Afterword

The life of the community is fragile. Our relationships are primarily based on unstated agreements and comprehensions, thus their vulnerability to degradation. The thrust of those agreements is that the members of the community will be good to and for one another-that they will act morally. In A Defense of the American Constitutions (1787) John Adams suggested that we must realize how precarious is our hold on virtue. Though it is the foundation of the happiness Thomas Jefferson stated we had a right to pursue when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, Adams understood human limitations and thus the fragility of virtue.
     At many points in First Principles we have seen myriad authors express an additional sentiment: if we do not have a moral society then we cannot have a free society. In The Character of Nations (2000), Angelo Codevilla asks how it was possible during World War II that the German and Japanese people could have cooperated (or even acquiesced) in the insanity of German viciousness toward the Jews, at the treatment by the Japanese of their prisoners of war, and toward the enemies both countries created with their militarism and totalitarianism. How could whole nations become barbarians so quickly after striving so long to become civilized?
     The answer lies within us, of course, but ensuring these things do not eventuate or repeat themselves is done through the community of interests we all must understand and implement. We cannot just act responsibly as individuals; we must be able to speak up when our culture devolves into something less than it might be or should be. It is that slippery slope effect that Friedrich von Hayek so eloquently exposes in his books. Failing to act is what allows society to change quickly, often for the worse, when someone invents a shortcut to human perfection.
     As the Soviet Union regrouped after World War II, and the Western powers were faced with the possibility of needing to constrain its territorial and political ambitions, the free nations saw two choices-confrontation or containment. The United States championed the latter. We were to lead by example first, and force, if necessary, much later. 

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George Kennan, the primary architect of President Harry Truman's post-war policy, noted that

               [e]very measure to improve self-confidence, discipline, moral and
               community spirit [in Europe] is a diplomatic victory over Moscow.

     Those things that Kennan outlines in his plan to contain the Soviets cannot be ordained, cannot be reduced to a statute or regulation; they have to be earned (and that, of course, is why they succeed in the first place). They have to be understood to be our individual and then community responsibility. Virtually the only impediment to making the world work well is ourselves-we know what to do, and how to do it, and why. The only question that remains is, can we?
     The human condition can be guided by means of both incentive and command-the proverbial carrot and stick-but neither it nor its effects can be eliminated. Restraining, not stifling that condition is our aim, for the human spirit, the human condition's brighter side, is what has allowed us to achieve all that surrounds us. A successful society also requires that its members be citizens, not subjects, and that requirement demands our time and our effort. Put simply, there is no such thing as a free lunch.
     The precariousness of which John Adams spoke, and which the world experiences inevitably, is not quantifiable. It is somewhat akin to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's classic 1964 definition of pornography-"I cannot define it, but I know it when I see it." As a society we need to pull back from the slope that represents the mostly authoritarian and eventually crude shortcuts to societal perfection. Of course, that's an almost impossible order; the slope ordinarily appears neither steep nor slippery. Yet, with care and thought, we can recognize when we begin to slide-whether culturally, socially, governmentally, morally, or economically-and our authors have outlined how we might attempt to act before gravity takes over.
     Ultimately, the truth is clear: there is no magic formula to a virtuous society. There are only options and ideas, based in reality, that we can effect before or after we feel the ground moving out from under our feet. Sooner in these instances is almost always better than later. As we observed at the beginning of this book, the concrete facts are these:

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               If we have a virtuous society it does not matter what form of government
               we institute.

               If we do not have a virtuous society, it does not matter what form of
               government we institute.

     In the first instance, a virtuous people will obey leadership that acts in a moral manner. They will change or defy governance that does not. In the second, no matter how logical and careful, and even comprehensive, are the laws, rules, precedents, practices, or punishments effected to order a conscienceless people, no government can coerce comity. In their debased state the people cannot, or will not, see either what they are doing or what they are causing. Like the citizens of the Confederacy who enslaved themselves by their very actions in prolonging slavery, the venal will be sentenced to misery simply by their vision of life. We don't enforce morality-period. We encourage morals by example, leadership, expectations, teaching, practice, and most importantly, by results. A society cannot be successful with only rules, legislation, police, or bureaucrats-it must have understanding as well. That understanding is gained only as people participate.

