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    Book Club: The Roots of American OrderChapter 12

    June 6, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    Yes, I am really still trying to finish this book. I’ve completed the reading, as I mentioned before, but thinking through the final chapter and writing about it is happening slowly. Actually, a lot of things seem to be happening slowly of late. But I digress.

    Kirk tells us the Alexis de Tocqueville warned against our “succumbing to a new servitude.” He {de Tocqueville} wrote:

    The Roots of 
    American Order
    by Russell Kirk

    Equality has prepared men for all this, predisposing them to endure it and often regard it as beneficial.

    Having thus taken each citizen in turn in its powerful grasp and shaped him to its will, government then extends its embrace to include the whole of society. It covers the whole of social life with a network of petty, complicated rules that are both minute and uniform, through which even men of the greatest originality and the most vigorous temperament cannot force their heads above the crowd. It does not break men’s will, but softens, bends, and guides it; it seldom enjoins, but often inhibits, action; it does not destroy anything, but prevents much being born; it is not at all tyrannical, but it hinders, restrains, enervates, stifles, and stultifies so much that in the end each nation is no more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government as its shepherd.

    I don’t know if this yet describes our whole nation, but I’m pretty sure it describes California. Obviously, things could be much worse than they are, and yet there are many, many stultifying laws in this state. Si and I have tossed around more than one small business idea over the years that died before it was born, and this miscarriage was caused by law. There were so many, that we either became fearful of breaking one if we took action, or we found it was not affordable to try and comply with them.

    This starts when we are quite young. We have all seen articles in which is detailed some local government’s direct attack on entrepreneurial children by outlawing lemonade or snow cone stands, bake sales, and the like.

    A friend and I were talking recently about how President Obama often holds up China as a sort of ideal we must follow, and all because their test scores are “so high.” Ah, yes, I suppose if you are high up on the totem pole, then it would be appealing to raise generation after generation filled with individuals waiting to take orders from the almighty government.

    But that is far from the American order.

    Or, perhaps we could simply say that this is not how things are done around here.

    But is this–the existence of cumbersome laws–where the problems start?

    I found it interesting that Kirk would answer this in the negative. Kirk quoted Brownson:

    In most cases, the sufferings of a people spring from moral causes beyond the reach of civil government, and they are rarely the best patriots who paint them in the most vivid colors, and rouse up popular indignation against the civil authorities. Much more effectual service could be rendered in a more quiet and peaceful way, by each one seeking, in his own immediate sphere, to remove the moral causes of the evils endured.

    Throughout the book, Kirk builds a good case for the idea that decline happens simultaneously within and without a nation, and that, in this instance, when we point at excessive, overbearing law, we must point the finger right back at the mores of the nation. He doesn’t touch on this, but I would say that not only do an immoral people require more laws {sort of like toddlers needing lots of rules because they can’t seem to act on or appropriately interpret principles}, but they vote for representatives who are themselves lacking in character.

    I thought that Brownson’s views on justice were something that our society could stand to hear more about. Justice is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days; I even saw it on my stamps yesterday. Usually, however, by justice, it is meant giving something to someone rather than getting out of the way of someone.

    Out of a solemn concern for the operation of Justice, Brownson argues, society ought to take every care that superior abilities should not be disparaged or positively repressed, that superior energies be not denied their reward, that learning be no trodden down by men without imagination. To each his won: to the nature entrepreneur, the fruits of industry; to the natural scholar, the contemplative leisure which is his need and his reward.

    Justice these days always seems to start with someone wanting to crush someone who is in some way superior, which makes it more akin to envy. Justice is not the same as equality, which often means we must cut the legs off the tall guy to make everyone the same. In other words, it disregards and fails to appreciate the nature of the tall man.

    [T]hat freedom [which is under God] obtains the justice of which Plato wrote in his Republic, and Cicero in his On Duty: the right of every man to do his work, free of the meddling of others; the right of every man to what is his due.

    I will admit it is hard to get comfortable with what is the lazy man’s due.

    Read More:
    Buy the book and join in the conversation
    More book club posts linked at Cindy’s blog

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