Robert Maynard
The "best of times" or the "worst of times"?
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By Robert Maynard
April 13, 2010

Recently I have been following a friendly debate between two champions of liberty that brings to mind this famous quote from Charles Dickens "A Tale of Two Cities":

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

The debate I am referring to was being run as Op-Ed pieces on various Internet sites between columnist Mark Steyn and Hillsdale College Professor of History and Politics Paul Rahe. The debate starts with a column by Mark Steyn entitled: "Tattered Liberty" in the January 25 2010 edition of National Review. In this column Mark makes this observation about England:

"In my book America Alone, I point out that, to a five-year-old boy waving his flag as Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee procession marched down the Mall in 1897, it would have been inconceivable that by the time of his 80th birthday the greatest empire the world had ever known would have shriveled to an economically moribund strike-bound socialist slough of despond, one in which (stop me if this sounds familiar) the government ran the hospitals, the automobile industry, and much of the housing stock, and, partly as a consequence thereof, had permanent high unemployment and confiscatory tax rates that drove its best talents to seek refuge abroad."

He goes on to discuss how European civilization went from being the dominant one on the planet to a civilization in decline in a relatively short time frame. Even this time frame might have been shorter if the Europeans would have been required to shoulder the burden of their own defense during the Cold War. Mr. Steyn sees America as heading down the same path toward welfare state dependency and the eventual decline of civilization that comes with going down such a path. He is not very hopeful that we will be able to reverse our current course towards destruction. It is in this final assessment where Paul Rahe dissents. Mr. Rahe agrees with just about everything that Mark Steyn is saying except the conclusion that we will be unable to reverse course. In a piece entitled "A New Birth of Freedom," which appeared on the Big Government website, he lays out his counter argument. Mr. Rahe has argued in his books "Montesquieu & the Logic of Liberty" and "Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift" that the real danger for democracies is not a surrender to socialism via a coup d'etat in the manner that Obama and crew are trying to foist on us. On the contrary, he asserts that:

"The larger danger has always been what Tocqueville feared: that the citizens of liberal democratic republics would gradually and unobtrusively come to depend on centralized administration for help in every aspect of their lives. Our propensity to drift in the direction of obliviously surrendering our liberties one by one in search of a security that no government can really guarantee has always been where the greatest peril lay."

He believes that Obama has unwittingly spared us from that fate by rushing the move toward welfare state socialism:

"Like Mark Steyn, I view Barack Obama as "one of the most consequential presidents in history," but not for the same reasons. In my view, he and today's Democratic Party represent the last gasp of the Progressive impulse. The tyrannical ambition hidden at the heart of Progressivism's quest for what Franklin Delano Roosevelt termed "rational administration" Barack Obama has made manifest; and to all with eyes to see, the danger that we have temporized with for nearly a century is now perfectly visible. As Obama himself has insisted in speech after speech, the moment in which we now live is a "defining moment." What is required in what he calls "this defining moment" is what Abraham Lincoln once called "a new birth of freedom." The period we just entered could be our finest hour."

His basic premise is that we Americans have not yet succumbed to servitude as the price to be paid for security to the extent that the Europeans have. In short, there is still time to turn things around and all Obama has "done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." (This is actually part of a quote from Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto after the bombing of Pearl Harbor) The sleeping giant is, of course, the Tea Party movement.

So, which is it? Is this the best of times, or is it the worst of times? That will depend on whether the American people still value their individual liberty and independence over a government provided security. In short, have we caught the "European Disease"?

© Robert Maynard

 

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