Authors: Mark R. Levin
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To My Beloved Family, Fellow Countrymen, and Future Generations
Children sweeten labours, but they make misfortunes more bitter: they increase the cares of life, but they mitigate the remembrance of death.
âBritish philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon
CAN WE SIMULTANEOUSLY LOVE
our children but betray their generation and generations yet born?
Among the least acknowledged facts of American modernity is the extent to which parents, acting in their familial capacity, naturally and tenaciously guard their young children from threat and peril, to the point of risking their own physical and economic security in extreme cases; however, as part of the political and governing communityâthat is, the
âmany of these same parents wittingly and unwittingly join with other parents in tolerating, if not enthusiastically championing, disadvantageous and even grievous public policies that jeopardize not only their children's future but the welfare of successive generations. To be clear, not all parental decisions are impactful or consequential in the lives of children; obviously, not all decisions are equal. Indeed, the most attentive and nurturing parents are not and cannot be conscious of every decision they make inasmuch as the totality of such decisions is likely incalculable even on a weekly or monthly basis. Moreover, in the healthiest families, the most considered parental decisions, based on seemingly prudential judgments, can and do produce unintended consequences. Of course, the same can be said of decisions about public policy and governing in a relatively well-functioning community.
However, there are accepted norms of behavior, a
âborn of experience and knowledge, instinct and faith, teaching and reason, and love and passionâthat provide definition for and boundaries between right and wrong, good and evil, and fairness and injustice, applicable to families and societies alike. Hence, a harmony of virtuous interests, informed by tried-and-true traditions, customs, values, and institutions, and cultivated within families and the larger community, preserves and improves the human condition, one individual at a time, and one generation to the next. Broadly speaking, this is the
Edmund Burke, a political thinker who was born in Ireland and moved to England, where he became a prominent statesman in the eighteenth century, explained that the civil society relies on an intergenerational continuum of the past, the living, and the unborn. He wrote that “as the end of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living but between those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”
In fact, Burke went further, warning that those who forsake the intergenerational continuum condemn themselves, their children, and future generations to a grim existence. “One of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated is, lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors or of what is due to their posterity, should act as if they were the entire masters, that they should not think it among their rights to cut off the entail or commit waste on the inheritance by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of society, hazarding to leave to those who come after them a ruin instead of a habitationâand teaching these successors as little to respect their contrivances as they had themselves respected the institutions of their forefathers.”
History confirms Burke's observation. To embrace the moral order as parents nurturing their children, yet to abandon the moral order as members of the ruling generation, thereby contributing to predictably deleterious public policies with prospectively calamitous outcomes, is a decadence that leads to unstable and potentially oppressive or even tyrannical conditions which, in the end, degrade and disassemble the civil society and consume their children's generation and generations beyond. Reformation and recovery may be possible but difficult and complicated, and typically only after the exaction of an enormous human toll.
Burke's commentary was motivated by his reflections on the decade-long French Revolution and his revulsion at the anarchy and horror it unleashed. In the ensuing more than two centuries, and up to this very moment, the world has witnessed much worse. This is not to say that all instances of civil and societal dislocation take the form of bloody revolution or civil war. Obviously, there are varying pathologies peculiar to particular doctrines, cultures, governing systems, and so on. There are also differing events and circumstances, some building over time and others descending more abruptly, that contribute to the character of the discontinuity. But violence is the ultimate exposure.
Before Burke, Charles de Montesquieu, a French philosopher whose life predated the American Revolution but who was hugely influential on the Constitution's Framers, also wrote of the disastrous aftermath of the civil society's abandonment. He explained: “When that virtue ceases, ambition enters those hearts that can admit it, and avarice enters them all. Desires change their objects: that which one used to love, one loves no longer. One was free under the laws, one wants to be free against them. Each citizen is like a slave who has escaped from his master's house. What was a
is now called
; what was a
is now called
; what was
is now called
. There, frugality, not the desire to possess, is avarice. Formerly the goods of individuals made up the public treasury; the public treasury has now become the patrimony of individuals. The republic is a cast-off husk, and its strength is no more than the power of a few citizens and the license of all.”