*       *       *

In the small, modern world in which we live there is no refuge from political reality, and there is no room for innocence. If we do not confront the facts of our social and cultural existence, including the government we choose to order our world, those facts will eventually confront us-at that point we will be at a disadvantage.
     Allowing the choice in government to be between corruption and incompetence, in either politicians or bureaucrats, is self-destructive. These aren't the only options, of course, but we often sanction one or the other, or both, by inaction and distance. There are two avenues by which we can begin to avoid some of the consequences of "unsupervised" governance; these paths complement one another. The first is citizen vigilance expressed in watching and assessing the government's purposes and operations; the second is to reduce the size, scope, and stretch of government in order that citizens can more effectively engage in the first effort and experience their own hard-

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earned freedom. These routes can be negotiated simultaneously, but it requires will and the commitment to become an intentional part (however small) of the governing process itself. Arrival at even this minor level of engagement is often achieved only after bitter experience. The intention of First Principles is to help us avoid bitter experience as the starting point for our efforts.
     Here is an example of how political process, often as important as substance, has become distorted: Historically, American attitudes toward property rights, sound fiscal management of government resources, and responsible regulation and taxation were not so much subjects of economic policy as of public morality. We knew how to help without doing more harm than good because we observed guidelines founded in moral conduct. Those sinews are being tested today in the fashioning of an authoritarian political correctness that is nothing more than the revival of an older disease-utopianism. Its tools are ancient weapons-the layering of guilt that springs from life's most basic circumstance-inequality-and the promise that parity can be achieved; that there are mechanisms that will rectify mankind's inherent condition. When we attempt to deny inequality's nature, good and bad, our moral views become distorted.
     The new barons of social perfection disingenuously, if not dishonestly, refuse to admit that human inequality (found in our varied imaginations, abilities, and personalities) has created all of the progress humanity has experienced throughout history. Rather than work with and through that reality-as humanity has done so well so often-they simply deny inequality's value, using an equalitarian moral cudgel that is false on its face, to subvert rational discussion. There is a truth that needs to be stated: taken to their foundations it becomes clear that freedom and equality are mutually exclusive-if we are to be free, we will not, cannot, be equal. If we are to be equal we certainly cannot be free. This complementary reality can be seen positively or negatively; how we view it determines what kind of society we will choose.
     With an ironic twist, the same people who claim inequality is morally wrong then use the fruits of our disparities, the ever-increasing and advancing material well-being we almost universally experience (albeit at necessarily varying rates) when it suits their purpose. Essentially they say, "Well, now that we've created all this wealth, we'll use it to make everyone equal." Notice how they take credit for the results achieved by an open society, while concurrently denying its validity. 

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Of course, in this simplistic manner they dispute any need for progress from where we are; they claim that "this" (whatever "this" is) is enough. Their views are conclusive. As is their right to make economic, cultural, and moral decisions for the rest of us. As was observed earlier, this cadre wants to redistribute wealth that, using their philosophy and schemes, cannot be created.
     The fact that utopia in any of its guises has never come to fruition after centuries of effort (with copious use of both carrot and stick) speaks for itself. Those who search for the equalitarian society, when they fail to achieve it, contend that their methods were implemented incorrectly, or insufficiently-they never consider that it is the very theory that is not just flawed but antithetical to human existence. That human beings openly recognize life's inequalities, and work diligently to minimize those that work against us and expand those that work for us is a given. This is the crux of the matter-all inequality is not bad. Einstein's capabilities and achievements, or those of Newton, Michelangelo, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Mother Theresa, Winston Churchill, or millions upon millions of lesser mortals, would not, could not spring from an equalitarian society. That each of us appreciates what humanity has accomplished-from the airplane to the zoo, from vacations to
vaccines, astronauts to zithers-is unquestioned; that most of us realize those achievements can only be grasped by setting men free from the limits of other human beings is similarly realized. Thus the insistence of the equalitarians is not a siren song. The only hook on which this group can hang its disproved and discredited philosophies is that of the theocratic scold-that each of us and all of us should want equality in all things, because that is the only fair and just manner of life. Their term for this goal is social justice.
     That there is no recognition, much less discussion, of what we would have to give up to go that far backward is the flagrant dishonesty of the equalitarians. They base their claims and assume (without considering human nature in the least) that life will remain the same if the incentive to achieve is removed-actually, not just removed, but punished. That this contention is fallacious on its face seems not to bother them. They do not or will not recognize their own slippery slope-the one that leads to uniformity at the very bottom of existence effected through the only possible means to achieve that end-totalitarian authority.

