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The Responsibility of Citizens
Our Ageless Constitution ^ | 1987 Reprint 2008 | Stedman, Lewis, Kirk

Posted on 03/28/2010 10:41:23 AM PDT by loveliberty2

The Responsibility Of Citizens

Enl. People

"Cherish, therefore, the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, judges and governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature." - Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Edward Carrington January 16, 1787)

Background And Original Intent

"A good constitution is the greatest blessing which a socie­ty can enjoy." So said James Wilson, in his oration at Philadelphia on July 4, 1788, celebrating the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. Wilson, who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, preached startlingly democratic theories - more democratic than the ideas of any other delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

Yet Wilson emphasized the duties, as well as the rights, of citizens:

"Need I infer, that it is the duty of every citizen to use his best and most unremitting endeavours for preserving it [the Constitution] pure, healthful, and vigorous? For the accomplishment of this great purpose, the exertions of no one citizen are unimportant. Let no one, therefore harbour, for a moment, the mean idea, that he is and can be of no value to his country: let the contrary manly impres­sion animate his soul. Every one can, at many times, perform, to the state, useful services; and he, who steadily pursues the road of patriotism, has the most inviting prospect of being able, at some times, to perform eminent ones."

Wilson's argument is quite as sound now as it was two centuries ago. The success of the American Republic as a political structure has been the consequence, in very large part, of the voluntary participation of citizens in public affairs - enlisting in the army in time of war; serving on school boards; taking part unpaid in political campaigns; petitioning legislatures; sup­porting the President in an hour of crisis; and in a hundred other great ways, or small-assuming responsibility for the com­mon good. The Constitution has functioned well, most of the time, because conscientious men and women have given it flesh.

The Premises of Americans' Responsibility Under the Constitution of 1787

In the matters which most immediately affect private life, power should remain in the hands of the citizens, or of the several states - not in the possession of federal government. So, at least, the Constitution declares. Americans have no official cards of identity, or internal passports, or system of national registration of all citizens - obligations imposed upon citizens in much of the rest of the world. This freedom results from Americans' voluntary assumption of responsibility.

In matters of public concern, it was the original intent to keep authority as close to home as possible. The lesser courts, the police, the maintenance of roads and sanitation, the levying of real-property taxes, the control of public schools, and many other essential functions still are carried on by the agen­cies of local community: the township, the village, the city, the county, the voluntary association. Citizens' cooperation in voluntary community throughout the United States has been noted and commended in the books of Alexis de Tocqueville, Lord Bryce, Julian Marias, and other distinguished visitors to the United States, over the past two centuries:

A republic whose citizens - whose leaders, indeed - are concerned chiefly with "looking out for Number One," and ignoring their responsibilities of citizenship, soon cannot "insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare" - or carry on the other major duties of the state. When the crisis comes, the people may turn in desperation to the "hero-administrator," the misty figure somewhere at the summit. But in the end, that "hero-administrator" will not save the republic, although he may govern for a time by force. A democratic republic cannot long endure unless a great many of its citizens stand ready and willing to brighten the corner where they are, and to sacrifice much for the nation, if need be.

Has The Consciousness of Responsibility Withered in America?

For the past five or six decades, several perceptive observers have remarked, an increasing proportion of the American population has ceased to feel responsible for the common defense, for productive work, for choosing able men and women to represent them in politics, for accepting personal responsibility for the needs of the community, or even for their own livelihood. Unless this deterioration is arrested, the responsible citizens will be too few to support and protect the irresponsible. By 1978 there were more people receiving regular government checks than there were workers in the private sector.

What follows, if we are to judge by the history of fallen civilizations, is described by Albert Jay Nock in his book Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943):

"... closer centralization; a steadily growing bureaucracy; State power and faith in State power increasing; social power and faith in social power diminishing; the State absorbing a continually larger proportion of the national income; production languishing; the State in consequence taking over one 'essential industry' after another, managing them with ever-increasing corruption, inefficiency, and prodigality, and finally resorting to a system of forced labor. Then at some point in this process a collision of State interests, at least as general and as violent as that which occurred in 1914, will result in an industrial and financial dislocation too severe for the asthenic [weak] social structure to bear; and from this the State will be left to 'the rusty death of machinery' and the casual anonymous forces of dissolution."

