Half Past the Month: Charlottesville, Indiana?

August 19, 2017

SOME SAY THE DECLINE of representative democracy in Indiana began with air-conditioned meeting rooms and multi-issue legislation. You should doubt that; history is rarely so subtle. But incumbent politicians, especially, find it comforting to think that way. It implies there is time for a gentle correction of course. They tell us we need only be patient for one or two more election cycles until certain small, reasonable and effortless turns can be executed — a gradual, perpetual steering of democracy toward a heavenly ideal.

In reality, liberty is lost all of a sudden — a ship wreck, a statute toppled, a brick through the window, a financial failure, a declaration of emergency, a declaration of war, an invasion somewhere you’re not sure where, and all to thunderous, unthinking applause, as depicted in that profound scene from Star Wars Episode III.

It follows, then, that our freedom will be saved not in increments but by insight — that and dramatic, even heroic, action.

And it might be saved by us and not by a distant them, and by each of us and not by a chosen group. Your county chairman or district representative will have precious little to say on your behalf. The governor, your senator and congressman already will have packed their bags for the coast.

So with the Charlottesville events spewing images and thoughts that challenge our very definition of ourselves, the topic for our times is obvious: civic education, the study of those ideas that have guided us to this point. We would preserve a bit of wisdom in danger of being lost in what promises to be a heated, generation-long conflict.

That bit is contained in this question: What did the Founders mean by self-government? They didn’t mean what we see happening at almost every statehouse or city hall — that is, being taxed to ruin by despots seated atop a democracy overrun by crony capitalists and public-sector unions.

The question was raised some time ago as the Indiana Policy Review Foundation prepared an article on American civic virtue, one it titled “A Reading List for Legislators” (membership required). The selections remind us that for the Founders self-government meant governing one’s self. You won’t find any justification for slavery or even hate there. You should read them.

Governing one’s self. What an amazing idea, a daunting task. How much more difficult than mere legislating, i.e., the passage of politically timed laws in dribs and drabs as assorted “problems” arise.

There is another cinematic explication, a scene from the 1989 mini-series, “Lonesome Dove.” Gus McCrae (Robert Duvall) is about to hang Jake Spoon (Robert Urich), his friend and fellow Texas Ranger. Spoon had fallen in with a frontier psychopath, Dan Suggs. The Suggs gang had massacred a group of “sod busters” (the temptation here is to refer to them as property owners):

Gus: “You know how it goes, Jake, you ride with an outlaw, you die with an outlaw. Sorry you crossed the line.”

Jake: “I never seen no line, Gus; I was just trying to get through the territory without gettin’ scalped.”

Gus: “I don’t doubt that’s true, Jake.”

Keep that exchange in mind when the politician and his outriders, the police chiefs who have fallen in with street activists, try to deconstruct a core issue like private property or rule of law. You shouldn’t doubt that they, like Jake, see no line. And you can understand if not appreciate that an Eric Holcomb or a Brian Bosma is just distributing pablum about the need to reject hate, as if that basest of human attributes could be erased by political rhetoric. Rather, they are reaching for sinecure, trying to get reelected, refinanced or retired without being scalped in some figurative way.

A line is crossed nonetheless, and the offender, despite the best of intentions, whether a beloved politician, teacher or police chief, does not deserve your support. For the line is not difficult to see for those in the habit of looking for it. Both the Indiana and U.S. Constitutions illuminate it in the plainest of language. And if you are in a real hurry, there’s the Golden Rule; the line is quite bright there. No one can claim ignorance as to how we are to govern, how we are to govern ourselves.

The old way, the default way, ante Magna Carta, the way recommended by self-described progressives, puts our fortune back in the hands of a king; that is, the state, however the means of succession, be it democratic or hereditary or anarchy.

And that can only happen if we accept dependency on a fiction, as Frédéric Bastiat famously described the state, a fiction where “everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else,” a fiction where identity politics rules.

And so it goes these days — gentle, reasonable and fictitious “progress” and “tolerance” and “multiculturalism” pushed along with the help of affable career Republicans. Reality, though, will be a brick through democracy’s window, another statute toppled, a constitution burned. Watch for it. You’ll have to clean it up.

— Craig Ladwig



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