The International Fellowship of Chivalry-Now

Announcements   —   Contact   —  Home Page  —  Quest Articles  —  Open Forum  —  Photos  —  12 Trusts  —  Site Map
 

Two Visions, One Reality

History shows that the United States is not the product of a single, monolithic philosophy. Before it became a separate nation, European settlers included the economic adventurers of Jamestown, the theocratic experiment of the Pilgrims, indentured servants, a prison colony, and entrepreneurial planters with their slaves. Thirteen colonies each had their own distinct identities and special interests - and relationships between them were not always congenial. That they all retained connections with their mother-country, Great Britain, yet remained separate colonies, reflected their independent demeanor even then.
    During and after the Revolutionary War, the building of a nation had to deal with these local differences, and it was not easy. The Articles of Confederation did its best to create a weak central government that made the United States sort of a quasi-nation of separate yet related states that tolerated one another while competing at the same time. Each had separate governments, laws and cultural preferences.
    The founders, however, had the goal of creating a true republic, bolstered by the inspiration of Age of enlightenment ideals. This included electing leaders who were dedicated solely to the public good and not to their own profit, as so many of the founders themselves managed to achieve. In contrast, they saw that the individuals states quickly lost that noble directive. They were being led by leaders who had only their own personal or special interests in mind. Political candidates at the state level were not the enlightened, educated leaders that they had hoped for. They were provincial, personally ambitious, and represented factions rather than entire communities.
    A convention was called (validated by the presence of George Washington himself) to solve this problem. At first the hope was to repair the Articles of Confederation. As time went on, however, it seemed impossible. Behind closed doors they hammered out a Constitution and sent it out to the states for ratification. Its merit was argued in the press by those who defended "federalism" and those who would be known as "anti-federalists." The pro-constitution arguments were collected for posterity in the Federalist Papers. They dealt with how the proposed tri-partite government would rise above factional competition. The sheer size of this nation would pit one faction against another, thus preventing the ascendancy of one over the others. The distance of a strong, central government would also remove representatives from local pressures in order to help them make decisions that wisely and nobly focused on the public good. This was especially true of the president, who was supposed to be the least partial.
   
The Constitution was eventually ratified and the federal government was created. It has grown ever since. While it often manages to regulate the "several states" on behalf of the public good, and continues to provide the necessary focus to maintain an independent nation, it ultimately failed to attract the kind of noble statesmen that the founders envisioned. Factions have had more influence on political outcomes than the framers of the constitution predicted. The safeguards of a republic were lost in the growth of democratic leanings. Not many Americans realize that the nation's founders who lived long enough to see this happen came to regret the results of their brave dream of independence.
   
Political parties, representing the interests of various factions, came to dominate the system. They adopted ideologies that contrasted with one another in order to better compete. The ideologies eventually produced the conservative/liberal ideologies we have today.

Today's Partisanship

Conservatism and liberalism have consolidated into two very different visions of government
    Conservatism wants a small federal government that has little or no regulatory power over the separate states. They espouse as much freedom as possible, yet hold very little concern about the attainment of that freedom by individuals as far as opportunity is concerned. The idea of a laisser-faire economy extends itself to people as well. To secure extended public support, they have adopted such wedge issues as the anti-abortion movement, pro-gun rights, evangelical concerns, pro-corporation advantages, and anything deemed to be liberal, including the Affordable Healthcare Act, which was originally based on a conservative template. In recent years, they have decried cooperation with liberals on most issues. Conservative factions range from international isolationism to neo-con policies of aggressively pushing other nations toward democracy. They want the strongest military possible.
   
Liberalism believes that a strong federal government is needed to protect human and equal rights, and regulate the actions of businesses and local governments to protect the public good. They support education as the obvious means to personal freedom and accomplishment, and as necessary to the proper functioning of democracy. Wedge issues they represent include the promotion of equal and human rights, a level playing field for all people to get ahead, anti-poverty programs, reducing the income gap, environmental protection, and continued separation of church and state. They are prone to provide humanitarian aid to other countries on need.
   
While both parties have been guilty of corruption, hypocrisy, empty showmanship and promoting divisive contention for political gain, the American people seem resigned to their existence and dominating influence.
   
So there we have it. Two ideological visions at war with one another, supporting a chaos of conflicting ideas that divide the nation into competing halves.
   
But what of realty? Is there a vision for the United States' government that would be more appropriate? Certainly times call for serious consideration of the possibility.
   
