This op-ed in the New York Times has me worried. I am worried because I know a lot of people who are so convinced that government is the cause of all the problems in their lives, they tread into the ground that the editorialist describes. I am worried because, to a degree, I share some economic views, some social views, and even some political concerns with the “nuts” the editorialist writes about.
However, I completely dissociate myself with the means of those Frank Rich describes in the editorial. These means will lead to increased bloodshed and tyranny, less freedom and prosperity. These means are full of hatred, force, and violence than cannot be used to fix anything. These means are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus Christ that many of these “nuts” claim to espouse.
The environment we are in is similar to that in Athens during the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides describes it thus:
Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries. In fine, to forestall an intending criminal, or to suggest the idea of a crime where it was wanting, was equally commended until even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve; for such associations had not in view the blessings derivable from established institutions but were formed by ambition for their overthrow; and the confidence of their members in each other rested less on any religious sanction than upon complicity in crime. The fair proposals of an adversary were met with jealous precautions by the stronger of the two, and not with a generous confidence. Revenge also was held of more account than self-preservation. Oaths of reconciliation, being only proffered on either side to meet an immediate difficulty, only held good so long as no other weapon was at hand; but when opportunity offered, he who first ventured to seize it and to take his enemy off his guard, thought this perfidious vengeance sweeter than an open one, since, considerations of safety apart, success by treachery won him the palm of superior intelligence. Indeed it is generally the case that men are readier to call rogues clever than simpletons honest, and are as ashamed of being the second as they are proud of being the first. The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention. The leaders in the cities, each provided with the fairest professions, on the one side with the cry of political equality of the people, on the other of a moderate aristocracy, sought prizes for themselves in those public interests which they pretended to cherish, and, recoiling from no means in their struggles for ascendancy engaged in the direst excesses; in their acts of vengeance they went to even greater lengths, not stopping at what justice or the good of the state demanded, but making the party caprice of the moment their only standard, and invoking with equal readiness the condemnation of an unjust verdict or the authority of the strong arm to glut the animosities of the hour. Thus religion was in honour with neither party; but the use of fair phrases to arrive at guilty ends was in high reputation. Meanwhile the moderate part of the citizens perished between the two, either for not joining in the quarrel, or because envy would not suffer them to escape.
Thus every form of iniquity took root in the Hellenic countries by reason of the troubles. The ancient simplicity into which honor so largely entered was laughed down and disappeared; and society became divided into camps in which no man trusted his fellow.
The fear and distrust that permeate our political environment is disturbing. Is power to be distrusted? Absolutely, that’s why checks and balances in government are absolutely essential. Have some of those checks and balances been destroyed or ignored? Yes. So how do we go about fixing things?
We engage in the conversation, instead of angrily getting into a bunker mentality. We talk to those running for office and make clear our views and ideas in an appropriate and non-threatening, non-violent tone. We discuss options for changing the current political structures to sure up the checks and balances that are tipping.
But if you are convinced that the government is stealing your money by taxing you, have the guts to stop paying your taxes, as Henry David Thoreau did. If you are convinced that certain laws are unjust, violate them and spend time in jail to prove your point and bring others around to your point of view.
If you aren’t so convinced of your position to be willing to stake your own life non-violently, why are you willing to stake someone else’s life violently? There is nothing Christian about threatening violent revolution, or rebellion. If you disagree with what the government is doing so adamantly, stop cooperating with it. Don’t take Medicare or Medicaid. Don’t send your kids to public schools where they will be indoctrinated by “the socialists”.
But don’t ever take up a weapon of aggression (and even consider turning the other cheek in response to force) in order to make your point. Aggression has been tried in the history of the world, and it is the least effective method of changing things and in fact it can be argued that aggression doesn’t change anything.
So long as we allow fear to motivate our actions, it will lead us down the road to violence, oppression, war and tyranny; it also leads us down the road to bad legislation, poverty, and debt.
The reason for the American Revolution was that the American colonists had no representation, no say, in their government. However some may feel that this is the case today, our situation has not yet arrived at this point. Participate. Engage. Expand your knowledge base. Expand your circle of friends. Talk to people you disagree with or you think are different from you.
The forms are still in place. The dialog is still more free than in any other place. But please, please, do not buy into the fear-mongering, the hate-mongering, the idea that violence will fix anything. It will only enslave and tyrannize.