The political culture that we have inherited from many generations of traditions and precedents being set leads many to believe that the best place to find solutions for our problems is to depend on experts and authorities to decide what is best for everyone and submit to their decisions. While submitting to authority is an important part of living in a society that is ruled by laws rather than mobs and bullies, we cannot and should not sacrifice our ability to think, act, and provide solutions for ourselves.
In “The American Tradition” Clarence Carson wrote about the individuals who bring about the political changes leading to our current political culture. He specifically avoided questioning their motives and addressed instead the true nature of the problem they created, even assuming the best of motives:
They had forgotten what our ancestors knew, that a government of men is usually arbitrary and despotic, that a Constitution must be rigorously adhered to or it will lose its force and character, that concentrated power is ever a dangerous thing to the liberty of the people, that power exercised by a majority can be tyrannical just as that exercised by a minority, that the ultimate meaning of human institutions rests in their relationship to the individual, that government cannot act positively to benefit selected individuals and groups without acting unequally upon others, that goods are produced by the willing action of men who have incentives, and so on.
There are many reasons we study history. One of them is so that we can learn about cycles and how they affect human society. Another reason is to learn about human nature, or humanity. When we learn the stories from the past, it is important that we seek not only for examples of good we think we are like, but also to look at the people who did horrible things to learn what parts of our own character should be exposed to light and do some internal house cleaning. In this way history is an uncomfortable mirror, which we tend to avoid.
From German history just before Hitler came to power, for example, we could look for parallels in warning signs of a totalitarian take over. One of the ways that the Nazis gained information was by neighbors spying on and reporting to the government any anti-government sentiment. This created a sort of witch hunt creating a spirit of distrust among next-door neighbors. However, we can also learn about the importance of sticking together as a community, as evidenced in the experiences portrayed in the Diary of Anne Frank.
As I look at history, and I look at the state of our nation, I see a lot to be concerned about. I want to create a society of communities that support and trust each other, rather than spy on and betray each other.