*       *       *

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What can the citizen-reader of First Principles do? While there are many avenues to making a difference, the first thing the reader must believe is that he can make a difference-not just with his vote, but with his actions. If we believe we cannot make a difference, we most assuredly will not. The tide seems still to be rising against the individual, but the first principles enunciated here are as valid as ever, and probably more necessary to recall in the face of current society's morass of moral relativism-the insistence that any one social choice is as valid as any other. The point of First Principles is that all of our choices are decidedly not equal.
     Thus, if there is any one thing we can do, it is to formulate not just our own set of values and beliefs, but a common and spoken understanding of why those values and convictions are more estimable than others. The marketplace of ideas will then decide worthiness. Life is not just a series of self-amusing options but a struggle to maintain a semblance of both order and opportunity through sound alternatives-preferences that have withstood the test of time and circumstance and stress. And once our choices are tested and hopefully found worthy, then we must take the next step-to make a difference, even if only by means of our own example, of our own life. It is equally important to realize that if doing more is required to maintain social comity it does not have to be a full-time occupation for any individual; the accumulated small acts of many citizens whether acting individually or as part of like-minded groups will always be enough to carry the day. But those small acts must occur.

The Politics of the Twenty-first Century

As noted in the introduction to First Principles, politics is not the focus of this effort, first principles are. However, the principles we've brought to the fore obviously lead to political activity. That is the junction before you, the reader.
     State welfarism-now termed the nanny state-has become the overwhelming purpose of government and produces the bulk of the government's continually increasing size. But welfare programs are often no longer designed to relieve the lot of the poor (in the United States, since roughly 1997 there are more people who receive all or part of their resources from the government than there are taxpayers who support them). They are seen as a device to achieve an ostensible

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uniformity in life, founded in a monodimensional, politically correct finality: all inequalities must be compensated for. This mantra is then offered as a vehicle to achieve success in electoral politics. One may ask, how has this Alice in Wonderland logic been implemented? And one must further consider that if everyone is on the public wagon in this push toward equality, who is left to pull it?
     The first step is to recognize that people can be hectored, through claims of the ostensible worthiness of these efforts, into believing they should at least be attempted. Once attempted their validity is thereafter assumed and their franchise grows with time. Those who question these programs are painted as petty or selfish, two words that make any political campaign a longer more complicated effort. The accusation is easy, proving it invalid more difficult; to do so requires the intellectual attention and integrity of the accuser.
     Making people better off sounds fine standing alone. But, it is important in this instance to begin at square one: it is difficult to make someone anything-even better off. Before people can achieve something, they have to want it and then work to keep it. If something is given, not earned, it usually has little value to the recipient. It is also difficult to quantify who and how much better off anyone shall be made; how do we reasonably, fairly, honestly (you choose the adjective) determine where need ends and mere convenience begins-considering those who are asked or forced to give as well as those who are to receive?
     The consequence of ignoring these queries is simply futility. In order to make someone better off someone else has to supply the means. What duties fall to the recipient? What obligations can fairly be assessed on the provider? From a global viewpoint the taking may be as manifestly unfair as the giving is unsound. These are not lightly dismissed calculations, for they go to the heart of everyone's freedom.
     The second avenue for the successful implementation of liberal policy is to foster a feeling of guilt in the self-sufficient over what exists in the world today. This is sometimes not difficult; the world can be a messy place. However, in this case judgment is dishonestly turned on its head-the accusation is that the self-sufficient don't deserve all they have, even if they have earned it, simply because there are those who have less. A "moral" indictment is issued for being successful. The reasons and causes of the unequal results, the myriad negative effects of the taking on the self-sufficient, and the benefits derived from equal opportunities that result in valuable but uneven results are, again, plainly ignored in idealistic fantasies. This idealism is also in

