Where People Live

Oh, post at Katherine Coble’s place, how I love thee!  Your beauty is beyond compare; you shine your light on my darkened world.  I am compelled, oh, fair post, to bend to one knee and ask you to be mine for the rest of my life.

But I am just a pipe fitter, a lowly common man with dirt under my nails; my abode is dingy and my life rough.  You, my fair post, do not deserve me or the life I could give you.  I cannot in good conscience, ask you to leave your ivory tower and marry me.  You are simply too perfect to sully yourself by putting yourself where I live.

In case you missed it, Kat’s been having a dustup with Ned Williams over some very political statements he made about the Rally For Life.  I agree with her totally that Ned’s approach, at the very least, does no good.  They volleyed in the comments at both places, then Katherine went in a new direction and posted the object of my affection described above.  It is simply the most articulate, compelling case for libertarianism that I have ever read.  I’ve literally read it four times.  Like a fair maiden, I cannot stop looking at it.  It had me at “hello”.

Yet, at the same time, it reminds me why I am not a libertarian.  I’m not good enough.  This is going to take a minute, so hang with me.

I ruffle a lot of feathers because I believe in American exceptionalism.  The USA is simply, in every term measureable, the greatest nation ever on the face of the earth.  Yet, we are not great because of our military or nuclear weaponry.  We are not great because of our behemoth consumer-oriented economy.  And no, Alexis de Tocqueville, America is not great because America is good.  Other nations have all of these features, yet they lag far behind.

America is great because Americans are the most vibrant, creative people on the face of the planet.  Want a widget built to your exact specifications?  By all means, hire a German.  Want the widget redesigned within pre-set parameters?  You’re better off going with the Japanese.  Want someone to think of a new kind of widget never before imagined by mankind, marketed in new, creative ways?  Want to find a way to make this fit into that, using only this?  You’re going to need an American for that job.

America is great because its people are so vibrant and creative.  America’s people are that way because they are the most free the world has ever seen.

This is why I love Kat’s post so much.  She gets it!

Yet, as wonderful as it is, I don’t think the underlying idea, in its purest form, can really exist when applied to where people live.

“Europe” – the idea, not the continent, has always been out there since the founding of the USA.  There has always been that significant “other”, the counterweight to American independence, they lifestyle of government ordered, sheltered lives.  For good or ill, Americans have always measured themselves in contradistinction to Europe.  There have always been Americans who envy Europe, who wish to model America on the European model.

Yet, they have always been in the minority.  Most Americans have looked at Europeans throughout our history and thought their lives a little TOO ordered, not free enough, grey, drab, boring.  Americans have consistenly prefered risk, opportunity, and the freedom to be creative.  Whenever cries of “we need government protection!” have arisen, America always had men (I mean mankind, Aunt B) who would stand up and cry Freedom.

This is where Kat and I part ways.  I don’t believe they make men like that anymore.

I believe we’ve reached a critical point in our history, where probably half the nation is Europhile.  Our side, the side of opportunity and freedom, had its last, shining moment when Ronald Reagan was president.  He was the last high-profile politician who could stand in the face of hysterical cries of nanny-staters, ignore them with a cheerful optimism, and steer the country toward  more freedom, not less.

But his work was left unfinished, and there was no one to take the reigns when he left.  Since then, there is no other way to put it: our side lost.  Now, the argument for every single bill run through congress is framed in terms of “protection”.  Somehow, every single expansion of government is seen as “saving children’s lives”.  Oppose that pre-school initiative? Children will die because of you!  Oppose a tax hike?  You’re killing the children!

And, since we don’t make Great men anymore who value freedom above reputation, and the men we do have don’t want to be seen as mean child-harmers, the best the Right can do is try to limit the damage. 

And if you value freedom, this is where the battle is.  The other side has already captured the ground where libertarianism lies.  They won that battle.  You can rail against it, you can throw precious footsoldiers into enemy territory where they will be slaughtered, or you fight the battle where the front lines are.  You fight the cause of freedom where people live.

And right now, people live in Europe-lite.  One look at the aftermath of Katrina told us just how far we’ve come.  For whatever reason, “government”, for a short time, was unable to be present.  And my tears at the time were mostly for my country: to see Americans so helpless that they had no idea what to do without government not only protecting them but telling them what to do and where to go.  This is what we’ve come to.

I still believe in the idea of Freedom.  But we, the American people, have squandered it.  It is no longer ours by birthright.  We are going to have to fight to get it back, and the battle lines are much further to the left now.  We have to fight there. 

This is why I cannot adopt Kat’s post as my political philosophy.  It is an ideal, a wonderful ivory tower theory, that would be nice to see come to fruition.  Unfortunately, it, right now, is too good to exist where people live.

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6 Responses to “Where People Live”

  1. KC Says:

    But…

    Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.

    As much as this is an ivory tower theory, and as much as I’m a contriarian curmudgeon I have to believe that we should always be striving toward these ideals. Anything else is squandering of freedom.

    Frankly, none of us deserve America right now.

    But I’m glad you liked the post at least. Not many people, I figured, were going to groove on Aquinas and Locke over their breakfast.

