By Ray Allen
There’s a dangerous falsehood loose in modern America. It is the illusion that we can save ourselves from chaos by changing the men at the top.
To be sure, we need leaders. But, do we need one single leader at the top who has the power to arbitrarily solve all our problems? And, if we got such a leader, might we discover that he is not what we wanted, after all?
History clearly shows that such leaders, when addicted to total power, seldom surrender it without bloodshed. Our founding fathers called these hateful and dangerous men tyrants, and they went to extraordinary lengths to protect us from authoritarian governments of individual tyrants as well as the tyranny of the 51 percent majority found in pure democracy.
Yet, today, many Americans, blinded by complex modern problems and the threat of unending chaos, talk as if they would embrace any leader or form of government which could end America’s disintegration into lawless chaos. In fact some seem to prefer the idea of one centralized, all-powerful problem-solver over the decentralized stratagem of the founding fathers. Why?
Americans are infected with a Messiah Complex. We seem to want a big, benevolent tyrant who will solve our problems for us, leaving us alone to pursue our vision of pleasure without responsibilities or repercussions.
Having lost hope that we truly can govern ourselves, many are far down the road toward accepting the leadership of anyone who can establish a governing agenda for America while preserving the illusion of liberty.
I see three related reasons for our flirtation with authoritarian leaders.
1. No nation can long endure disintegration such as we will face if unable to resolve conflicting perspectives over fundamental issues like how to provide for the national defense, how compassionately to reform the welfare system and how to protect true individual liberties while restricting irresponsible forms of freedom which threaten the lives and liberties of all.
2. As democratically self-governed citizens, we voluntarily must agree upon goals, public policy issues, and, more fundamentally, values which are rooted in a broad, religious and moral consensus. Only voluntary union can end the chaos of conflicting ideologies resulting in a lasting governing consensus.
3. Americans seem hopelessly divided by deep disagreements over religious presuppositions, world views and values. That there is no modern moral consensus has resulted in a calamity predicted by James Madison in 1787.
Factionalism, Madison warned in the Federalist Papers, would give rise to a politically powerful army of special interests, each of which would selfishly control a fragment of the American political process. This fragmentation would make self-government by free men impossible, for it would destroy our ability to agree about important public policy goals and issues.
That special interest army is now upon us; its foot-soldiers addicted to the narcotic of federal funds. Virtually all would die addicts rather than face the cure of withdrawal. And, those who dole out tax dollars know they are buying votes. They, too, are addicts – addicts who crave illegitimate power.
So many Americans have fallen under the spell of these twin intoxicants that over half of all Americans now are recipients of some form of federal money – a situation which cannot continue indefinitely without national bankruptcy.
It is this budgetary crisis which threatens to unravel America’s last vestiges of orderly government. We can’t pay for currently budgeted guns and butter. Guess what will happen to the national consensus the day welfare checks bounce. Guess how long the Soviet Union will be restrained by treaties once our defenses are deemed ineffective. To remain vulnerable could be suicidal.
Obviously, we must hammer out a new national consensus – a governing agenda rooted in moral consensus, giving rise to a unified world view, and resulting in philosophically consistent public policy goals. But today, we are hopelessly grid-locked by the greed of competing special interests.
What lies ahead? Only three options exist so far as I can see.
We must form a new governing consensus rooted in the self-evident truths agreed to by our founding fathers. In 1776, we agreed that God created all men with unalienable rights to life, liberty (not the absence of moral restraint as in libertinism), and pursuit of happiness (family, property and personal conscience). We agreed that for these reasons (and these alone) governments are instituted among men. We again must buy in to these essentials and translate them into detailed public policy based on consensus.
Should we fail to reach a voluntary consensus which protects liberty, and controls chaos, two options remain: consensus as determined by the 51 percent majority – a consensus which shifts according to the laws of mob rule, and which historically always has led to the only remaining alternative to chaos – a tyrant who arbitrarily uses his power to dictate a governing consensus.
So, here we are, back at the beginning: What kind of government will we have? A colonial woman asked Benjamin Franklin this question at the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His reply: “A republic, Madam. If you can keep it.”
Yes, we must have a governing consensus; but, not one purchased at the price of chains and slavery. Forming a new governing consensus must remain our job – a job better handled by problem-solving leaders on the local level – by school boards, city councils, mayors, county commissions, state legislators, state senators and governors. Remember this point at every election.
No President can save America; and, we can’t afford to yield to the simplistic illusory answer of those who put unfounded hope in the top-down solution of the Messiah Complex.
Ray Allen is the chairman of American Coalition for Life in Washington, D.C., and the editor of Washington Report. His newsletter is available by writing ACL, P.O. Box 1895, Washington, DC 20013.