Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Summit County, adieu
On Your Right
I began writing this column before Barack Obama became president. Since his vice president is about to be inflated and shoved behind the Resolute Desk, it seems an appropriate time to take my leave.
In the past few years, I have lived a peripatetic life, lighting in places as varied as Michigan, Virginia, Florida and Nevada. Conversations in these and other places along the way have brought me to believe that while most Americans understand the necessity for government, they also have concerns about it. They approve of a government that keeps the roads functioning in all seasons, ensures the food they eat is safe and prevents really bad people from preying upon them. They are less certain about a government that teaches their children to despise their country’s history and distrust its leaders, while being either unwilling or unable to teach them the basics of reading, logic or math. And they have little respect or time for people with government sinecures and multiple abbreviations after their names who graduated from stratospherically costly universities and think everyone who didn’t is a worthless goon or worse.
In a republic as large and populous as ours, life experiences, educational backgrounds, economics, social categories — even geography — conspire to create a very diverse population, most of which have similar goals: to be comfortable, to pursue what Aristotelian Greeks would have called the “good life,” to see one’s children prosper. Most are accepting. And most dislike being called names like “racist” by people who don’t know them well enough to insult them.
Politics in America has become painfully polarized, mostly by those who like to call others bad names because it increases their own sense of moral superiority and helps them win arguments. They probably don’t realize the damage it does because, in their own minds, they are only helping the lower sort recognize that they need the help their betters are able to provide. It is from this blindness that brutal reactions spring.
Fortunately, our founders anticipated this sort of problem, foreseeable because human nature is immutable. To protect us from the worst of our instincts — political violence, chaos, despotism — they created a republic and a Constitution. The former spreads power as widely as possible, pushing decision-making that affects people’s lives to the lowest practical level, where a “redress of grievances” can be as immediate and neighborly as possible. The latter is meticulously designed to prevent concentration of power and to forestall majoritarian tyranny — the curse of democratic governments everywhere and across time.
Unfortunately, constitutional republicanism with its limited and circumscribed government can only be practiced by a people who understand forbearance, self-control, tolerance and who are accurately informed both of current events and of the lessons of history. John Adams described such “civic virtues” in a 1776 letter to Mercy Otis Warren, adding “public virtue cannot exist without private, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics.” Alas, such characteristics are in short supply today; their lack threatens to convert our republic into a machine for the enrichment of oligarchs, the politicians they control and a mass of clients who follow them for the scraps they are afforded.
For over a century now, part of our political class has been assiduously growing our federal government and expanding its reach, seeking to turn a majority of Americans from self-reliant citizens into clients and petitioners. When this is accomplished, their grip on power will be assured, and our republic, which has achieved wonders in its short history, is finished.
Off and on over the past 13 years, I have written about this danger. The response has ranged from subdued scoffing to rage. I’m not certain about the source of the latter, except to think that it’s related to the discomfort of being exposed, either as a charlatan or a dupe.
Lately, responses have taken a turn as the left’s cancel culture has taken root. About which, a final thought: Your pressure is telling. The itch to eliminate alternative views and voices is, always and everywhere, a hallmark of tyrants. Those who cannot successfully defend their ideas resort to force — the first and only response of authoritarianism. By their actions, one can know them. Or as James Madison put it, “When the majority is included in a faction, popular government enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.”
It’s been fun, Summit County. Adieu.
Editor’s note: This is Morgan Liddick’s final column. Kim McGahey will take over the Tuesday conservative column starting next week.
Morgan Liddick’s column “On Your Right” publishes Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Liddick spent 27 years working for the U.S. Foreign Service, primarily living abroad. He also spent 12 years teaching U.S. history and Western civilization at community colleges in Colorado and Texas. He lived in Summit County as recently as 2015. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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