CIVICS LESSON #10: A GOVERNMENT OF LAWS AND NOT A GOVERNMENT OF PERSONALITIES

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

John Adams’s oft quoted phrase “a government of laws and not of men” has very specific meaning. Our nation was founded by wise men who realized that a government of laws was stable, but a government of human beings, of personalities, was not. Personalities differ from person to person, as do ambitions, vision, ideas, education and depth. What one person believes may change from time to time thereby also making what he does about what he believes change, as well.

George Washington, probably the most powerful personality of his day, was once offered the option of being a king or a president. He chose to be president and even limited his service to two terms. Washington, in his wisdom, recognized the principle embodied in Adams’s phrase, because kings do not rule consistently, while a president elected by the people on the promise that he will maintain established laws, will be most consistent.

A body of laws tends to remain stable, providing those chosen to enforce those laws, i.e., the elected and appointed government officials and bureaucrats, pledge scrupulous allegiance to uphold and preserve them. In fact, when sworn in, elected officials take such a pledge before assuming office. But the principles embodied in our founding documents are easily lost or transmuted when they take second place to a “leader” in whom vast power is invested to govern without paying scrupulous attention to the pledge he or she has taken. Despite having taken the pledge to uphold and protect the US Constitution and the laws derived from it, Barak Obama promised instead to fundamentally transform America.

Therein is the danger of electing a personal leader instead of a public servant. In such situations, personality trumps the humble promise to keep the nation as it was conceived and instead to fashion laws and policies to suit his intentions. Electing someone on the basis of personality is like saying, “Make up your mind and tell us what to do” rather than “Make sure you uphold all of my established rights and protect them from being stolen by an unscrupulous government.”

To avoid this very danger, the wise founders of our nation gave us a body of laws to ensure our great freedom and of all our rights as American citizens. The founding documents of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the greatest documents ever conceived by man with respect to freedom and rights, because they chose the individual over government.

The practical fruits of the our system, the proof of its effectiveness and its value to civilization, have been two and a half centuries of freedom and wealth unprecedented in all of human history, not limited to those in political power, but spread among all people who possess energy and wit to pursue their own fortunes. But as Benjamin Franklin warned about keeping our republic, the Constitution and Bill of Rights can be lost to politicians with big, flashy personalities who make false promises. Therefore, as John Adams’s phrase tells us, we must have a government of laws and not of men.

FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse. You can find out more about FJ over at http://www.candiddiscourse.com/.

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PRIDE, WHAT IT MEANS AND WHERE IT COMES FROM

ID-100198631Every year there are parades and fairs celebrating someone’s ethnicity, nationality, religious heritage and sexual orientation. There are Puerto Rican parades, parades for St. Patrick’s Day and, in New York City, the von Steuben Day parade. We hear about Black Pride, Hispanic Pride, Gay Pride and other categories of “Pride.” Holidays are declared to celebrate various personages, Columbus and Martin Luther King, to name only a couple.

What is the source of “pride” in human beings? The Oxford English Dictionary cites: A feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired: and: The consciousness of one’s own dignity. There are negative definitions associated with religious practice, but those are not the subject of this article.

When I say pride, I am speaking of personal pride, not that general sense of happiness one associates with living in a good community or playing on a school ball team. Those are sources of general pride. We are speaking here of personal pride that leads to self-esteem. One takes pride in something specific; one experiences self-esteem as a general source of dignity in oneself. Likewise, when we use the phrase “proud to be an American” (said less often nowadays than it ought to be) we are evoking not pride in ethnic nationalism, nor pride in war and conquest. The pride of American patriotism is the pride of ownership in the principles that have made the US a great nation, founded on principles that make possible and encourage the freedom to achieve a personal pride.

But personal pride that leads to self-esteem is always the pride of having done something. When one takes pride in one’s own achievements, one celebrates the legitimate consequence of one’s actions. Pride must be earned. Winning a ball game, starting a business, getting a college degree or being successful at some other pursuit are legitimate sources of pride. That pride leads to real self-esteem and motivates one toward further achievement, greater pride and even deeper self-esteem. Moreover, the first definition leads to the second: one becomes conscious of one’s dignity and that consciousness grows along with achievement.

