Dr. Ben Carson and the Responsible Self
Conservatives were electrified the other week by Dr. Ben Carson's appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast. Partly it was because he was taking it to The Man.
But partly we were all thrilling to Dr. Carson because he is a living breathing poster boy for the idea of personal responsibility.
Put simply, we conservatives thrilled to Ben Carson because we are the People of the Responsible Self.
Let me explain. Or rather, let sociologist Robert Bellah explain.
In "Evolution of Religion" Bellah argues that the "conception of a responsible self" got started over two millennia ago when religion promised "man for the first time that he [could] understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it."
Notice the Big Idea. If a man "can understand the fundamental structure of reality," rather than just get knocked around by gods and demons, it stands to reason he could do something about it, and it's a very short step to the idea that he ought to do something about it.
Centuries later we come to the Great Awakening, the great religious revival in Britain and British North America around 1750. Revivalist preacher Barton Stone commented on the effect of the awakening on the mechanics and farmers of the 18th century:
[W]hen we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakening from the sleep of ages-they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.
I interpret the story of the Responsible Self as the successive awakening of humans, as they migrate to the city, from the "sleep of ages." Here's another moment of awakening, when the German Army's Gen. Hans von Seeckt woke up in the 1920s to the need for something more than soldiers as drilled and disciplined slaves. He realized that the army needed soldiers to be "self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility."
Dr. Carson: "People are starting to think for themselves."
Heather Mac Donald: "Does the message of personal responsibility sell politically any more?"
Mary Walter: "It's easier to be ignorant and reliant than responsible and informed."
Talk about a love-in for the People of the Responsible Self.
Of course, the real hero of Dr. Ben Carson's story is his mother. She is the one that woke up from the sleep of ages and came to the faith that she could make a difference and raise a son out of poverty to become an outstanding pediatric brain surgeon. And that she ought to do so.
So much for the People of the Responsible Self.
Now, you may have noticed that our liberal friends are not People of the Responsible Self. To them the life of responsibility -- of going to work, following the rules, obeying the law and paying your taxes -- is very small beer. Liberals are higher and better than the responsible self: they are people of the creative self, the expressive self, the radical self, the educated self. There is nothing wrong with that, except for one thing.
Liberals, through their cultural and political power as the ruling class, have encouraged in their political clients the notion of the "marginalized self." It's not that the 47 percent couldn't wake up from the sleep of ages and take responsibility for their lives. It's just that liberals think they shouldn't have to. It's all the discrimination, the patriarchy, the racism, the marginalization: the marginalized self is "owed." For this crime against humanity liberals may burn in hell for all eternity.
All this is a pity, in the view of the People of the Responsible Self, because the people of the marginalized self are the people voting for trillion dollar deficits and unsustainable entitlements, and apparently The Man, President Obama, he of last week's State of the Union speech, wouldn't have it any other way.
How do we change this? Not with politics, for sure. Politics is and always has been about winning power and distributing the loot, and that's all. So it is foolish to encourage Dr. Ben Carson to run for president.
If you want to turn the people of the marginalized self into People of the Responsible Self then you must start a religion or a moral movement and persuade all the freeloading 47 percenters that they ought to become People of the Responsible Self, because otherwise they will all go to hell. Maybe we should ask Dr. Ben Carson to run for Reverend.
People don't change their lives for rational reasons. They change because something weird -- like, totally -- happened to them on the road to Damascus.
Christopher Chantrill (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us. At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism.