Saturday, August 9, 2008

On American Rugged Individualism

Mike quoted me to say, “As to America's rugged individualism as opposed to Europe's Paternalism, I think the former far more healthy. I prefer a philosophy that encourages us to stand on our own two feet as much a possible as opposed to one that encourages its citizens to expect the world (or its government) to provide it a living. European Paternalism is Marxism-Light.”

Mike responded to this by writing, “Ah, Lawrence, you are one hardcore dude. I know you're worried about all the welfare bums of Europe ending up on your doorstep begging a hand-out, and I can't blame you, seeing as how you're the envy of all the world. All I can tell you is keep your guns loaded, bro.

There is one question that I've never been able to get a "government is the problem" conservative to respond to (and I think I know why) and that is this: what is there in you, about you, or that defines you that originated with you? I can't think of anything about myself that didn't originate outside myself. Every word, I use, every thought, every desire every molecule of oxygen I use to power the hundred trillion little creatures that compose my body -- there's nothing that's purely me, nothing I've done solely by myself. I can't sing "I Did It My Way" with a straight face. There's nothing rugged nor individual about me or anyone else that I can discern. So tell me, what makes you so unique?”

My response to Mike: No, I wouldn't say "the government is the problem," at least not in the present time, but our founding fathers were vividly aware of European history and how governments had traditionally been a problem -- at least for men that wanted to be free. So in formulating our government they were especially conscious of a particular set of dangers and attempted to guard against them. One of the best known guards was a built in balance of powers amongst the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Power could not easily be usurped by one branch although there has been give and take throughout our history. Perhaps at the present time one can most clearly see the Judicial branch usurping some of the Legislative powers, but this is well known and publicized and, thanks to recent appointments, the Judicial branch may be weaning themselves from that.

Europe has a different history. They never had our particular concerns. They feel more comfortable with paternalistic government, whether a "good" king or queen, or the Welfare State. They have even sought, some of their leaders have, that is, a sort of super-paternalistic EU government. That idea has been undermined by the French voters and some others -- the people, not the leaders. French people seem unwilling to give up their sovereignty -- such as it is.

Rugged individualism is a state of mind. We don't need to be quite as rugged as our pioneer forebears who gave rise to the term, but many of us would still rather do things ourselves than have things done for us -- depending upon what it is. Without doubt many Americans are growing up with a Europeanized way of looking at life. A world view of the warm and cozy cocoon where someone out there, daddy or big brother, keeps us out of trouble and protects us. Why should we exert ourselves? Let the government do it. And if anything goes wrong, blame the government? The government is at fault if anything goes wrong in my life. There is a shuffling off of responsibility. The idea of "duty" is moribund. We have no duty other than to pay taxes and homage to big brother. But most of us, and it is unclear whether this number is getting smaller or larger, still adhere to the idea of American individualism. We tend to take responsibility for our actions and our destiny insofar as we can gain control of it. We work hard, harder than Europeans, and we produce and have more. We are also more willing to risk our lives for causes. We believe in God and believe that our lives are not the most important factors in the universe. We will give up our lives if need be for family, friends, and nation. What we have here, some of us still believe, is worth fighting and even dying for. We like being free and our freedom demands a certain ruggedness if we are going to exert and enjoy it.

Lawrence Helm

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