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contravention of the free society's universal social agreement regarding implementing our own opportunity and possibility and accepting responsibility for ourselves.
     Government acts in this field without a rational design or method intended to foster the independence of those to be assisted. As a result of the governing paradigm, there has been taught and learned an incapability and dependence, which then steadily grows on the part of those for whom government has taken responsibility. At this point government efforts morph into "entitlements." When government's actions, for political reasons, ultimately spill over into the middle class (Social Security, Medicare, education, and a million special interest earmarks-from the defense industry to a Peace Garden) that group is no less likely to develop feelings of entitlement than any other-in other words, they feel entitled to their entitlements. And, to ensure there is no misunderstanding of what is intended by these observations, let it be stated again that the discussion of modern government's actions does not revolve around the social safety net-help offered to those
who truly cannot help themselves-but it circumscribes the social welfare net, essentially a scheme of income redistribution for political, not civic, purposes.
     The welfare state was constructed on the tailings of capitalism's imperfections. As the twentieth century progressed and the contest between capitalism and socialism tilted first intellectually, then practically, and finally universally toward capitalism, the unreconstructed socialists stayed the course to which they were emotionally wedded, irrespective of facts. When the social and economic props were kicked out from under these ideologues, their conceit was de-fanged, but not discouraged. While everyone was looking, this cadre wholly embraced the welfare state, terming their version, as it had always been denoted, the social safety net; but this net was not intended to assist those who could not help themselves; its blueprints were far more grand. In actuality, those who could not help themselves were not the welfare recipients, but the welfare statists. They could not help but expand the safety net until it became the welfare net because they knew they were right in what they said they were doing-helping the helpless, uplifting the downtrodden, raising the hopes of the hopeless. What they really intended was something far greater: material human equality. Only when the attainment of this equality affected them might they begin to think differently. Most importantly, their abject failure in realizing equality through public largesse was rooted not only in the defect of

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their design, but in the fact that helping was ultimately not their goal, achieving and retaining power was.
     If there be any doubt that the need to stay in office is great and the fear of losing office is calamitous-something to be desperately avoided by giving the public all it wants and more, all that can be thought it might need-the description of what the losing politician experiences, and avoids at our cost, is aptly described by Robert Traver in Anatomy of a Murder (1958). Traver's account puts a face on the politician's wretchedness at being returned to the status of mere citizen:

               I was learning the hard way something that people who have never held
               public office can perhaps never adequately realize: the feeling of utter                  
               forlornness and emptiness that sweeps over a man when he is finally
               beaten at the polls. And the longer he has been on the job the worse, not
               better, it is. This morbid feeling is beyond all reason; it is both compulsive
               and a little daft. One's last friend has deserted him; the entire community
               has conspired to ridicule and humiliate him; everyone is secretly pointing
               the finger of scorn and hate at the defeated one.


                                                              *      *      *

There is a second area beyond the welfare state where government's continued growth is unrelieved: in increased legislation and regulation-or judicially imposed actions or sanctions-regarding citizen freedom or rights or conduct. These efforts reflect a surety that each life and every enterprise should not only be defined in a general manner that protects all of us from one another, but insists that government must referee our lives. The bureaucrats, legislators, and judges are increasingly convinced that unless they regulate and adjudicate (in a politically correct fashion) the activities and even the rights of individuals, that life will simply disintegrate into chaos or anarchy-or someone at least might feel bad. The vast bulk of our historical success in being a trustworthy, sincere, successful, capable, helpful, etc. society-all managed without such intrusion and oversight-is deemed irrelevant today.
     The governing class, by its actions, has also evidenced an intention to make life risk-free in two ways; first, by eliminating personal responsibility for anything that goes wrong, and second, through ensuring the

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government will make right whatever is judged unjust; it will rectify any inequality. When these designs are conjoined with the nanny state the micromanagers insist we will arrive at utopia.
     In these two arenas-the welfare state and the freedom of the individual and the security of his property-government has, with few caveats, taken on a life of its own. The Washington mindset (in particular, but these observations apply at all levels of government) has little to do with electoral constraints or first principles. Thomas Hobbes's behemoth, the philosophical Leviathan we turn to because we supposedly fear a central government less than we fear one another, was demolished as a viable theoretical premise centuries ago-of course, that did not stop utopians from repeatedly resurrecting authoritarianism whenever they felt they could, or should. From the time of the American Revolution forward the freedom and rights of the individual were understood to be more valid than government control of society. Government was to outline the rules-with our consent-not determine the results. These conclusions were reduced to a concrete model by means of our Constitutional experiment. In the twenty-first century we are reversing progress as we allow ourselves through inattention or ignorance to be victimized by government hubris and political perfidy. Thus, by default Leviathan rises again to protect us, as did the immortal phoenix of Egyptian mythology.