But one’s ethnicity, nationality, religion or sexual orientation are not achievements. Race is a matter of genetics, nationality largely a result of birthplace and sexual orientation the result of a complex mixture of genetics and choice. They are not a source of earned pride or a sufficient basis for true and lasting self-esteem. That said, they are not a reason for shame, either. They are just factors that must be dealt with in one’s life. One may be born with a birth defect or a superior intellect. Neither of these gives one a reason for feeling pride, any more than for feeling shame. But if someone does something with his superior (or ordinary) intellect or talent, if someone with a physical or other handicap does something wonderful, something which requires effort, courage and perseverance to accomplish, he can and should feel justifiably proud and his self-esteem should grow as a result of his pride. He can look at himself with greater dignity.

The association with someone else’s past accomplishments or grandeur is not a source of personal pride, consequently, it does not promote true personal self-esteem. I am an American of Italian descent, but I could no more claim a sense of genuine pride in the past accomplishments of great Italians. I could not assert that, even if Leonardo DaVinci, Michelangelo Buenoroti or Enrico Fermi were cousins of mine! I might celebrate their achievements and take them as an example of what can be accomplished with effort and inventiveness, but it would not increase my personal self-esteem one iota. I would not be taken seriously if I put their achievements on my resume!

The same is true of false historical narratives associating ordinary people with past greatness. Some years ago it was not unpopular for people to go for what was called past life regression therapy, in which they were hypnotized and asked to describe their past lives. Many, if not most, told stories of being related to kings, emperors or tribal chieftains. Why not? If given the opportunity to invent a past association, why would it be with someone insignificant! But it was outright fraud. Fantasy and delusion are not legitimate sources of pride or self-esteem.

I visited the Brooklyn Museum of Art some years back to a special showing of artifacts from ancient Egypt and watched a number of black people pointing proudly to the archeological treasures, sarcophagi, statuettes and jewelry of gold encrusted with stones. I heard parents telling their children to be proud because this was their heritage. Even if that lineage could be reasonably proven, it still would not supplant those children’s need to act in their own lives on their own behalf and create their own sources of pride. Back in the 70s, after Alex Hayley’s Roots appeared on TV, some black people saw themselves as sharing the noble heritage of Kunta Kinte, a character wholly invented by the author.

But there is no need for false narratives to encourage false self-esteem in children. I have scrupulously avoided such things with my children. What was done by someone who may share my genetic heritage or even my direct bloodline, does nothing to prove my own worth. Only my own achievements can possibly speak for me. Instead of invented associations and false self-esteem generated by a fictional historical narrative ought to be replaced by encouragement to develop, become educated and achieve good things with ones energies. If that were consistently done, we would build a truly proud society.

 

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A LESSON THAT OUGHT TO BE TAUGHT IN THE URBAN CLASSROOM

Photo from National Archives and Record Administration

Photo from National Archives and Record Administration

A lie is being deliberately spread among young black students in urban classrooms, namely that black people outnumber white not just in some big cities, but nationally. Young black people often believe that the US is like South Africa, with an over 80% black population and 9% white. Census data are often ignored in cities where black population outnumbers the white, with the excuse that whites have created a myth of their own numbers.

I know of at least one urban public school teacher who was chastised for telling the truth to her classes. Another actually perpetuated the myth, saying she did it to build self-esteem among black. But self-esteem is built on achievement, not lies, and students who learn those lies are inevitably doomed to crash when they must confront the truth.

Black people comprise 12.6% of the population in the US, while whites comprise 72.4%. What does this mean? It means that blacks comprise a small minority of the population in the US. But there is an important corollary to collective population numbers. They have nothing to do with individual achievement.

Every person of every race is an individual, distinct and different from every other person. Every black person is distinctly different from every other black person. Their genetics, circumstances, parents and all the factors that distinguish them may be similar in some ways, but never in all ways. No two people can live in the same space or  the same life. People are not collective. Nor are they statistics.

