Friday, March 29, 2013

Description of America – of Yesterday & for Tomorrow

We have to get more people engaged in local government. Russell Kirk, one of the Foundational Thinkers who helped Americans understand the roots of conservatism (and who lived in Michigan!), has described America in a succinct way for me. I have included three paragraphs below. Don’t be dissuaded from reading by their size. 

He has presented the basics that should be common sense to every American. But even to me, a passionate and engaged citizen, has received great revelation and clarification in his prose. I have taken the liberty to embolden certain words that hit home for me…

These powerful passages are from his book, The American Cause:
“…the United States is not a centralized democracy. It does not have government from the top downward; on the contrary, it has government from the bottom upward. Strictly speaking, our government is federal, a union of states for certain explicit purposes of general benefit. Federation is very different from centralization. The theory of federation is this, that fifty sovereign states have conferred, of their own free will, certain powers upon the federal administration, to promote the interests of the several states and of the people within those several states. The United States are united voluntarily, and are united only for the purposes, and under the conditions, described in the federal Constitution. In the matters which most immediately affect private life, power remains in the possession of the several states; while within those fifty states, the people reserve to themselves control over most walks of life. The state governments, like the federal government, have been hedged and checked by constitutions and public custom.

“…Everywhere in America, individuals and private voluntary associations jealously reserve to themselves the rights of choice and action in those spheres of activity which most nearly affect the private person. The state touches these private concerns only upon sufferance, or not at all. Religious belief and affiliation are matters wholly of private choice; economic activity, by and large, is left to the will of individuals; social relationships are voluntary and private relationships; where one lives, and how, is not determined by political authority. Quite as much as in England, an American’s home is his castle. A great many Americans live their lives through without ever conversing with a civil servant, or even saying more than good morning to a policeman. Americans have no official identity card, or internal passports, or system of national registration. Until 1941, America never experienced peacetime conscription into the armed forces. Nowhere in the world is the operation of government less conspicuous than in the United States. If an American citizen desires to abstain altogether from political activity, even to the extent of never voting, no one interferes with him; and for millions of Americans, their only direct contact with government is their annual submission of income-tax reports. Private life looms much larger than public life in the American commonwealth.

Even in those concerns which have been opened to local or state or federal political activity, the theory persists that political authority operates only as a convenience to private citizens. The public schools, for instance, are intended simply to facilitate the education of young people, not to enforce the educational doctrines of central authority; although the states require that children should be schooled in some fashion, parents with the means are free to educate their children privately, or in denominational schools, if they prefer such methods to enrollment in public schools. The American assumption is that education is primarily the concern of the family and the individual, not of the political state; and this frame of mind extends to many more activities in which the state acts as servant, rather than as master.

“…So in America the things in which people are most interested generally remain strictly within the jurisdiction of private life. And in matters of public concern, it is the American habit to keep authority as close to home as possible. The lesser courts, the police, the maintenance of roads and sanitation, the raising of property-taxes, the control of public schools, and many other essential functions still are carried on, for the most part, by the agencies of local community: the township, the village, the city, the county. American political parties, in essence, are loose local associations: the state and national party organizations are the reflections of local opinion in caucus and town meeting. “
-          The American Cause by Russell Kirk, page 69-71.

Part of the reason this text is so poignant to me is that Russell Kirk tells me what America used to look like, what it should look like and what my generation should work towards making it again.

The older generations are alarmed at the absence of young adults’ participation in the cry to oppose the growing government. Russell Kirk’s book was initially published in 1957 (it has had updates since then). Since that first printing, much has happened to the culture where those born in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s need to read a book like this not only to understand, many for the first time, what government’s role is supposed to look like but who and what America truly is – a haven for a free, independent and responsible people.

For your convenience, here is a direct link to Amazon. When you’re purchasing it – say a prayer that these powerful descriptions of the beauty of America become obvious again to the generation who is stepping up to lead it.

- ajh