*       *       *

               Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in the affairs which
               properly concern them.

                                                              Paul Valery [1871-1945], French writer and critic

There is a school of thought that the two most destructive (socially and economically) political impulses in America in the twentieth century were Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and War on Poverty. They were crafted from false economic premises, launched by the "intellectuals" of those eras, and put into effect through political demagoguery. The noble side of the human condition, by which we fail one another not out of greed and ignorance but out of kindness and arrogance, was strikingly in evidence in both cases. As always, the result of these foolish efforts was the law of unintended consequences coming to full flower-found in the fiscal disaster America faces over the next three decades.

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     Inertia, in the form of an entrenched bureaucracy, supported by intellectual scolds on the left and an electorate that apathetically returns roughly ninety-eight percent of incumbents to office, allowed little to change as the twenty-first century approached (save the blip of welfare reform implemented by a Republican Congress during the administration of Democrat President Bill Clinton).
     In spite of the Democrats' entry into a political wilderness at their own hand during the 1980s and early 1990s and again from 2000 to 2006, the political duplicity and fiscal chicanery of the Republicans ensured the public would equally quickly turn them out of office. Sad for conservatives, but true. The problem, of course, is that although the Republicans were removed from power, what they had wrought-huge increases in "entitlement" spending (the Medicare prescription drug benefit),
significant intrusion into local affairs (the No Child Left Behind education initiative and the Homeland Security efforts), and a tepid attempt at Social Security reform that went nowhere-was left in place as they headed for the exit. The fact is that all that was done by them was not undone by the next group, and all that wasn't done, that might have mattered, was left unattempted. Big government just never reforms, never moves back to where it was before suffering the effects of a slippery slope no matter who is in, or who is removed from power.
     This results because it is not easy to indict ideas that seem, to the public, benign, even plausibly beneficial upon pronouncement; thus, embracing increased government size and intervention seems compassionate on the surface. The new programs are created through equal parts good intention and the conscious act of ignoring relatively obvious unintended, even disastrous longer term consequences.  As one attempts to oppose an immediate benefit, a benefit that has its appeal among populists of all stripes, by pointing out the observable future costs—social, economic, and cultural—one is labeled obstructionist or uncaring or simply ignorant.  The war of words takes the place of discussion and investigation; political opportunity takes the place of sound governance.
     After the election of 2000, center stage was occupied by an entirely Republican administration and Congress, overwhelmed not by what they could do, but by how much they controlled, how much they found they liked being in control, and how they feared they could lose that control if they did not use the government's power and coffers in their efforts to maintain control. The result is the series of political disas-

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ters that has eventuated. What the Republicans forgot almost as soon as they achieved power was that they were sent to Washington (and many state houses) to change the culture of government. They did that initially in lowering taxes, but then they got the bit in their teeth and began government spending programs that made Democrat proposals seem tame by comparison. It was not long before the electorate had to remind the Republicans of the franchise they were given. What the liberals had not been able to discern philosophically-a reason for the electorate to return them to power-the Republicans essentially handed them on an electoral platter. By 2006 the Republican license was taken away because of their lack of restraint and their perfidious actions. The electorate was reminded that it cannot place much trust in the good intentions of others. What the elected were reminded is if you break that trust, you lose your place in the system.
     Government has no institutional incentive to either dismantle itself, or, for too many reasons to iterate here, to work more efficiently. No king (or bureaucrat) wishes to reduce the size of his empire, and inefficiency and misdirection expand the scope of government and ensure the public's continued inability to penetrate the fog of any administration. Thus government will not be circumscribed through internal rational assessment no matter how many reformers or experts or consultants or managers claim they can make government run honestly and efficiently. They cannot do that because government does not operate on market principles, or brain power, it runs on politics; it can only be thwarted externally, politically. That did not happen after the Republicans took over in 2001, even with the best intentions and the outright dominion of those who insisted they understood what was wrong with the system. This result occurred because the American electorate, whom those in power actually do fear, sometimes wants to have its cake and eat it too. Who would blame them? Actually, there are many who would point fingers….
Ronald Reagan, even though he understood the reality of politics, preached government retrenchment when he came into office but he accomplished little by the time he had left. He faced a venal Congress, who feared for their jobs, and he could not finish the task alone. He needed the citizens and they seemed (and still seem) to be disconnected from the larger picture. This, of course, was his point in the first place.