Modem civilization offers a great variety of diversions, amusements, and enticements - some of them baneful. But modem civilization does not offer many inducements to the performance of duties, except perhaps monetary payment, and certainly it does not teach people that the real reward for responsible citizenship is the preservation of a free society.

It is not money that can induce citizens to labor and sacrifice for the common good. They must be moved by patriotism and their attachment to the Constitution. And patriotism alone, ignorant boasting about ones native land, would not suffice to preserve the Republic.

Thus it is that on the occasion of the Bicentennial celebrating of the Constitution, a mighty effort ought to be made to restore the American public's awareness of the principles of their government, of their responsibilities toward their country, their neighbors, their children, their parents, and themselves to be sure that their patrotism is based on this solid foundation. No one knows how late the hour is; but it is later than most people think. Love of the Republic shelters all our other loves; and that love is worth some sacrifice.

Responsibilities Are Readily Forgotten

Nearly all of us are quick to claim benefits, but not everybody is eager to fulfill obligations. We have become a nation obsessed with rights, forgetful of responsibilities. In an age of seeming affluence, a great many people find it easy to forget that all good things must be paid for by somebody or other - paid for through hard work, through painful abstinence, sometimes through bitter sacrifice. Below we set down some of the causes for the decline of a sense of responsibility among some American citizens.

In other words, the temptation of public men in Washington is always to offer to have the federal government assume fresh responsibilities - with consequent decay of local and private vigor (it might be argued that, at least in part, a failure in the proper exercise of citizens' responsibility permitted the development of the welfare state syndrome - that the government owes them a living. In any event, once it got under way and the welfare state grew, the sense of citizens' responsibility and rugged individualism deteriorated).

These are only some of the reasons why a 'permissive" society speaks often of rights and seldom of responsibilities. A time comes, in the course of events, when abruptly there is a most urgent need for men and women ready to fulfill high and exacting and dangerous responsibilities. And if there are no such citizens, then liberty can be lost. It must be remembered that the great strength of the Signers of the Declaration and the Framers of the Constitution was that they knew their classical history, and how the ancient Greek cities had lost their liberties, and how the Roman system had sunk to its ruin under the weight of proletariat and military state.

Prospects For The Renewal Of Responsibility

What may be done by way of remedy? Although America's social difficulties are formidable, probably they are less daunting than those of any other great nation today. The economic resources of the United States remain impressive; and the country's intellectual resources are large.

This essay cannot offer, in its small compass, a detailed program for the popular recovery of devotion to duty. Here we can only suggest healing approaches:

In your own circumstances, you may encounter oppor­tunities for the renewal of responsibility more promising where you live than any suggested here. In any society, it always has been a minority who have upheld order and justice and freedom. If only one out of every ten citizens of the United States of America should vigorously fulfill his responsibilities to our civil social order - why, we would not need to fear for the future of this nation.

Our Ageless Constitution, W. David Stedman & La Vaughn G. Lewis, Editors; Dr.Russell Kirk, contributing scholar (Asheboro, NC, W. David Stedman Associates, 1987) Part VII:  ISBN 0-937047-01-5

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Editorial; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: constitution; education; liberty; responsibility
For decades, the essential principles underlying our liberty have been nearly erased from the nation's textbooks and public discourse. However, America's Founders would be pleased that, after years of such neglect, citizens of the Year 2010 are aroused and beginning to use the technology available to them to rediscover the ideas underlying their Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Many seem to be exercising a new and jealous regard for their liberties as they see a powerful and willful government exercising increasing power over their lives.
1 posted on 03/28/2010 10:41:24 AM PDT by loveliberty2
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To: loveliberty2

“A people unwilling to use extreme violent force to obtain or preserve their liberty deserves the tyrants that rule them.” Thomas Jefferson

We are getting just what we deserve, make no mistake about it.

“When the people fear the government you have tyranny, when the government fears the people you have liberty.” Thomas Jefferson

2 posted on 03/28/2010 11:12:05 AM PDT by stockpirate (Hey Beck, Thomas Jefferson was a birther!)
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To: loveliberty2
Good article. Thanks for posting it.

The Price of Apathy II

3 posted on 03/28/2010 11:13:50 AM PDT by Oceander (The Price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance -- Thos. Jefferson)
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