Let us start at the beginning. Is the United States a nation among the nations of the world? Does it have the right, indeed, the responsibility to assume the role of other modern, western nations of the 21st century? What if a substantial and vocally hostile minority wants the United States to be something less than what it is? Not a nation, but something amorphously detached, little more than a military asset contributed to by the states for mutual protection. If that becomes the case, who decides military ventures? What if some states want to invade a perceived enemy, and some do not? Can they withdraw their state troops from the action and wash their hands of involvement? Or does their unwillingness stop the action completely?

Federal Government

Without federal regulations, the states would experience new autonomy. Nothing would bind them to the original ideals and values that the United States is known for. Regional values and biases would rise more to the surface. Changes in laws would take place that disconnect states from a mutually accepted culture. While local politicians might profit from that in the outset, commonalities would degrade and relationships between Americans as a people, their shared ideals and laws, would eventually dissolve. At some point, the confederation might fall apart and a proliferation of smaller, competing nations would be the final outcome. Social Security and Medicare would end. Many of the elderly and handicapped would be sent to low income public housing, which would be far more like poor houses than public housing is today. Only the wealthy could afford proper medical care. The economic ramifications would be enormous, with poorer states becoming poorer, and wealthy states bewildered by a whole new way of doing things. As a result of increased poverty, crime would increase. Gun ownership would rise, with an increase of accidental shooting deaths. More frustrated people would join the mentally ill in expressing their rage violently in mass killings.
    Liberal states would try to help needy, while conservative states would proudly let people fend for themselves and rise to the occasion. Distributions of assets and skilled workers would instigate tension between these newly independent countries. In nations that once depended on federal assistance, taxes would have to be raised to keep their government services going, increasing poverty. The threat of migrations of the poor would probably lead to rigorous immigration laws, which would add to international tensions. What was once easy interstate travel would necessitate passports and checkpoints. Local tensions would grow as empowered, ideological media professionals continue to agitate a hurting populace. The worldwide stability that the American military and economic power sustain would end and wars would proliferate in various global hotspots. Canada and Latin America would dominate the west. Russia and China would become imperial powers in competition with each other. The Middle East would go up in flames.
   
Not exactly an attractive picture.
   
Our present situation, while certainly better, cannot be sustained. Our global military presence is very expensive, as are the ongoing series of punitive and preventative wars. Income disparity, especially during recession recovery, propagates tension between the fabulously wealthy (especially those seen as causing the recession and then profiting from it) and a struggling working class. Political partisanship, steeped in corruption, conspiracy theories and divisive rhetoric, has turned our democracy into a farce. Tax dollars are often wasted on inefficient bureaucracies and preferential earmarks. Cooperation between the parties is considered a bad word. The cost of entitlement programs is skyrocketing toward insolvency while simple remedies, like raising the income scale for Social Security contributions, are ignored for fear of legislators being seen as raising taxes. Democracy itself is under siege with state legislators trying to suppress voting rights in their favor, while unreasonable gerrymandering of districts fix election outcomes.

A New Vision

A new vision for the United States has to take all this into account, and seek alternatives that will work for all Americans. A good start would be rejecting partisanship as we now have it. Perhaps a third party could step forward and challenge the veracity of the entrenched powers, not as offshoots of one or the other, but as something new and different, a real choice based on the requirements of noble virtue that our founders originally intended. Honesty. Disinterested judgments. Cosmopolitan rather than regional ideals. Concern for the public good that transcends programs of dependency. Affordable educational opportunities. A rejection of partisan media propagandists. Reliable journalism, completely separated from entertainment and political agendas. A nation united by inspiring ideals rather than greedy self-interests.

The Size of Government

The size of government is a constantly repeated concern of many Americans. When we consider the size of government in our new, reality-based vision, the choice cannot be arbitrarily decided by political taglines. It must be made by reason instead. For some extremists, the government could never be small enough. (To illustrate the mindset we are dealing with, one popular extremist ridiculously suggested that it be made small enough to drown in a bathtub. While this may elicit applause from some corners, it shows the puerile emotionalism that feeds extremist thought.)
   
We never hear descriptions of extreme, liberal Utopias from liberals themselves. Liberals have become much more moderate in recent decades, despite charges to the contrary. We do hear warnings made by their opponents, however, about a huge federal government that does everything for everyone. It has been likened to communism, or extreme socialism. Such a state would foster dependency and discourage personal responsibility and initiative. Freedom would be lost in the outcome, opening doors to despotism. Every program that helps the poor or curtail environmental pollution is considered proof that this is happening. Although this description given to us by opponents of liberalism, for our purposes it serves as a point of reference. (Some conservatives believe that the popular ownership of guns is the only defense people have from a tyrannical takeover of communist-style liberalism, and the "immoral, atheistic" consequences thereof.)
   
