Graduation and The Decline of America

Pictures of kids in caps and gowns kids are showing up on my Facebook these weeks. Family and friends are graduating. I'm delighted but also deeply saddened how the garb reflects but a veneer of learning covering a chasm of ignorance. It spans Harvard to Howard Community College. We are often spending hundreds of thousands of dollars leading to such ceremonies but the vast majority of these kids are clueless about the fundamentals of our American value system.

The great libertarian legal scholar Richard Epstein wrote a superb essay, Our Obsolete Constitution, reminding me of all this. It examined the notion of factions discussed by Madison in #10 of the Federalist Papers. Mention that to any of these kids and it would be as if one were speaking Icelandic. Yet their lives are profoundly and daily affected by how we understand such ideas. How we work and play, live productive lives, build business and acquire property rely on a solid understanding of American values and why, for instance, Madison and our founders so vehemently fought against factions and structured our federal government to quell if not destroy them.

To be honest, for years I too was a bit bewildered by the idea. At least I thought about it.  (Our kids after 16 years of schooling haven't encountered the vital American issue.) Why, I asked myself, regarding the word faction, would Madison be so against what we love, a diversity of ideas. I thought the clash of competing ideas in the public space was how we best got at truth.  Shouldn't America welcome factions?

I did not understand Madison. Professor Epstein clarified it. Madison was not against diversity of ideas. He was against a very different thing. He was against what has occurred throughout human history, power becoming concentrated in groups of citizens, whether they be a vocal and powerful minority or majority, making the others bend to their will. These factions he and the other founders agreed were antithetical to the new experiment in the world, America.

Such factional activity is a harsh assault on the core value of America, liberty. Liberty, American liberty, is where power and control, private property and money is seeded in the individual citizen. It’s the most moral and exceptional form of liberty, ultimately deriving from our religious roots where every man is considered equal in the eyes of God. Factions destroy liberty. Factions are a country level form of bullying. Madison argued they must be powerfully fought against. He and the other founders did it through the laws of our great Constitution and through how it structures our government as a republic with separation of powers.

In law, this is most well seen with the General Welfare clause of the Constitution. There, it is clear and unambiguous. The politicians in Washington may only act, in limited and enumerated ways, and only if it benefits the entire citizenry. Hence, we build and maintain an American Army to protect us from foreign foes. We build an interstate road system to connect all citizens so commerce may run freely and efficiently. Our federal government is to make laws and take and spend our hard earned money, not to help one group over another, not to divide and Balkanize us, not to hand Obamaphones to one group, free healthcare to another and free contraceptive pills to yet another, but to unite us with common and vital government activity.

But Madison is now ignored by millions of Americans and unknown by millions of our graduates. Factions have now become rampant in America and our core value of liberty crumbles.  Now the politician in Washington orders citizen in Barrow, Alaska to go out to work and by threat of violence hand over large amounts of his money to give it to citizens he deems more worthy. John is essentially ordered to work for Mary because Mary is an environmentalist, or teacher union member, a feminist or public employee union member, a gay activist, pro-abortion activist, black activist, a poor activist or rich activist, young or old ,Latino or Chicano activist, or on the board of a powerful drug company or finance institution activist.

And as our President clearly and frighteningly enunciated, "I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money." He left out the next vital sentences which naturally follows, "And I politician will take the rest, and the power that accompanies it and redistribute it to others I think are more deserving. Factions are my fodder to gain and retain and distribute power." Madison would be appalled. He'd call it un-American, factionalism on steroids. Madison was delighted in the diversity of opinions and interests in America but warned us clearly about such attacks on our core liberty. He warned us about an emboldened and strong federal government redistributing power and money from one citizen to another through such factionalism. That, he argued is when America fails because liberty ends and tyranny begins.

But most of our graduates don’t know or think about any of this.  Most are focused on fluff, materialism, celebrity, Hollywood, entertainment, carbon dioxide emissions- plant food, and recycling. They walk away carrying those diplomas, almost empty of meaning. American education has in general failed and failed miserably to do the basic task it is assigned, teach our children who we are and why the American value system is what it is and why it is so moral and good.  It has failed to teach that morality and a good life in America is fundamentally tied to a love of liberty and hatred of factionalism. This portends dark times ahead unless we get back to the basics of educating our young people.

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