The times are strange, when ideological passions surge to embrace government as the vehicle to impose an evolving, nebulous “morality” on one and all. Notably absent from moral passions such as the Black Lives Matter, #Metoo, and Antifa movements are personal responsibility, or policy proposals. Implementing Constitutional laws to protect women, blacks, or individuals has been displaced by a visceral anger that itself seems devoid of any sense of personal responsibility in its thirst for collective retribution.
The gains in equality for women and “minorities” in the 1960’s and 70’s were visible in the liberation of those groups. The current strident howlings from the American Left liberate only anger and increased intolerance. But clearly, these rancorous voices seek to employ government as enforcer of a new enlightened order. They have not identified what government is supposed to do for the oppressed; they direct expectations toward what government is called to do against the oppressors — white police officers, men, white-privileged (white) people, heterosexuals. Attacking majorities in the name of shielding minorities.
Those seeking enforcement are themselves elitist Leftists who have lost touch with the American working and rural classes, as Thomas Frank explains in Listen Liberals, or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? On the eve of Donald Trump’s 2016 election win, The New York Times cited Frank’s assertion
….that liberals in general — and the Democratic Party in particular — should look inward to understand the sorry state of American politics. Too busy attending TED talks and vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, Frank argues, the Democratic elite has abandoned the party’s traditional commitments to the working class. In the process, they have helped to create the political despair and anger at the heart of today’s right-wing insurgencies. They may also have sown the seeds of their own demise.https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/01/books/review/listen-liberal-and-the-limousine-liberal.html
Instead of “looking inward,” the Left in 2019 has doubled down on its hate tactics, sowing seeds of deepening antipathy. As Bernie Sanders calls for free college education for the wealthy, it eludes those in his elitist base that most working-class Americans (whose wages are shrinking and whose futures look stark) never attend college. In the 1960’s, writer Wendell Berry summarized the materialist values that sowed this disconnect:
… in the minds of increasing numbers of the businesses and professions, the ideals of service and excellence have been replaced by the ethic of success, which holds that the highest aims are wealth and victory…. Here is an ethic that …is made to order for everybody, except poor people and losers…. The wealth of some is always accompanied by the poverty of others. And it ought to be clear that where there are victors there are losers. That we find these things so easy to ignore suggests how far our conscience has strayed into the middle ground where intelligence is impossible.(from “The Loss of the Future,” The Long-Legged House, 1969, p. 59)
America’s current chaos arises from a secular nihilism that prizes material wealth in a purely material world — how can there be personal responsibility when morality itself is under attack? How can the Left embrace moral relativism with one hand, and moral absolutes (e.g., of universal healthcare and incomes) with the other? More, what morality would be imposed through government mandate by those (of whatever political party) whose highest moral values are defined by money and status?
As America’s “values” dissolve in this modern Wasteland, regard for limits has dissolved. In the idolatrous pursuit of entertainment and pleasure, today’s American culture ignores equally the limits of the ecosystem and the limits of finance — treating both of these finite resources as if they possess an infinite capacity to flourish. This is exhibited in glaring display in Vermont, where the bloated government is choking the citizenry even as it clamors to find more government “programs” to rescue the people it is destroying. It is a vicious cycle of waste and dependence.
As Berry wrote long ago, creating a dependence on the government for food
…can lead only to an endless dependency on governmental charity — in which case charity becomes no more than a subtle form of oppression. If a man continues long in direct and absolute dependency on the government for the necessities of life, he ceases to be a citizen and becomes a slave.(from “The Tyranny of Charity,” The Long-Legged House, 1969, p. 8)
But food is something that needs to be produced in order to be distributed by government. Today, those who would enslave all Americans to government dependence have found an intangible to compel us to purchase — carbon credits. No production of goods is required. In order to save us from ourselves, the government (and its corporate allies) will compel us to purchase nothing at all, receive nothing at al, in the name of a program which admittedly will change nothing at all in the ecosystem. And consumers can keep consuming and polluting — they need change nothing at all.
This is a complete abrogation of any personal consciousness, let alone personal responsibility. To reframe Mr. Berry’s question — is intelligence even possible in such a government-as-rescuer climate?
The more explicit and detailed and comprehensive the law becomes, the more limited is the moral initiative of the citizen…. It is certain, I think, that the best government is the one that governs least. But there is a much-neglected corollary: the best citizen is the one who least needs governing. The answer to big government is not private freedom, but private responsibility.(from “The Loss of the Future,” Ibid., pp.56-57)
Vermont “progressives” now gather to implement grand schemes to save the globe from … carbon dioxide. But these grand schemes were concocted in corporate boardrooms and elitist luncheons, where personal responsibility is rejected — even scorned — in favor of government “solutions.” These so-called solutions do not call for personal decisions to pollute less — they seek to compel that behavior by raising prices (a sin tax) without regard to whether a citizen’s purpose in burning gasoline is a sin. But there is wide difference between driving to work, and driving to the gym or the movies. These taxes are regressive, and hurt the poor.
What is lacking in Vermont’s carbon tax craze is any appeal to personal, rather than government-mandated, responsibility:
We all live by robbing nature, but our standard of living demands that the robbery shall continue…. We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make…. Our most serious problem, perhaps, is that we have become a nation of fantasists. We believe, apparently, in the infinite availability of finite resources…. We believe that democratic freedom can be preserved by people ignorant of the history of democracy and indifferent to the responsibilities of freedom.(Wendell Berry, “Word and Flesh,” 1989, What Are People For?,” pp. 201-202)
Not all Americans are indifferent to the responsibilities of freedom. Not all are oblivious to the consequences of rampant debt and runaway government domination. A great many Vermonters have preserved their awareness of the perils of government domination, and of the importance of personal responsibility as safeguard of democratic freedoms.
It is time for those who manipulate government to be held to personal responsibility for their wanton efforts to enslave and destroy the rest of us.