Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teach your children well - reality is in the balance


By Wes Riddle,
candidate for House of Representatives,
Dist. 25

I’m often amazed at the dire if comical void of knowledge people have about themselves and about their country. The reason is that the future is by definition a progeny of the past. Collective forgetting today will undoubtedly mess up tomorrow. It isn’t necessarily my wish that it were so—it is just the way time works. History is ultimately His-story, the chronicle of man and woman made in His image. The “present” (a gift) instantly recedes before a future, as yet unknown. The quality of the future, however, is shaped by our knowledge and understanding of the past, to the extent that history informs our choices and actions in the present predicament.

On one level, the past is a database of man’s experience. You wouldn’t throw away film or news clips from your opponent’s old bouts, if you were about to box with him. There are lessons learned and some moves to be avoided. There are techniques to study, trends to identify. Metaphorically, the present is a kind of boxing match. Only lots of people aren’t looking at the record, so they get sucker punched daily. I think the government gets far too many licks in, and the reason is simple. History once served as the basis and general framework of knowledge for citizens in this country. For a constitutional republic, history establishes the very legitimacy of our government; original meanings of words in their historical context define constitutional authority, as well as the scope and limits of power.

For instance, liberty was understood in the early Republic as a state of mind and behavior in relation to its deviant opposite, licentiousness. The concept of rights too implied a set of obligations and duties, i.e., restraints. Liberty was, in effect, a capacity to exercise natural rights—a capacity that all people did not even possess. That’s why Ben Franklin said of the Founders they’d given us a Republic and qualified as quickly, “If you can keep it!” He probably thought we’d at least remember the Convention. Today Americans speak in Orwellian Newspeak, because they do not know about which they are talking. The Constitution has lost its fixity because of it. The Declaration of Independence is frequently reduced and misconstrued into a partial, pidgin paraphrase of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s beautiful and moving “I Have a Dream” speech. The Bill of Rights has come to mean whatever a judge says it means; freedom means never having to be poor or getting your feelings hurt. The panoply of rights invented since the 1960s, as well as the “penumbra” protections divined by activist judges has significantly altered the meaning of America. But kids and adults know so little about their past, they cannot discern the big stuff—much less the nuances—in terms of the negative change affecting them and limiting their future horizons and potential.

History can help, but only if it can be taught. Parents and community leaders need courage to insist. A lesson from history that bears on the requirement has to do with what the old Whigs called “The Country of Washington.” It could also be called “The Country of Lee.” It was a nation made up of brave, honest, faithful and courteous individuals, that is, of men and women of character, like the Father of Our Country—Americans who would not shirk from their personal or civic duty. Washington and the other Founders knew that liberty would abide, only so long as virtuous character endured. Washington knew his history, and he modeled his personal behavior on classical Roman Virtues (e.g., honor, loyalty, duty) and Judeo-Christian virtues found in the Bible. He expressed and refined the national character in himself and serves as a personal role model still, if we pay attention.

Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford. Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves as State Director of the Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC). This article is from his forthcoming book, Horse Sense for the New Millennium to be released on September 27th. Pre-orders available through www.WesRiddle.net. Email: Wes@WesRiddle.com.

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