Our Time for Choosing

You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.

Ronald Reagan spoke these words some forty-six years ago in his famous “A Time for Choosing” speech. Tragically, today in America it appears the time for choosing is fast passing. As each day goes by our debt grows more untenable; our security more imperiled; our economy more shackled; our government more tyrannical.

These are symptoms of an America that has chosen the wrong path. We lost our way on the road to civilization, veering onto the road to serfdom. Our plight is the result of a hundred-plus year campaign by the socialist sophists to slowly but surely undermine the bedrock principles on which we had built our strength.

While the ends of a nation are peace, prosperity and culture, from our founding there was a dichotomy of opinion as to how best to achieve these ends. It was not merely a matter of state versus federal or small versus big government. Rather, at its core the split rested and continues to rest upon embracing liberty or embracing tyranny.

As the underappreciated French Political Economist Frédéric Bastiat argued, “The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.” James Madison in an equally cynical but less damning statement asserted,

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Put another way, the great challenge of government is that while in forming it we grant man privileges to protect our natural rights, it proves difficult enough for man to govern himself let alone others. Thus, in devising a governmental system, our founders set up a Constitution of diffuse powers confined to explicit spheres. This was to ensure that the majority of power rested with the states or the people.

As our country aged, the state increasingly stripped us of our rights instead of securing them. Government grew whilst the individual shrunk. Whereas the law was meant to protect against the diminution of man, instead it was used as an instrument to plunder him. As Bastiat shrewdly posited in The Law back in 1848,

..legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways. Thus we have an infinite number of plans for organizing it: tariffs, protection, benefits, subsidies, encouragements, progressive taxation, public schools, guaranteed jobs, guaranteed profits, minimum wages, a right to relief, a right to the tools of labor, free credit, and so on, and so on. All these plans as a whole — with their common aim of legal plunder — constitute socialism.

If only this message had resonated.

We lovers of liberty allowed for the planting of these seeds of our destruction. We have always had the better ideas, but too often failed to adequately defend them. Our ideological counterparts, realizing that they could not win on substance propagandized through academia and the media, and co-opted the poorest and the richest in their lust to undermine our rights for their personal gain.

Anecdotally, we can see a clear difference in the logical ends of the policies the statists espouse. It is instructive to look at the experience of those in East and West Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall (well-documented on pages 33-37 here). Similarly, if we compare and contrast the liberal urban areas in America with the more conservative suburban ones, in many instances we see a clear difference in wealth, safety and overall quality of life, which is incidentally ironic given that it is often the suburban areas that subsidize their urban neighbors. Yet even with this stark difference in results, somehow we have succumbed to the path to barbarism.

Perhaps one of the reasons for our loss in the war of ideas is that while the battle lines are clear, we have not sufficiently articulated the virtues of our side. The following questions are exemplary of our divide, and were Americans to consider their implications in context of our political system, I believe support for the left would wither. Do Americans believe in private self-reliance or public largess? Do we believe in meritocracy or thugocracy? Do we reward success or failure? Do we stand upright or bow to the world? Do we wish to return America to fiscal order, or condemn future generations to debt slavery? Do we believe that solutions come through the ingenuity and toil of the American people, or from faceless bureaucrats in Washington? Do we wish to be the shining beacon of civilization, or a mere footnote in a history book? Do we believe in the individual, innovation, morality and the spontaneous and organic harmony of freedom or the collective, backward, perverted morality and destitution of centrally planned servitude?

The people of this nation know that the progress of man has always come from the individual, free to question, experiment and fail. In fact, it is often out of failure that opportunity arises. Our nation was built on principles the founders gleaned from their studies of the failures of their predecessors. They understood that powerful centralized government could never advance man, but only restrain him. They understood that the sole purpose of government was to protect man from the tyranny of others and that of government itself. This was to be achieved by building a foundation based on property rights and the rule of law, a foundation that would allow man to flourish. Sadly, generation after generation, we have allowed our government to usurp more and more of our freedom — to steal from us the life, liberty and property that make us people. In our quiescence, we have given politicians sanction to weaken our constitution and dehumanize us.

But just as failures created the conditions for the founders to build this nation, so too have failures created an opportunity for us to refound it. Today we have a populace galvanized against our largely corrupt stewards. We must avail ourselves of this opportunity to educate a captive audience on history, on principles and on the ideals that we have allowed to grow decadent. In the meantime in trying to roll back years of ideological subversion that have numbed Americans to truth and morality, we must elect officials who will stop government from expanding. Then, we must go to work in stripping it back to the bare bones ascribed to it in our Constitution.

In order to achieve this monumental task, we will need to seek out candidates who are unafraid of the censorship that is political correctness; who understand that the state is always to be subservient to the individual; who are willing to abide by principle even if it means political pain. In other words, we will have to find patriots who stand to gain little from serving in government, the very people who have traditionally avoided serving in it.

This battle will take many, many years, and there is no guarantee of success. But difficult as the struggle may be, appeasement and the middle path will surely lead to failure. Reagan understood this when it came to the Cold War. He argued,

every lesson of history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face–that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand–the ultimatum.

Reagan further noted as to a policy of appeasement that, “You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery.” One might add that chains and slavery will never lead to a dear life or sweet peace.

We must fight another war against our ostensibly well-meaning liberal friends, a war on ideological grounds in the political arena. We must express to all those who cherish this country that nothing less than our existence rests upon our fight against the tyranny of our democracy. Our state is a Leviathan, hurtling towards fiscal and moral bankruptcy and war. History will either remember us as the generation that twiddled our fingers while Rome burned, or the underdogs who overcame great evil to return this nation to its rightful place as a shining city on a hill.

We may lie very close to the precipice today, but it is still our duty to make the proper choice. We must choose to fight the fight for civilization or risk dishonoring our founders, enslaving our children and debauching our once great nation. If we choose rightly, we will either save our country from impending collapse or build a contingent strong enough to rise from its ashes. In a world being terrorized by the twin tentacles of socialism and Islamism, we still remain the last best hope of man on Earth.