One of our recurrent themes has been the general failure of political leaders in the West to display either a clear or adequate understanding of why the "Market Economy" out-performs all others, or a comprehension of the relevance of the principles involved to virtually every other facet of human inter-action. With the economic collapse of European Communism, even World Socialists began to accept the superiority of a Market driven economy. Yet neither they, nor most Capitalists, have shown any grasp of the actual dynamics. Rather, the evident phenomena have been treated much as a correct recognition of the benefits of herbal medicine, over the centuries, in one of the most primitive societies.
Of course, as most of you know well, the key dynamic here is the maximization of individual involvement. In a true market economy, the individual is responsible for decisions as to what to buy and how best to utilize his or her own talents to obtain the means to buy--as, also, for decisions when and how to save or seek capital for future plans or decisions, and/or for the future well-being of family or self. While the modern State--whether in our own Federal America or among other advanced peoples--tends still to interfere with some of those decisions, because of perceptions driven by the grasping proclivities of definable interest groups--it has, at least, become generally recognized that the "Market" works better than any centrally planned economy; that you can not substitute the plans of a committee of "experts" for the incredibly powerful dynamic that puts every participant on his or her mettle to best utilize personal resources--both aptitudes and material assets--for personally desired ends.
The strength of the "Market," then, is in the personal responsibility of the participants; and the more total the individual participation on that premise, the stronger the "Market." Thus, it was that in her formative period, America's families did better, on average, than their ancestral cousins in their lands of origin during the same period; demonstrating over and over again, without exception, the same dynamic. Once this is truly grasped, a great many other issues become far clearer.
While it may be argued that all human action is in a sense economic--if only because time has value, and thus how one occupies one's time has economic effect;--it is more useful for an understanding of the dynamic factors involved in social phenomena, to look at different areas of political or social concern as distinct subjects, each with its own parameters. The best example of the general applicability of individual responsibility to general problem mitigation is in the field of public and personal safety, including both the maintenance of law and order, and the preservation of individual liberty. Consider, here, the utility of having a public equipped with, and well trained in the use of, adequate firearms.
[Note: The right to arm oneself for the defense of family, life and property, is a fundamental natural right, as are rights to acquire property, educate one's children in family values, and associate with those with whom one naturally identifies. As such, they are in nowise dependent upon utilitarian values or function. In analyzing them, here, in a discussion of the utilitarian aspects of individual responsibility, we do not intend to trivialize such rights by any suggestion that they are, in anyway, dependent upon the aspect being discussed, nor primarily important because of that aspect.]
In discussing the right and duty to keep and bear arms in Chapter 2 of the Debate Handbook (below), we cited George Washington's advocacy of the Swiss system, and quoted some of his analytic remarks as to the major psychological benefit to an armed youth, who participated in an organized militia. Washington recognized both aspects of the involved dynamic--a double barreled benefit, seldom discussed if even understood, in these latter days: Societal gains coming, first, from an assumption of responsibility for the maintenance of the desired social order by a large number of individuals; secondly, from the psychological benefit to individual members of that society, from an increased sense of purpose and the daily satisfaction in fulfilling that purpose. There is also an increasing benefit derived from the example set for the youth of such society, in observing the unfolding of that dynamic, and aspiring to become a part thereof.
Thus, the traditional Swiss system, which Washington favored, offered not only a potential to overwhelm those with criminal tendencies, as well as any potential invader. It would also have provided positive values and motivations, which could only have served to inhibit the development of anti-social proclivities in the first place. Yet applicability of such dynamic is hardly limited to the spheres of market economics and the physical defense of life and property.
Consider education, in all its facets. The quality of education in America has declined very sharply, as we have become increasingly dependent upon so-called 'educators' to direct, manage and supply, instruction on a mass scale. One need look no further than the precipitous decline in the quality of American public debate, over the past century, to see one of the effects of an increasing dependence upon professional "educators" for the quality of education. While that decline in intellectual quality, from the impressive expositions on political concepts and history, witnessed by those who came to hear the great statesmen of early to mid-19th Century America, had long been obvious; candidates for serious office, up until the last few campaigns, still regularly spoke in at least half-hour segments, via the media, to all who might be induced to listen.
