and will of the people is supposed to shape local government, which in turn shapes state government, and then the federal government.

So, let's bring this back around to self-reliance again. Part of a self-reliant lifestyle is having the means to provide for yourself and the ability to choose to do so.

America's founding fathers recognized this, which is why they established a republic that (originally) gave a tremendous amount of control to local governments. The resulting Constitution also provided for limitations, as well as checks and balances, on the federal government that were intended to restrict its control to only those things that couldn't be executed as effectively on a local basis (e.g., creation of interstate roads, defense of the country, and so on).

So, the very liberty that the Founders intended for us can best be kept through more local governance, and a smaller government overall. Of course, achieving that means that all American citizens must stay knowledgeable about important political issues, and express themselves wherever appropriate (including at the ballot box).

Let's conclude with a related story from the writing of the Constitution:

Outside Independence Hall when the Constitutional Convention of 1787 ended, Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?"

With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, "A republic, if you can keep it."

My question to you is, can we?


  1. In its current form it is inverted and completely corrupted, it no longer represents the people, it has been infiltrated by special interests. It needs to be abolished and completely rebuilt from a local level.

    There is so much that needs to be discussed, so much dialog that needs to be engaged on so many levels, that it can not be properly executed from a comment on a blog post.

    A Quote from Albert Einstein comes to mind:

    "It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."

    To me it means that we are spiritually bankrupt, we need to remember who we are, and remember our ancestors who lived as part of the world and never took more then they needed from the earth because they knew that they were connected to everything, perhaps this is a starting place (again).

  2. Very well said. It is a thing I often lament, that we, the People have through our ignorance of and ambivalence toward our great civil legacy have allowed those who hunger for power to seize, abuse and retain that power. Our Founding Fathers would be rightfully appalled by what we have allowed to become of our liberties, as well as how lightly most seem to hold them.

  3. isurvivalskills, thanks for stopping by, and for commenting!

    You're right that that this is a complex topic, but it is one that needs to be discussed. Not argued over, but discussed and encouraged.

    I also agree that, overall, there is a spiritual and moral bankruptcy that is eating away at American society. As John Adams said, "Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

  4. Thanks for your comments too, Brandon. Well said!

    Your points put me in mind of a Thomas Jefferson quote: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

    Alas, too many never learn that the should be vigilant.