It’s not a difficult equation. In fact, it’s rather simple. We simply don’t remember any of it. No American citizen is alive to recall living under an all powerful monarch. Sure, we find it in history books and we see it in movies, but the real truth is we don’t remember what it’s like to live in tyranny. We’re fed the romantic versions of kings and queens living in luxurious courts, the music of Mozart soothing our ears while dancing La Volta, but we really don’t know. We don’t know what it’s like to live under the auspices of an almighty monarch who, with the snap of his/her fingers can end our existence, restrict what we can do, and essentially dominate our lives.
We’re getting a taste of it with Covid-19, a nasty bug from which over 99% of people will survive. This virus has opened the door for dictatorial measures imposed by elected officials, but many don’t seem to care. “Government, take care of me” has become the plea rather than “No thanks, I’ll take care of myself.” There is a bigger game at play here. This is about the fact that we Americans simply don’t know what it’s like to live under a dictatorial regime, and because we don’t, we are easily manipulated to think it’s ok, that government purports to have all the answers. The megalith can cure all our ills if only we would let it.
The problem, we’re told, is that we have too much independence, be that independence state or individual. Because of that independence we can’t coordinate anything. We’re told our ideas are so disparate that it makes forming the collective that much harder. Groupthink can’t be achieved and the ultimate goal of everyone rowing the boat in the same direction is not possible. Therefore, there must be a squelching of American independence. Free speech is bad. Speech that doesn’t conform to constantly changing norms is detrimental to the whole. Comply or be cancelled. Acquiesce or be targeted for re-education. We are not the sum of its parts, we are parts moving independently and because of that, will never fall in line, they say. So, the line must be erased and redrawn while we witness it happening and simply acquiesce.
The single greatest fear of the Founders of this nation was a powerful central government. They did everything they could to ensure government would not trample on the rights of the individual or the minority group. Even when President Washington became quite ill with pneumonia and Alexander Hamilton was prancing around Federal Hall lobbying members of Congress to favor his economic plan, he was feared gaining too much power. He was a master cajoler, a wonder at convincing people of his point of view and so his power grew. He became a danger in some people’s eyes, harkening back to the days of the first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole who gained his dominion in much the same way. 1
Should one take the time to study the papers and writings of the Founders as well as read liberally on the subject, the conclusion is quite clear: Any thought of too much government power was anathema to them. It was rejected out of hand and always at the forefront of their mind in deciding policy. They believed it was the individual that was more important and that person could make the best decisions for their lives better than government ever could. Of course they’d believe that as they remembered what it was like prior to the existence of the nation they’d created.
We don’t. We don’t let history speak to us because we don’t cherish it. We fail to heed the lessons it teaches because we see those very lessons as out of date, out of touch and not worthy of a consideration more than a glance. History is the handmaiden of time, and to many, those of us that study it little more than messengers without a voice.
The lessons our forefathers taught us are in danger of slipping into the abyss. Our children and theirs will not remember a time when government didn’t plan their life or provide for them. They will come to rely on what the government says they should, forgetting the immense power that resides within them to achieve because we allowed that flame to be extinguished in the name of safety, security and little risk. As Jefferson once said, “I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
The lessons of history are there, if only we listen.
1 Ron Chernow’s book Alexander Hamilton details this quite well in his chapter entitled Dr. Pangloss.