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                    Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
                                                                                               Lord Acton

We have attempted not to comment extensively on current politics throughout this book primarily because they are current; this is a text that attempts a more historical, practical, and philosophical view. However, because the flaws of twenty-first century politics fit almost flawlessly into many of the rules, definitions, and examples our authors have offered, the constraints in leaving today’s politics to pundits and historians are overcome by circumstances too obvious to ignore.
     In the aftermath of the Republican takeover of the national government at the start of the century, the bureaucracy and those in the new ruling political party were mutually supporting—no matter how bizarre and counterintuitive that would seem. The GOP has been campaigning for decades for smaller, less expensive (in all senses) government; indeed, that promise is what brought them to power in the first place. Yet, once in office, they acted exactly as Bertrand de Jouvenel had predicted they would in On Power (Chapter 15), his masterful dissection of what happens to people who are allowed to exercise, first, some authority, and then virtually unfettered control through the myth of the general will.
     When in 2008 the Republicans were excused from power and the Democrats took control of the White House and Congress they proceeded to take the pendulum ever further afield, but of course in the opposite direction.  Then in 2010, after a mere 22 months in office, the Democratic assault on the electorate that began in 2008 resulted in the Republicans retaking control of the House of Representatives with 63 new Republican congressmen, the fourth largest shift in political control in the House in U.S. History.  In addition, the Republicans elected more than 700 state legislators and garnered a switch in control of more than 20 state legislative bodies. 
     The cause of such wild swings in power?  The principles that underlie our nation’s comprehension of government, philosophically and operationally, had been ignored—actually sullied—on each occasion.  Now the electorate is scratching its collective head, either bemused or befuddled, yet clearly angry at what might happen next (with those on the far left and far right suffering mutual outright indignation, for obviously opposite reasons).  Their anger is shown in the approval rating of Congress, which reached its nadir in 2012—5%.  95 out of 

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every 100 people disapprove of how Congress is doing its job.  Obviously these numbers can go lower but it seems the point has been made.
     Some of those in power actually believe the electorate is not capable of understanding what is happening—that they can fool the people with political sleight-of-hand; with words that claim one thing and deeds that do the opposite.  The trouble for the political class is the patience of the electorate lasts only so long, then they act.  This cohort is neither as ignorant nor disconnected as those in Washington might think.  After all, they did throw many of the bums out, on several occasions.  Welcome the politics of the Tea Party era (and whatever may follow).
     But there is a point to be made here about others in Congress who are labeled obstructive or partisan, who are actually acting on the principles learned from experience, not theory, over the centuries.  They understand the danger to the nation if these ideas are not kept to the fore.  They see how far down the path towards self-destruction we have gotten and as William F. Buckley, Jr. demanded in 1955 when he began his career, they stand athwart the course of history yelling “Stop!”  The more harsh the criticism of this group the more one might learn from inquiring about their comprehensions, that bring such vitriol.
     Peggy Noonan, a political columnist who came to be well known writing speeches for Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, observed this paradox of power in a Wall Street Journal article (May 11, 2006) using de Jouvenel’s comprehension.  Here is what she observed about the Republicans before the 2006 election (predictions that turned into actuality) and that resulted in even more Democrat gains in 2008:

                    It may take a defeat in November for the GOP to unlearn the
               lessons of power.
                    Power is distancing . . . . When you've been in Congress for a while, 
               or the White House for a while, you both forget too many things and 
               learn too many things.
                    You forget why they sent you. You forget it's not that you're charming
               and wonderful. You forget it's not you. You become immersed in a
               Washington conversation. . . . And you come to forget what [those who
               sent you] do know. It used to be easy for you to remember that, because
               it's what you knew too . . . .               
                    Party leaders are showing a belief in process as opposed to a belief 
               in, say, belief. But belief [ultimately] drives politics. 

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               It certainly drives each party's base. One gets the impression party 
               leaders, deep in their hearts, believe the base is . . . base. Unsophis-
               ticated. Primitive.  Obsessed with its little issues. They're trying to 
               educate the base.  But if history is a guide, the base is about to teach 
               them a lesson instead.