Neither of these visions has any relationship to reality. They are based on concepts that arise from the constant bantering of political contention, and are meant to enflame the passions. Reality shows that when conservatives are in power, the size of government is not reduced and is often expanded. They may reduce taxes, but this only contributes to the huge national deficit that they themselves complain about. When liberals are in charge, their policies are a far cry from those of communism. Yes, they do help the poor and protect the environment, but that is common among civilized nation-states, especially in the west. An argument can be made that providing food stamps and affordable healthcare actually enhances personal freedom rather than detracts from it, as the ravages of poverty and disease well illustrate.
   
The partisan battle devolves into name-calling, false accusations, conspiracy theories and distracting wedge issues which, by their nature, have no easy solutions but successfully promote unending contention. This is the circle of politics that we live in, seasoned with schoolyard antics, political posturing, screaming heads, and the ubiquitous unending whining and complaining of talk radio.
   
This is hardly the mature statesmanship and tranquility that our founders envisioned. And it is not their fault - it is ours. We have lost touch with the requirements of civilized behavior. We have placed artificially provoked passions ahead of reason and national unity. Those who would profit from this madness, and they are many, are weakening the ties of civilization.
   
The size of government must not be decided by arbitrary partisan taglines. It must be as small or as large as it needs to be to accomplish its purpose, which is to promote and protect the public good (or "general welfare" as the Constitution calls it).

What is the public Good?

In truth, the question is, and always must be, open-ended. It certainly cannot be limited to the world understanding of 1789. (That vision changed almost as soon as it was given, turning the republic into more of a democracy.)
   
We need leaders who can decipher the public good in relation to present needs as well as future possibilities. Such leaders must be educated, intelligent, impartial, of utmost integrity, and strong enough to stand against special interests when it comes to protecting the public good. They must understand world events and be impervious to the lure of corruption.
   
Is this too much to expect? It is if we limit human nature to what we see today.
   
To attain such leaders we need to create such citizens. This was surely the original intent of the founders, who envisioned a new world based on reason, virtue and compatriotism. We must take awareness of our own evolution as people and as a society, and steer it toward virtue and away from vice. This is the responsibility that freedom demands from us. It is our duty, a moral duty that we can all unite with.
   
The expectations of an ethical culture, along with education aimed at liberating the mind to produce free-thinkers, provide the means to encourage this progression.
   
We must expect more from human behavior than we have previously. This means no longer rewarding negative behavior.

The Error

The founders of the United States made a grave error, the results of which they regretted later in life. They thought that the introduction of freedom based on a republican principles would inspire people to rise to new heights of virtue. This was the impetus of their movement. The innate virtues of human nature would kick-in automatically. Nature's Law was something they believed in, a path that would bring out the best in all people, as the Declaration of independence made clear. Such beliefs were part of the Age of Enlightenment air that intellectuals breathed. It was not necessarily as valued by the average American. A more pervasive, popular view of freedom focused on national pride derived from republican egalitarianism, the social mobility that came from hard work, and acquiring a voice in government. Everyone wanted their voice to be heard as it was, no matter what their station. The dream of an enlightened republic based on the Roman ideal, led by impartial, noble statesman for the good of all humanity, fizzled out. Self-interest became the new moral guide, defining the world we live in today.

The Answer?