In modern America, the unraveling of the civil society had been subtly persistent but is now intensifying. Evidence of rising utopian statismâthe allure of political demagogues and self-appointed masterminds peddling abstractions and fantasies in pursuit of a nonexistent paradisiacal society, and the concomitant accretion of governmental power in an increasingly authoritarian and centralized federal Leviathanâabounds. As subsequent chapters will demonstrate, the ruling generation's governing policies are already forecast to diminish the quality of life of future generations. Among other things, witness the massive welfare and entitlement state, which is concurrently expanding and imploding, and the brazen abandonment of constitutional firewalls and governing limitations. If not appropriately and expeditiously ameliorated, the effects will be dire. And the ruling generation knows it.
An August 2014
Wall Street Journal
/NBC poll found that “Americans are registering record levels of anxiety about the opportunities available to younger generations and are pessimistic about the nation's long-term prospects, directing their blame at elected leaders in Washington.Â .Â .Â . [S]eventy-six percent of adults lack confidence that their children's generation will have a better life than they doâan all-time high. Some 71% of adults think the country is on the wrong trackÂ .Â .Â . and 60% believe the U.S. is in a state of decline.Â .Â .Â . This widespread discontent is evident among just about every segment of the population. Fifty-seven percent of those polled said that something upset them enough to carry a protest sign for one day. That included 61% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans, as well as 70% of adults who identify with the tea party and 67% of self-described liberals.”
It is past time and, therefore, imperative that the ruling generation acquaints itself with James Madison's uncomplicated and cautionary insight, written to bolster the proposed Constitution's ratification at the state conventions. In
, Madison explained the essential balance between the civil society and governmental restraint: “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections of human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
However, why do so many loving parents, as part of the ruling generation, abandon the civil society for the growing tyranny of a voracious central government that steals their children's future, thus condemning their children and unborn generations to a dangerously precarious and unstable environment, despite a large majority acknowledging the national decline for which they blame politicians?
There are a number of possibilities. For example, language itself can contribute to the problem. The words “generation” and “ruling generation” and “future generations” can be imprecise and, for some, elusive. They can be thought of as merely theoretical and conceptual, or an unreality. Hence, the growth of numerous offshoots intended to provide context and clarification: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Generation Z, etc. That said, it is neither my purpose nor my desire to give them each exposition and fill these pages with distractions about sociological constructs.
Nonetheless, despite inexact nomenclature, there are differences relating to various age groups, some big and others inconsequential, just as there are similarities and shared interests. This is also true of individuals generally. More to the point, and importantly, parents are constantly thinking about and talking about their own children, and interacting with them in their everyday lives. Obviously, children are of flesh and blood, and their existence and condition are reality. Given that the future is not the here and now and future generations are images or ideas of amorphous groups of strangers, born and unborn, parents can delude themselves that their own children's immediate welfare, which they work to protect and improve, can be detached from the well-being of future generations.
This psychology also makes it easier for parents, as part of the ruling generation, to downplay or ignore the longer-term and broader ruinous effects of contemporary public policies and reject any role or responsibility in contributing to them. It is a contradiction that usually originates with governing elites and statists, who relentlessly reinforce and encourage it. They self-righteously advocate public policies that obligate future generations' labor and resources to their own real and perceived benefit, empowering governmental abuse via social engineering and economic depredation. They disguise the delinquency as compassionate and premised on good intentions, often insisting their objectives will improve the prospects of those most severely burdened by themâ“the children.” Moreover, the mastermind's tactics are disarming if not seductive. As I wrote in
, “[w]here utopianism is advanced through gradualismÂ .Â .Â . it can deceiveÂ .Â .Â . an unsuspecting population, which is largely content and passive. It is sold as reforming and improving the existing society's imperfections and weaknesses without imperiling its basic nature. Under these conditions, it is mostly ignored, dismissed, or tolerated by much of the citizenry and celebrated by some. Transformation is deemed innocuous, well-intentioned, and perhaps constructive but not a dangerous trespass on fundamental liberties.”