Although we no longer had a Daniel Webster holding forth for hours, nor a John C. Calhoun issuing brilliant treatises on liberty in the form of addresses, as in an era when only a small percentage of the population had more than a smattering of formal education; we had retained a bit more than the politics of the thirty second sound bite: That which now demonstrates so compellingly, the intellectual nakedness of Twenty-First Century American politics. Yet why did our population operate at so significantly higher a level in considering its politics, in an era when most of the public did not have the benefit of modern "education"--professionally planned and directed? While there is certainly evidence of some deterioration in the intellectual potential of the gene pool in the interim, that is not sufficient to explain so dramatic a fall-off. Surely, part of the explanation involves the same dynamic, which caused planned economies in the Socialist world to flounder, also. We drifted steadily away from personal responsibility in education; from the primordial responsibility of the parents of a sapient species, to prepare their young for life.
We would not be misunderstood. The problem is not in having public or private schools, equipped with excellent resources and staffed by trained teachers. There should be no conflict between such institutions and parental responsibility. The former, correctly understood, are but assets--tools--for the responsible parent, doing his duty. The problem arises when the parent abdicates the parental role, or when the school assumes it to substitute a sense of collectivist responsibility and/or cultural values that conflict with those held by an affected family, or the traditional community with which they identify. It may have been a 'given' in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany that the State--and State alone--set the whole panoply of social values; that idea is totally inconsistent with the premises of a free America, as with maximum dependence upon individual responsibility, which is our point and subject. Moreover, there is a triple-barreled effect in such appropriation of the most basic parental role--clearly the antithesis of what is beneficial, if the intention is to secure something, anything, other than the maximum potential for totalitarian power over a people.
The most atrocious effect is in the denigration of the family as the mainstay of cultural continuity; the secondary effects of which go far beyond any immediate educational aspect. Next, is the effect in undermining the essential characteristics of a system based upon individual responsibility. This in turn undermines the quality of personal, individual, efforts in virtually every aspect of the human pursuit. Finally, there is the stultification of intellectual activity; inevitable, where there is a monopoly of the sources of information. No longer do inquiring minds seek knowledge for its own sake; rather there is the pursuit of compliance with centrally determined norms of thought.
Does this sound like we are discussing the results of the Statist indoctrination of youth in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany? What we describe is what has actually devolved from increasingly dogmatic new roles for public--and publicly influenced private--education in America over the past half century! Indeed, throughout much of the 20th Century, public education moved increasingly away from instruction in the traditional "3 Rs," to instruction in social values--and not the social values, or mores, of traditional American families. Instead of values, which celebrated individual rights held against the power of Government--the legacy of Magna Carta among English speaking peoples of European stock;--traditional American values were vilified, and dogma derived from the pseudo-science of egalitarian theorists, was substituted.
Measuring up to the standards of men and women of high character, principle and achievement in your lineage, or the lineage of your people, or others with whom you identify, has always been one of the most powerful incentives to purposeful individual conduct. It is in a sense of identification that we derive standards for behavior; as we derive models for what personal responsibility properly entails.
The most striking social event in American public education in the 20th Century, was the substitution of the ethos of the "Civil Rights" movement for that of Magna Carta, in the 1950s and 1960s: A total inversion of the concept of freedom, from one where liberty and property were held by individuals despite Government, to one where the Government created new "rights" against the liberty and property of other individuals. This not only substituted politically imposed norms for ancestral values. It further undermined any sense of personal responsibility; celebrating the assumption of a vastly increased collective role in dictating patterns of social interaction. By denigrating the importance of race and family history--even forbidding normal patterns of identification--that substitution tended to accelerate a breakdown of the American family; as evidenced by a sudden spike in illegitimacy rates, which then soared among the races being manipulated.
