January 2011 has already given us our first senseless tragedy, one which has played out upon the national stage not only because of its utter brutality but also due to its actions having been interwoven upon the loom of politics, perhaps a textbook example of what the Germans would call realpolitik.
As I understand it, the gunman in the Tucson, AZ shootings said he was set off because he didn’t like a congresswoman’s reply to his question “What is government if words have no meaning?”
I was asked for my thoughts on that very question, which I give below.
In the 1760′s, Parliament decided it was time for Americans—still subjects of the crown—to help with the cost of their defense. Boston merchants especially, had grown fat upon the largesse of natural resources around them without the onus of heavy taxation. Trade between the colonies and Britain had massive benefits on both sides of the Atlantic.
But American merchant-bankers and small shopkeepers were not the least bit keen on things like the Stamp Act, Coercive Acts, or the Tea Tax. Though in truth, the Tea Tax was notably insignificant, but the wealthy elite held all the power among the local political bodies and they exerted every means at their disposal to decry the taxes and feed the burning embers of treason and sedition.
The crown used its influence and legislative power in an attempt to raise revenues, chiefly to cover the ballooning cost of defending the colonies from insurgencies at their borders. What it wound up doing was raising the ire of those same merchant-bankers in the colonies—men with voices and pens dipped in the intellectual inkwells of Harvard and other prestigous institutions. These men used words to make impassioned pleas to Parliament . . . and to stir the unrest of the working class.
Government derives its power from ideas, from the abstraction of concepts kneaded by concerted thought and productive debate. When it fails to do so we are obligated, even duty bound, to do what is necessary to bring it in line with our wishes: “That when any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government … as to them shall seem more likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.”
Winston Churchill once said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried.”
Greeks in Athens and Sparta had slightly different forms of democracy, but when Persia threated their freedoms they fought intensely to protect those ideals they cherished. King Xerxes tried every way possible to conquer the Greeks but learned the hard way that democracies don’t fight until a truce is signed—they fight until unconditional surrender. Not only was Persia defeated, but Xerxes’ actions resulted in unifying what had been, up to that time, a nation of individual city-states.
Democracies fight to protect ideals given form by words, but given meaning from something much closer to the heart.
Government is given its meaning, its very power, by the people. Words and politics are often deaf to each others ears, but it is upon the citizen to make its government an instrument to his or her benefit. It is a blessing of Providence, and of men devoted to a belief in Natural Rights and Liberties, that we can use words to elevate our own impassioned discourse, and to convey the full measure of our devotion or disenchantment.
Words clench at our throats and nourish our hearts; they arrest and attest; they badger and bind. Government can be an instrument of evil and wickedness, or it can be to a society’s credit and pride. But government will never give meaning to words, nor should words give pretense to instilling more worth to government than it deserves.
We owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to their children in perpetuity, to set forth the best words we can, to construct our ideals in a manner of positive consequence so that our government is reflective of our better angels, and therefore more deserving of God’s grace and blessings.