It turned out that in 2008 and 2010 the political class didn’t necessarily learn the lessons of power ill-used; instead the members of both parties simply took the opportunity of power to again reach as far as they could.  Their actions devolved into nothing more than crass partisanship with little thought to fiscal, much less principled, discussion. 
     In Conscience of a Conservative (Chapter 18) Barry Goldwater states, “[W]e entrust the conduct of our affairs to men who understand that their first duty as public officials is to divest themselves of the power they have been given.” Goldwater’s point is simply this: if during the period while they were becoming successful politicians those who were elected did so by means of principle, they must give up the idea they can force political matters through the use of their newly acquired power.  The fact is they can only achieve lasting change by using the merit of the principles they espoused in the first place.       
    
At several points in this book it has been noted that the first consideration for politicians is often, if not mostly, doing whatever it takes to get reelected; most actions become, in campaign parlance, “a sop for the saps.”  What Noonan and Goldwater see from a distance is that acting in the best interests of the (neither illiterate nor grasping) electorate is as wise and productive, and notable as well as noticeable, a course as any designed to take advantage of that same group’s supposed self-interest and venality.
     Once the expected 2006 electoral collapse of the Republicans (who are not to be universally conflated with conservatives) was effected, the 2008 Democrat sweep was finalized, and the 2010 Republican comeback began, it became clear in hindsight that everyone saw each of these results coming—except, apparently, the players themselves.  They seemed not to have learned anything, even though they had every current and historical opportunity to do so. With regard to the Republicans, Ryan Sager, in his book The Elephant in the Room (2006) asks: “What does a movement do when it’s spent decades arguing that the government should have less power, and then it takes control of the government? Does it stick to its principles and methodically find ways to tax less, spend less and interfere less in the lives of Americans? Or does

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it slowly, but surely—day by day, issue by issue, bill by bill—succumb to the temptations of power and start to wield it toward new ends?”
     Once the Democrats came back to power in 2008 they imposed an historic health care scheme on the nation while simultaneously overseeing a continued decline in U.S. economic fortunes, and thereby suffered an equally severe electoral reversal in 2010.  As was observed by Karen Tumulty (TIME October 16, 2006) “Every revolution begins with the power of an idea and ends when clinging to power is the only idea left.”  The pendulum stands poised to swing again, and again, and again.  The question remains: when will the political class govern on principle so the citizen class can support them for the long term?  The answer is plain: when the citizenry ceases to fear the politicians and demands of their representatives that they embrace the rights and duties imposed by the principles of governance that have worked over the centuries.
     It is difficult to determine if the indictment contained in Tumulty’s rhetorical summersault is more damning to Republicans or Democrats. Trying to be everything to everyone even closely aligned with big government idealism—and using tax dollars to show their gratitude at being elected— starting in 2000 Republican officials thought they could buy the part of the electorate they hadn’t won philosophically. The Democrats did this starting in 2008.  In theory neither a party nor a politician can buy votes, we’d like to think each must earn them. The majority of Republican elected officials, thinking and acting as if the voters would only return them to office if they were generous with someone else’s tax dollars, were obviously mistaken in their comprehension. The Democrats fare no better as they add an additional burden to their pack—ignoring the principles of both economics and governance simultaneously. 
     An obscene example of Democrat fear of losing the next election, now that they are in power, and knowing (against all hope) the ignorant public might like a say in how the country is governed anyway, is contained in a 2011 statement by North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue: "I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won't hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover.  I really hope that someone can agree with me on that. ... You want people who don't worry about the next election."
     The problem, of course, is that policy unfettered by the check and balance of voter-expressed opinion is called a dictatorship.  And, in spite

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of Gov. Perdue’s suggestion that she doesn’t want those currently in office to worry about the next election, that is exactly what the rest of us do want.  This, of course, doesn’t even address Gov. Perdue’s suggestion that the Constitutional requirement of elections every two years simply be ignored.  In this circumstance Lord Acton’s pronouncement on power becomes particularly stirring.
     The electorate may forgive early financial and policy indiscretion, but they will not long tolerate a philosophical and fiscal disconnect like the $110+ trillion dollar unfunded debt at the federal, state, and local levels the United States faces today. Ultimately integrity does arrive back at the front door—for integrity is all we really have as human beings. The question of political integrity is now at center stage, and if the Republicans don’t recall this, and if the conservatives among the Republicans don’t continually act using their principles to keep the government conscious of its obligations, the future is not a bright one for the party, the conservatives within it, or the republic.
     There was a shift that began in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan, and it was equal in import and size to the shift that began in 1932 with the election of Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt was wrong about the economics of governing, but very right about the politics. Reagan was right about both the economics and the politics and the country knew it. The Republicans of the twenty-first century forgot what Reagan taught them and they were voted out of office in 2006 for two reasons: they did not keep their word, and they did not act on their principles. The question remains: will those lesser political lights who are to carry on what Reagan started be able to regain the integrity that the society and the party needs? The American electorate is ultimately neither as disengaged nor as venal as some fear—as was aptly demonstrated in the wild swings of the 2000, 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections.  We would all do well to remember that, and to act on it.