While most mainstream American families, still in tact, would certainly want their children taught more of the philosophic and sociological views of Thomas Jefferson, than of those who turned America upside down by demanding ever more intrusive Government in the 1950s and 1960s; one would be hard put to find a public school system in America, which does not put greater emphasis on the "Civil Rights" movement than on the beliefs of the Founding Fathers. Nor is the picture much brighter in private education. Consider our August, 2006 essay (below) on the President's groveling before the NAACP that July, to realize just how high, and how far, the absurd misdirection of "educated" America has gone--and in the President's case, to appreciate just how long this has been going on. In place of the ethos of Magna Carta, long so important to American family values, we have, in large measure, abdicated responsibility for our own children to a home grown variety of collectivists, ultimately not much different in their arrogant stupidity, than those who supervised thought control in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.
Finally, let us look briefly at the "Welfare" system in America; not from the standpoint of supposed "need," but to study the effect of allowing committees of social theorists to substitute central planning for individual responsibility in dealing with "poverty." We would examine, which better addresses poverty and/or the personal behavior of the poor among us.
In Chapter I of the Debate Handbook (below), we quoted Thomas Jefferson's exposition on how aid to the poor, what we now call "Welfare," was administered in Virginia and in the original States generally, in 1782; not by politicians or bureaucrats, but by the Church. The approach was to divide each Parish into 12 neighborhoods, each assigned to a particular vestryman, presumed to know who genuinely needed help, and who might try to take advantage. Thus charity could be directed to the former; while, by refusing to subsidize the would-be parasite, the vestryman--bound neither by centrally directed guidelines nor bureaucracy--could force personal responsibility back on the latter. How well did a system, inherently far freer than any contemporary public assistance program from the layers of bureaucracy, so inconsistent with personal responsibility on either side of the transaction, work?
As Jefferson observed of the result: . . .from Savannah [Georgia] to Portsmouth [New Hampshire] you will seldom meet a beggar. In the larger towns indeed they sometimes present themselves. They are usually foreigners, who have never obtained a settlement in any parish. I never yet saw a native American begging in the streets or highways. Today, panhandlers, littering the streets of American cities, bear silent testimony to the folly of any policy that tends to diminish individual responsibility, in any public pursuit.
The idea that a committee of "Experts" can somehow plan an economy better than the interactive dynamic of an entire population--forced by their own wants and needs to be involved--can direct it organically, has been thoroughly discredited. Yet for some hardly adequate reason, the notion that a monopoly of experts can better protect citizens than an involved citizenry, which includes not only those same assumed experts, but every other armed and able-bodied citizen, trained in the correct use of weapons, still persists. So, too, does the notion that education is best directed--even dictated--by public employees, rather than by the responsible actions of the involved families of a community or nation. Each of these errors demonstrates the persistence of the same underlying fallacy, that which for so long restricted economic expansion.
The key to maximum public safety, even as the key to maximum economic expansion, is maximum public involvement; direct involvement, through personal responsibility. The key to better education is not confined to simply unleashing the idiosyncratic variations of attitudes and personalities, better understood by responsible family members than committees of "professional Educators." We do not suggest that, in many cases, family members will even be able to match the already far from impressive knowledge of the professionals. But as with the economy and public safety, it is the maximum involvement of those with the most direct interest in the result--the personal responsibility factor--which is essential.
In each situation, the same factors come into play: The positive effects on the whole society, and on the mettle, morals and self-respect of the members of that society, derived from maximum personal responsibility. In each situation, whatever the dangers from individual failure or misconduct--whether economic crises, senseless violence, misinformation, or whatever--they pale into insignificance in comparison to the benefits from maximum individual involvement; that which always combines both the optimum of individual potential with the strongest and--if truly understood & supported--the most rewarding and enduring community dynamic.