There is much to be said about enlightened self-interest. Indeed, drawn out to its logical conclusion, it could lead to results similar to what our founders intended. Self-interest that is not enlightened, that is surface level only, that reduces individualism to the debasement of greed, completely lacking a social conscience, is something very different. No doubt, our high-minded founders, who were willing to sacrifice everything to the public good, would consider a dominant emphasis on self-interest morally repulsive, a personal tyranny of vice painted with a moral veneer.
    The question that confronts us now is this: Is it possible to take back some of our founders' idealism and maneuver our modern world onto a better trajectory?
    So imbued we are in an environment of self-interest, fixed and powerfully successful for those adept in making money, that the kind of change we are talking about seems unreasonably challenging and undesired. Unquestioned self-interest defines us. It defines our politics and national policies. It shapes our economy. Despite some problems, it basically works. Why tinker with it?
    Because there are long-term, structural faults in our economy, our politics and our personal lives that can be overlooked only at our peril. We know this. We willingly look the other way as the national deficit increases beyond comprehension, income disparity agitates the middle class, politics takes on the characteristics of a lunchroom spitball fight in high school, terrorism continues to plague us with the wrath of fanaticism, prisons are filled beyond capacity, and senseless mass killings by disturbed individuals mirror the images of our entertainment industry. Something is dreadfully wrong and needs to be corrected. The more advanced our knowledge-base and technology becomes, the less progress we make in sensible decisions.
    But is the kind of change we are talking about realistic? Is it too much to ask from people who are products of this present-day environment, and invested in things just the way they are?
    It is if you believe, in your heart-of-hearts, that human nature is somehow bound to the hardships and insecurities of greed and the lust for power. Many do believe that. They cannot imagine otherwise. The lure of success is just too understandable, too strong. And compared to what?
    What they fail to grasp is that just beneath the surface of their constant need for distraction is an emptiness that greed and power cannot fill. There is dissatisfaction, a constant discontent that they prefer not to recognize. No amount of money or power or celebrity can fulfill this hidden quarter of human nature. In fact, that kind of success seems to exasperate it, leading to broken relationships, chemical addition, and even to suicide. Despite all the challenges and distractions of success, failure and the safe refuge of enduring mediocrity, something in their nature, that which makes them human above all other criteria, remains unfulfilled. We are no longer what human nature pushes us to be. We are a runaway havoc of social discontent, without direction, without control, a protracted immaturity that denies us the satisfaction of becoming who we really are.
    The crossover to maturity that people inherently need but generally lack may be obtained by responding to an enlightened code of ethics. The code may be simple, and preferably rooted in one's culture, but must appeal to responsibility of conscience that prods us to grow toward perfection - all the while knowing that perfection itself cannot be obtained. The striving is enough to awaken the moral center.
   
Our founders understood Nature's Law to mean the studious application of reason to the stimulus of conscience. This is the moral law, biblically described as being written in one's heart ("they are a law unto themselves"). Conscience is part of human nature, an entirely subjective experience that completes the individual. As such, it stands to reason that it must be listened to, not pushed aside by the twisted logic or ideologies, or the laziness of the drab mentality of perpetually being a follower. Subjectivity, individuality, living in the moment, requires an inquisitive mind. In medieval literature, the achievement of the Holy Grail is attained by questions, not answers. In religious text, we are told to seek in order to find, to knock so that the door will be opened for us. To follow the crowd is to be lost in sea of otherness. It is a shirking of responsibility to one's very existence, and contrary to our innermost aspirations. The purpose of the code is not just to guide one's behavior, but to awaken one to the aspects of living one's life as quest for of personal development.
   
We start when we commit ourselves to develop our lives to the greater good. That is the first step on the path toward the fulfillment of human nature, and it is contrary to prevailing values. A political ideology that fails to do this invites the corruption that aligns itself with the priority of self-interest.
   
Consider: with self-interest, I may act a certain way in order to be perceived as a good person so that others may trust me. My act may be quite elaborate, and will indeed curb my behavior. A business may go the extra mile to provide good service in order to attract more customers and secure their loyalty. This all makes good sense. We understand why I may act good, and why a business gains reliability. There is a tangible exchange of value. We find intellectual security in that.
   
But the idea of goodness that accompanies this comes with a price-tag as it were. It is the shape and form of goodness, even reliably so as long as the benefit remains, but it is somewhat questionable in substance. The spiritual authenticity of the message does not quite hit the mark. It comes with conditions. It is a mutual benefit rather than an unadulterated good. We know that. We even appreciate it, because it speaks our language of self-interest. But it does satisfy our spiritual need for authenticity, our need of conscience. We quietly hunger inside for something more real, something that affirms that life is good, because we can see that true goodness, imperfect, yes, and sometimes limited only to intent, actually exists. We see what we can become, and that affirms our deepest strivings.
   
Compared to this, the dynamics of partisan politics deal mostly with appearances, illusions, false arguments and scandal mongering that leave us spiritually bereft. Their relationship to reality is misleadingly and destructively false. Instead of grudgingly tolerating them, people who respect truth should be outraged and demand better.
   
It is time for a moral revolution based on the reassertion of virtue in politics, replacing the negativity of partisanship. It starts with us, with asserting virtue in our lives, shaping leaders of tomorrow who are uncompromisingly dedicated to the greater good.

Top


Special Features:

 

     
     
 

IFCN Established 2007
© Copyright 2006