Like the drunk who wakes up in an unfamiliar place, we wonder, “How did we get here?” We appear to be in America, but the landscape is unfamiliar.
According to the US Census Bureau, in the third quarter of 2008, approximately 45 percent of U.S. residents lived in households in which at least one individual received government benefits. In 2009, five million more people are collecting unemployment. Another six million are living in homes, but not paying their mortgages. Losses for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the FHA which will be paid by those diminishing few who aren’t yet on the government dole. (An astonishing 43.4 percent of Americans now pay zero or negative federal income taxes.) Meanwhile, the national debt doubles and triples as Congress and the president find more ways to spend money we don’t have.
An April 2009 Rasmussen Poll found only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is superior to socialism. Of the remaining 47%, 20 % preferred socialism to capitalism, 27% were unsure. Most disturbing, among adults under 30, 37% prefer capitalism, 33 percent prefer socialism and 30 percent are undecided.
That answers the “how did we get here” question.
Alexis De Tocqueville, with his usual prescience, understood the connection between a knowledgeable citizenry and the preservation of the republic: “It cannot be doubted that in the United States the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of the democratic republic; and such must always be the case….”
That instruction obviously ceased long ago. If this deficiency is to be addressed and the republic restored, parents must take responsibility for enlightening their children: the public school system being preoccupied by multiculturalism and other diversions. Similarly, if the nation is to be saved from the contagion that now ravishes Greece and much of Europe, adults must also be grounded in the Constitution.
The book, A Miracle that Changed the World: The 5000 Year Leap, by Cleon Skousen, provides that grounding. Each chapter explains the nature and intellectual antecedents of one of the 28 Principles of Freedom that inspired our Constitution. Skousen begins with the miracle, how adherence to those principles for 200 years brought about more progress than was made in the previous 5000 years.
The reader realizes that the American Constitution embodies an understanding of human nature, of history, philosophy and the essentials of nation building that contrasts sharply with the empty eloquence of those who want us to believe they have a better plan.
The Founders created a system of government strong enough to foster the growth of a young nation, but restrained from infringing on the natural rights of the people from whom its powers are drawn.
“No principle was emphasized more rigorously during the Constitutional Convention,” Skousen writes, “then the necessity of limiting the authority of the federal government. Not only was this to be done by carefully defining the powers delegated to the government, but the Founders were determined to bind down its administrators with legal chains codified in the Constitution.”
In Federalist No.15, Alexander Hamilton summarized the need for such restraints: “There is, in the nature of sovereign power, an impatience of control that disposes those who are invested with the exercise of it to look with an evil eye upon all eternal attempts to restrain or direct its operations…This tendency is not difficult to be accounted for. It has its origins in the love of power. Power controlled or abridged is almost always the rival and enemy of that power by which it is controlled or abridged.”
Those possessed by “an impatience to control” say the Constitution is an antiquated document that must be reinterpreted to accord with their more up-to-date wisdom. However, as Skousen points out, far from being outmoded, the Founders’ thinking on the issues of governance is as relevant as tomorrow’s newspaper. The point being that human nature does not change with the calendar.
Of special concern was the issue of national solvency. Skousen explains,
Article 1 of the Constitution authorizes the federal government to borrow in case of war or other emergencies, but the Founders “considered it a matter of supreme importance to get out of debt and enjoy complete solvency in order to prosper.”
Jefferson wrote, “The multiplication of public offices, increase of expense beyond income, growth and entailment of a public debt, are indications soliciting the employment of the pruning knife.”
James Madison warned against efforts to confuse and obfuscate with a deluge of words. “It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; or that they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow.”
The Founders also warned against the temptations of the welfare state in which government uses beneficent intentions to justify an assault on the constitutional prohibitions that protect the people’s liberties.
Samuel Adams specifically addressed the constitutional barriers to redistributing wealth. “The Utopian schemes of leveling (re-distribution of wealth) and a community of goods (central ownership of the means of production and distribution) are as visionary and impractical as those which vest all property in the Crown. These ideas are arbitrary and despotic, and in our government, unconstitutional.”
Skousen writes, ”One of the worst sins of government, according to the Founders, was the exercise of coercive taxing powers to take property from one group and give it to another.”
John Adams explained: “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist.”
The Founders, however, were realists and understood the limitations of even the best-designed government. Absent a morally strong electorate “no theoretical checks and no form of government can render us secure….” James Madison wrote.
In his Farewell Address, George Washington linked religion and morality saying, “Both reason and experience forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Contrary to those who claim that expelling religion from the publics square is required by the Constitution, the Founders believed religion to be the foundation of representative government. They reasoned that self-government requires an electorate predisposed to choosing the wisest, the most experienced, and the most morally sound individuals for public office.
Experienced, wise, morally sound, does anyone think that’s an accurate description of the present occupants of the houses of power?
The “How did we get here?” question has been answered. How to restore the America of the Founders’ intent is the message of Skousen’s book. It is an urgent message, for if we continue on our present course, regaining what we have surrendered may soon no longer be an option. We are required to elect to public office only those who will abide by the Constitution, not “reinterpret,” it and we, the people, must sufficiently inform ourselves to know the difference.