Individual liberty, not servile dependency on government, should be the nation's North Star. The law should stipulate that we are captains of our fate, master of our souls. Misfortunes should find no refuge in government programs beyond an austere safety net. But individuals should subscribe to St. Paul's celebration of charity in his First Epistle to The Corinthians.
Character, accomplishment, and greatness are impossible without personal struggles against the ordinary depravities of human nature and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that flesh is heir to. Muscles atrophy from idleness. Emotional, psychological and spiritual strength wither without unflagging labors to discover and to act on unadorned truths about ourselves and the world.
A life undedicated to virtue and wisdom is philosophically empty and juvenile. A few lines from Plutarch's Lives speak volumes: "It was not said amiss by Antisthenes when people told him that one Ismenias was an excellent piper. 'It may be so, but he is a wretched human being, otherwise he would not have been an excellent piper.'"
When the government showers the people with creature comforts, it steals the pride and dignity that emerge from self-discipline and encounters with hardship. Life is reduced to the animalistic. As Shakespeare's King Lear lectured: "O reason not the need! Our basest beggars are in the poorest thing superfluous." Except for the rule of law, common defense, and education, dependency on government gives birth to effeteness or vassalage. Americans should be made of sterner stuff.
Government treatment of citizens as adolescents needing paternalistic supervision stunts individual development and maturation. As with the physical sciences, individual trial and error is the path to self-knowledge, understanding and fulfillment.
But many absurdly scorn the idea of returning America to a time before the Great Society. It exalted hedonism and contrived environmental excuses beyond authentic handicaps for all manner of human failings or sin. Great Society afflictions include spiraling teenage pregnancies and children born out of wedlock; a vertical plunge in academic achievement and knowledge of civics; a quantum jump in the incidence of crime; deteriorating health occasioned by shocking levels of obesity; sex-saturated entertainment or lyrics; a national debt exceeding $14 trillion to be thrust on posterity; and, role models whose morals gyrate between the squalid and the reprehensible. The Great Society culture of creature comforts and juvenile dissipations has engendered national decay and social pathologies.
The United States has lost its philosophical soul. The nation's predominant motivations are money, sex, power, domination, fame and indulgence. These are the motivations of children and adolescents. The American people and their leaders are more excited about professional sports, American Idol, and fashion than they are agitated about presidential usurpations of the war power, the vandalizing of the rule of law, and government secrecy, which causes everything to degenerate, even the administration of justice.
The transcendent motivations of the Founding Fathers were virtue and wisdom -- the cornerstones of immortality. The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to establish a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. In 1780, John Adams, future President of the United States, wrote:
"I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine."
In contrast to the second President of the United States, George W. Bush, the forty-third President, clucked to journalist Robert Draper in 2008 that his post-White House plan was "to give some speeches, just to replenish the ol' coffers." And the lives of contemporary marquee movie stars, performers, or athletes orbit around weight, clothes, and sexual allures or conquests. When they die -- unlike Abraham Lincoln -- none will belong to the ages.
It is the golden age of decadence. It is the golden age of sub-literacy. Only a leader of impeccable character and profound intellect can turn the culture away from self-destruction and drivel. Let's hope we elect to the presidency such a leader faster than Diogenes discovered an honest man.