If you believe that institutions, local institutions like the city council and the school board, are only as good as their members, then you have to rely on yourself to be a somewhat useful person. Sooner or later maybe you step up and volunteer; maybe you have some spreadsheet knowledge, have worked with budgets, have tutored kids etc. We are only as good as our own decisions and our own self-regulation, and so are these institutions.
Our Republic requires this kind of virtue.
Now, imagine your Federal Government, hundreds if not thousands of miles away, is currently acting as though people who aren’t citizens, who have not contributed, and whose first act in our country is breaking the law, could have as much right to be here as you. This is a pretty ridiculous contradiction.
The potentially good news: Old, sclerotic, poorly functioning systems without much direct accountability, like many institutions in Washington, aren’t working very well. In their weakened states, and because of deeper trends and natural incentives, the rot has become obvious. Also, in their weakened states, they’ve become captured by many of the wrong people. There’s some good, at least, in having this understanding and knowledge.
The bad news: Maybe after a period of instability, we end up with worse institutions, or we flirt with tyranny, or back our way into an authoritarian technocracy. Pendulums swing after all. Actions and groups of actors create opposite actions and actors, more or less. Maybe the worse people don’t get pushed out as they should. Maybe many of the loudest and worst fight over the spoils.
Also kinda bad: Because most of us are living in less religious, less patriotic, less physically connected towns, and living amidst more secular, Self-focused and human universalist ideas, the turn Europewards to a more entrenched Left, as in many European institutions, could be inevitable.
Slower growth economies, more people fighting over less, and a greater likelihood of mid- to long-term violence and less trustworthy politics could also be inevitable.
Thanks for reading.
This Wendell Berry quote, from on “tolerance and multiculturalism,” from his essay “The Joy of Sales Resistance”, has stayed with me:
‘Quit talking bad about women, homosexuals, and preferred social minorities, and you can say anything you want about people who haven’t been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people, and so on.’
‘Here our account of the disposition to be conservative and its current fortunes might be expected to end, with the man in whom this disposition is strong, last seen swimming against the tide, disregarded not because what he has to say is necessarily false but because it has become irrelevant; outmanoeuvred, not on account of any intrinsic demerit but merely by the flow of circumstance; a faded, timid, nostalgic character, provoking pity as an outcast and contempt as a reactionary. Nevertheless, I think there is something more to be said. Even in these circumstances, when a conservative disposition in respect of things in general is unmistakably at a discount, there are occasions when this disposition remains not only appropriate, but supremely so; and there are connections in which we are unavoidably disposed in a conservative direction.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.
“Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality.”
‘The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.’