Despite what nefarious leftist and black skinned so-called “leaders” tell them, every black person is equal in rights and freedom to every other person, black, white, Asian, or any other ethnic minority. We are NOT a multicultural society. We are a society of individuals, each of whom brings his/her unique genetic makeup, heritage, and all the traits that make them individuals. Moreover, their experience is different. Aldous Huxley said, “Experience is not what happens to a man. It’s what a man does with what happens to him.” Genetics, upbringing and events are different for each and every person. It is what that person does with what he possesses that makes him a success or a failure.

But when young people are taught never to think of themselves as individuals, but only as parts of their collective, they do not develop the necessary initiative to go beyond those attitudes. Emphasis on the racist or prejudicial attitudes of others has convinced many black people that they can achieve nothing as a group until those attitudes are completely wiped out. They have been taught that yet more laws are passed to eradicate racism and prejudice. But state of mind cannot be dictated, and the passage of laws will not create success.

Lying about reality is a tactic to keep black people down and to treat them as a collective mass of votes, blindly supporting ruthless politicians and nefarious so-called leaders who know that without the lies, they would have no power. Truth sets people free and empowers them.

Racism and prejudice have always existed and will continue to exist. That is reality. But what people do despite them is what counts. Only individual and initiative creates success and, among black people, there are some stirring examples of what individual effort can accomplish. Economist Thomas Sowell, political activist and business man Ward Connerly, and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, have strived ahead despite these obstacles to achieve success and status.

Frederick Douglass is the most striking example of what an individual black man achieved despite a level of race hatred and prejudice that black people today can only read about. The racism of the Construction bears no resemblance to attitudes of racism today. Frederick Douglass should be the greatest icon among black people. They should celebrate his journey and read his autobiographies, both of them, and sing songs to him. His birthday, more than Martin Luther King’s, should be a national holiday, because what he achieved he did as a man and not as leader of a movement.

Yet many black students do not even know who he was, or, if they know his name, do not think of his achievements outside of the collective narrative that has been foisted upon them! The antidote to racism, which is a collective concept, is not to wait for attitudes to change or pass laws, but to educate black students that their potential lies in each of them as individuals, just as it did with Frederick Douglas

Colin Powell became a General and Joint Chief of Staff. He and Condoleeza Rice were Secretaries of State. They did not achieve those great things as “a people.” They did those things as individuals, proving beyond doubt what individuals can do with application, education, intelligence and hard work. Condoleezza Rice recounted words of hope from her mother that describe perfectly the attitude of an optimist who believed in her daughter as an individual. She said, “You may not be able to eat lunch at Woolworth’s, but you can become President of the United States.” This is not a myth. It is the truth, and there is no more moving speech one could give to a daughter or son to demonstrate the point.

In the memorable film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” Sidney Poitier, as a young doctor, famously says to his father, “You think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man.” This is the key. The attitude that must change is among black people themselves, who must stop thinking of themselves as a people and begin thinking of themselves as persons. They must stop considering their skin color as a set of chains. In America, there are no chains, not really, and if one flexes the muscles of his honest potential, skin color will never be the deciding factor of achievement.

I’m not black. I am an American of Italian stock, raised in Massachusetts in the 40s and 50s, in a town where racism was almost nonexistent. I went to public school with black kids and had them visiting my house. I don’t know quite why, but we simply did not think of skin color as a particularly dominant factor in our relations. To some, it may seem officious of me to say all the things I’ve said in this article, but they are my honest observations. Unlike many for whom they are a cliché, I actually take Martin Luther King’s words seriously. People should be judged by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin. But only when people break out of their own stereotypes will other people drop those stereotypes and recognize them as persons.

Trust me on this. Take it to the bank. Waiting out seismic changes in societal attitudes is futile, while acting despite them is positive. In fact, it is the only hope of reigniting the flame of the American Dream, not just for black people, but for all people.

FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse. You can find out more about FJ over at http://www.candiddiscourse.com/.

 

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