At least that is what one of my Scottish friends calls it. We enter the 237th year of our country with a question:
Where does America go from here?
We are truly joined in a battle between the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and those of John Locke.
The Hobbesian idea is that man must be controlled as it is not his nature to willingly be part of a social system, that as part of a “social contract”, we are to submit to the authority of an absolute—undivided and unlimited—sovereign power. Hobbes’ development of what has come to be known as “social contract theory” is the method of justifying political principles or arrangements by appeal to the agreement that would be made among suitably situated rational, free, and equal persons.
As we have discussed before, Hobbes did not think that every citizen was ”suitably situated rational, free, and equal”. In his book, Leviathan, Hobbes depicts the natural condition of mankind, also known as the state of nature, as inherently violent and awash with fear. For man to know peace, he must be subjugated, for him to know freedom, he must be controlled.
The Hobbesian idea that we cannot act as individuals and still maintain an orderly and peaceful society is being played out right in front of our eyes. Far from a violent takeover of our lives, it has been a gradual and quite frankly, an appealing long term seduction. As a friend once put it, he just wanted to do the things that he saw as necessary without having to worry about the “mundane” things.
Well, in the guise of relieving us of those “mundane” things, our ruling classes have exacted a price from us in exchange – our liberty.
There is a phrase that causes the hair on the back of my neck to stand up every time I hear a politician vocalize it – “this is for the good for the American people”. More damage to liberty has been done after utterance of that phrase than any other in American politics. I can’t argue that having your education, your career, your retirement or your health care taken care of is not an attractive proposition.
I also cannot argue that for some Americans, being independent, assuming risks, making decisions and being held responsible for decisions and their consequences is scary. When viewed in that context, I can see how Hobbes could arrive at the conclusion that it seems that the natural state of man is fear – fear of the future, fear of responsibility, fear of each other – fear of life seems to be the order of the day.
But you never get something for nothing. We must constantly ask ourselves just how much personal liberty we are willing to give up and how much are we willing to take from our fellow citizens to satisfy our fears.
In my reading of Hobbes, he never really addresses a key point about fear – is it truly a natural fear or is the fear induced and institutionalized by forces in society as a method of control? We all understand that there is a natural “flight or fight” response hard coded in our human DNA but as compared to prior ages, we live in age of historically unprecedented opportunity and plenty and a country with unprecedented freedoms, so what are we afraid of? There has never been an age where food was so plentiful, access to education and knowledge was so ubiquitous, the access to miraculous health care was so prolific, national security was so great (even with illegal immigration and the threat of terrorism, the US is far more secure than most of the countries in the world) and the ability to choose our own path was so easy – yet there are those who cower in fear of tomorrow and beseech the government to protect them.
I must ask – protect them from what?
It was fashionable in Hobbes’ time to look at the natural state of man as if he were a savage, wandering in the wild with only self-preservation as a motive force, that the state of nature is the “war of every man against every man,” in which people constantly seek to destroy one another. In Hobbes’ time, that could have been seem as true – war, hunger, superstition, disease and oppression were the order of the day. There was fear, not of being eaten by a wild beast, but of each other – life was brutal, uneducated and short.
That simply isn’t the case in the America of today. A recent (September 2011) Heritage Foundation survey found that :
For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests near destitution: an inability to provide nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter for one’s family. However, only a small number of the 46 million persons classified as “poor” by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity.
The following are facts about persons defined as “poor” by the Census Bureau as taken from various government reports:
- 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. In 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
- 92 percent of poor households have a microwave.
- Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.
- Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
- Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and 70 percent have a VCR.
- Half have a personal computer, and one in seven have two or more computers.
- More than half of poor families with children have a video game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
- 43 percent have Internet access.
- One-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
- One-fourth have a digital video recorder system, such as a TiVo.
- 96 percent of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry at any time during the year because they could not afford food.
- 83 percent of poor families reported having enough food to eat.
- 82 percent of poor adults reported never being hungry at any time in the prior year due to lack of money for food.
- Other government surveys show that the average consumption of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children and is well above recommended norms in most cases.
Television newscasts about poverty in America generally portray the poor as homeless people or as a destitute family living in an overcrowded, dilapidated trailer. In fact, however:
- Over the course of a year, 4 percent of poor persons become temporarily homeless.
- Only 9.5 percent of the poor live in mobile homes or trailers, 49.5 percent live in separate single-family houses or townhouses, and 40 percent live in apartments.
- 42 percent of poor households actually own their own homes.
- Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.
The average poor American has more living space than the typical non-poor person in Sweden, France, or the United Kingdom.
The vast majority of the homes or apartments of the poor are in good repair.
By their own reports, the average poor person had sufficient funds to meet all essential needs and to obtain medical care for family members throughout the year whenever needed.
There is no doubt that poor Americans do not live in the lap of luxury. They do clearly struggle to make ends meet, but when the struggle is not for day to say sustenance and shelter – but to pay for cable TV, air conditioning, and a car it illustrates that his lifestyle is far from the images of stark deprivation purveyed equally by advocacy groups and the media.
And the number one health issue among the poor in America?
I’m sure that some of my left leaning friends will see this as just another cold-hearted conservative showering the poor with right wing hatred but if they do, they miss the point – the point that I am trying to illustrate that the American population has less to be afraid of than any population in the history of the world.
So why are people afraid?
Even FDR famously stated that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Could it be that there are people in power who wish to maintain that power through fear? Could it be that there is an ideology that has developed as a vehicle to maintain such a level of fear and degradation of the human spirit through class warfare and class envy, dampening of expectations and suppression of true progress in the name of “social justice” and “economic equality”?
There is. It used to be called Marxism, not too long ago it bore the contronymonious name of “liberalism” – today it is called “progressivism”.
To understand a thing it is necessary to understand the opposite – and there is no more oppositional thought to Thomas Hobbes than those of John Locke. The Lockeian idea is that man is an individual and an a moral man acts morally, voluntarily participating in society and delivering value to society through his ownership of his productivity and his efforts to create value.
John Locke wrote:
The reason why men enter into society, is the preservation of their property; and the end why they chuse and authorize a legislative, is, that there may be laws made, and rules set, as guards and fences to the properties of all the members of the society, to limit the power, and moderate the dominion, of every part and member of the society: for since it can never be supposed to be the will of the society, that the legislative should have a power to destroy that which every one designs to secure, by entering into society, and for which the people submitted themselves to legislators of their own making; whenever the legislators endeavour to take away, and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the common refuge, which God hath provided for all men, against force and violence.
Locke’s method for controlling this situation was clear:
Whensoever therefore the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society; and either by ambition, fear, folly or corruption, endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people; by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who, have a right to resume their original liberty, and, by the establishment of a new legislative, (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society.
The similarities between this, written in 1680, and our own Declaration of Independence written in 1776, 236 years ago this week, are legion and not coincidental – Locke’s views had an undeniably significant influence on the Founders.
Perhaps it is time to issue a new Declaration.