*       *       *

Ronald Reagan didn't trust government-not for the obvious reason that there is corruption and intransigence and sheer bureaucracy with which to deal-but because he felt it had lost its franchise. Reagan understood life, and living. He understood the integrity, the virtue, of freedom for the individual. "It is time to check and reverse the growth of government, which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed," he declared in his first inaugural address. Reagan was

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politically successful because he comprehended that liberalism's effort to hijack the government's purpose had begun, in the public's eye, to overpower government's true design-which is nothing more than to help order society so individuals may simply be free. Government's purpose is not to solve problems; beyond the mostly petty arbitration that the courts are designed to effect, government's design is to create an atmosphere of liberty in order that the people can resolve their own lives.
     Today the liberals suggest to the electorate that they should be willing to give more. The citizens demur, not because they are being forced to do things against their will, but against their judgment. The lack of reasoned discipline in the political arena costs too much-and not just in terms of dollars. The liberals attempt to hector voters into submission. They supposedly mean well, but it isn't just that their theories and plans have proven ineffective; it is also the manner in which they cut off discussion when they begin lecturing that so distances them from others. Upon inspection it seems they have a few ideas, one of which is to force the remainder on the citizenry. As often as this arrogance has been commented upon, and bemusedly decried, criticism of the left's presumed right to preach has been supported primarily by reference to the failures of their ideas when applied, or even forced, on the real world. But even among their own ranks, the effrontery of the liberal's condescension leaves some astonished. James Carville and Paul Begala, two of the architects of Bill Clinton's successful presidential campaigns of 1992 and 1996, put it rather bluntly in their book Take It Back (2006) p. 33:

               Many liberals share the conceit that they are intellectually superior….
               Argue with a liberal, and before you know it, you'll hear "You're stupid."
               If he's a little more polite, he'll say, "Your idea is stupid."

Some in Congress feel they have to succumb to liberal attacks or risk loss of an election for being seen as too harsh, uncaring-the tyrant parent. What they forget is the power of their principles. Any fear in stating those ideas is everyone's loss.

*       *       *

This is not a book about how responsibility is avoided; it is just the opposite. Our moral understanding is effected through responsible action. Understanding freedom has become confusing for some, partially

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because of such concepts as political correctness and the distortion and creation of rights that are uncoupled from duties. It was Thomas Jefferson's assumption that it was every citizen's responsibility to help correct what was deceitful and specious in society. It did not occur to him to turn to government offices for a solution-and then rest his pen or voice. He knew only the citizenry could accomplish the task of rectifying mankind's improper impulses and he expected them to do so, even at the cost of life or limb, freedom or property. He understood the concept of devolution and he expected that his fellow citizens did as well.
     Today we often hear in the media of the responsibilities of our elected leaders to us, the citizenry, but we rarely observe any reference to the equal and opposite duty-of each of us as individuals to the idea of our enterprise. That is the essence of First Principles, that if we understand and meet our individual duties we need less government, and that which remains will work much better, more effectively, more efficiently. It has been our intent through the works presented here to reaffirm this concept in most of its premises and some of its details in order that the torch and flag be passed on to the next generation-with comprehension, appreciation, and commitment.
     Our rights are far more easily lost than they are regained. It is up to us to preserve them. We hope the authors we've reviewed have provided the guidance and tools that will foster sensible discussion, and debate that will help effect protection of all that America has achieved. First Principles is intended to be used in a re-awakening process in our fast-paced culture. The rest is up to the judgment and care of the citizenry. We need to remind ourselves occasionally that being a citizen is a privilege that must be earned not a status that we inherit. It is for you, the reader, to determine where you fit in.

                                 I cannot do everything, yet I cannot do nothing.

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© 2013

 
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