  2. Warrior Says:

    I agree that this is not where we live at present (and may never. The problem with any theoretical form of government is that people must run it.The battle in the U.S. goes back even to the constitution (individual states rights over federal rights)only resolved with the addition of the Bill of Rights. Even this only held for a while, until decendants of those founding fathers once again felt their rights encroached, resulting in the Civil War. Now, we no longer see ourselves as individual states (re: countries)united into one federal union, but rather as One Nation (under God), so our battles have gone to the Parties (Rep. Dem. etc).Unfortunately, this allows our representitives, elected to speak for the individual states and districts, to speak for their Parties instead. And so, once again,comes the longing for an ivory tower, where each individual is truly equal.Although I too think our form of government is the best out there, I don’t think the ideal will ever come.

  3. Slartibartfast Says:

    Kat, you are William Wallace. I am Robert the Bruce.

    I admire your idealism, and I’m a little ashamed of my pragmatism.

    But I think if idealists and pragmatists can work together (something very rare, indeed), they can change the world.

  4. nm Says:

    Slarti, I disagree with a lot of the things you say or write, but mostly in a fond and amused way. So I hope you will see the fondness and amusement in this font when I tell you that your particular version of American exceptionalism is based on a certain ignorance of history. Before 60 years ago or so, someone who wanted the creativity you so rightly praise would have gone to England, Italy, or Germany to find it. Mass production, trains, farm machinery, cars, radios, telegraphs, mathematical computing, even nuclear energy: we got the ideas for all of them from Europe, and copied their techniques for decades or centuries before we started being even as good as they were, let alone better and more creative. Well, we did have the Wright Brothers. But otherwise? We were copyists, not creators.

    That changed after 1945. Not because we had a better world-view or political structure, but because we had an industrial infrastructure that hadn’t spent the past 6 years being bombed to bits. We didn’t have to spend all of and more than the GNP every year just to get back to where we had been before the war, and we hadn’t had a high proportion of our work force killed off. So the economy produced enough of a surplus to allow for private investment to follow up new ideas, plus the government had money to invest in research. The result? 50 years of world leadership. (Although the stuff the Japanese did–both in terms of research and in terms of production–with miniaturization were necessary before the programming ideas we had finally advanced over British beginnings could take off. And our car makers, with the best will in the world, don’t seem to be able to build anything that gets good mileage, surely a lack of creativity on our part.)

    But … you have noticed, haven’t you, that more and more of the Asians who used to come here to be educated and to work stay home now for both? Look for American creativity and wealth production to be surpassed any minute now. It’s a race between the Chinese and the Indians for who’s going to step into our shoes.

    Does that mean that America isn’t exceptional? Not exactly, but I think it means that your idea of what our exceptionalism is is a bit skewed.

  5. Slartibartfast Says:

    nm, you are quite possibly right. I might be a two-bit modern day William Jennings Bryan, full of fiery, flowery oratory with absolutely no substance. I’ve been described before as one who says absolutely nothing, but says it with such flair, it’s enjoyable anyway. I’ve been told that even my bulls**t is bullsh**t. So, right you may be.

    In high school debate, my partner and I were unstoppable. My partner was Mr Logic, he had a huge amount of knowledge, and he could counter any point with footnoted facts. But he was an incredibly boring speaker. My job was to accentuate the facts we presented with an emotional appeal. I think I was pretty good at it. But, the point is, I spoke from the gut and let my partner worry about the facts. Like I said, together we were unbeatable.

    That being said, I am 42 years old now. One thing I think I’ve gotten a full grasp on is the concept that freedom enhances creativity, lack of freedom stifles it. Isn’t this obvious to everyone?

    The laffer curve is an undeniable proof.

    And I’ve been told of the Asian boogeyman who will bring the US to its knees since the 70’s.

    One final thing: as Europe has grown in socialism and nanny-statism, her ability to project power (economic, military, or otherwise) has diminished. Parallel to this is her rejection of religiosity, but don’t get me started down that road.

    But, I’ll concede that it’s highly possible I don’t know what I’m talking about. My observations are based almost solely on experiential evidence. We shall see.

  6. nm Says:

    Ooh, Slarti, I agree with you about freedom and creativity. And I’ll agree with you that the Laffer Curve is very creative. It’s not accurate, mind you, as has been proven over and over, but I agree that as a gem of imaginative inspiration it’s in a class by itself. No, my big quarrel with you is that you seem to think that only the U.S. provides freedom, and that providing for equality of opportunity is “nanny-statism” and a denial of freedom.

    I also didn’t mean to say that any “Asian boogeyman” is going to bring the U.S. to its knees. I do think that we are rapidly losing any creative advantage we have in the world, as Europe recovers from the Cold War and Asia industrializes, but I don’t think this is something Asia or Asians are “doing to us.” They are improving their own situation, that’s all, and as unbridled Laffer Curvism happens to be concentrating more and more wealth here in fewer and fewer hands, the conditions that fostered creativity here happen to be shrinking at the same time that the conditions that foster it in Asia are increasing. I don’t see one as causing the other.


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