To Save Self-Government

Nov 13, 2011 by

Self-government is built on the foundation that we will act with virtue for the good of the community more than we will act out of selfish reasons ending in harm to others, or with disregard to the effect on others. We are capable of the greatest good but this does not deny that we are capable of the greatest evil, only that we are by nature going to choose good. If we were more likely by nature to do evil why would we ever do good? The only motivation to do good would be to serve an evil intention. But, we do good for the sake of good without reward. Therefore, we can self-govern. The best form of self-government would still be executed by imperfect beings. The question then is what precautions and strategies should we use to give us the best chance at encouraging and protecting our ability to self-govern and do the good?

The quest for power over others is the first problem that we encounter. If we were all strong in our quest for virtue we would be interested in controlling our own thoughts and actions ending in excellence, building a body of work that produced true self-esteem. The strong know that meaningful accomplishments require reasoned choice and greater individual effort. Those that are weak, use people as tools for expedient personal gain giving themselves a false sense of self-esteem. The best understanding of power is to know when to use it and when not to use it. The strong in virtue know this and the weak exploit it! How can we be vigilant against this type of unreasonable use of power?

We look at the founding fathers as men of virtue. They gave us the best understanding of our principles and reasoned a structure of government best able to protect our principles. But they were not perfect, only human. They sometimes were weak when using the power they had been given. Early in our nations history some founders manipulated the system to weaken the checks that they had put into place (see the upcoming Is It Reasonable 11-17-11). I believe the only way to be vigilant is to keep those we give power democratically close enough to remove that power immediately. Part of the frustration we face in this country is the inability to have our voice heard and action taken quickly enough to end policies or laws that are damaging and dangerous to self-government. Good government means responsive government close to the people.

The founders knew that an educated citizenry was vital to the maintenance of self-government. Excellent education consists of superior teachers using their individual talents and methods to create a customized learning environment promoting critical thinking, and unwavering high standards. The end result is the creation of an environment that encourages good self-government. It has been proven that excellent education cannot be achieved through standardized schools, testing and curriculum. The United States has followed the policy of standardization for too long and it has usurped the potential of our youth, and our country.

Self-government is about the individual’s unique talents and abilities. We must not fear but trust, not limit information but expand our access to it, not deny opportunity but protect equal access. Only then can we hope to be a self-governing nation.

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4 Comments

  1. the Hedgehog

    Great article! But could you elaborate on your certainty that we will by nature chose the good.

    As another author points out in an article on de Sade “evil” is as much a part of man’s nature as good. “Nature wished it to be; as it is, so she expressly modeled it, for my soul is the result of the dispositions she formed in me pursuant to her own end and needs; and as she has an equal need of vices and of virtues, whenever she was pleased to move me to evil, she did so, whenever she wanted a good deed from me, she roused in me the desire to perform one, and even so I did as I was bid” (de Sade 168). Evil then, is not an aberration. Evil is not the product of a society gone wrong. Evil is a necessary component of the Universe. It springs as fully formed from nature, from man’s inner conscience as good.

    Thanks

  2. Vince Giglio

    Nature’s universe and man who is part of nature’s universe is structured around interactions. Nature’s interactions are set by laws, a set of bonds and connections that follow an order. Bonds and connections like gravity, and physics. As part of nature we also are structured to make bonds and connections. If we do not we wither, go insane and ultimately may die. The bonds and connections we make, for example are love, friendship and community, all which are tied to relationships. Our bonds and connections can be demonstrated by the need to have our achievements and failures recognized by others which can only be achieved through relationships. We also use others failures and achievements as standards for comparison and as a motivation to aspire to be excellent. If we are connected our work is towards the good, if we are not connected it can become evil. It is a choice that we make. When de Sade states that nature has the power to manipulate people toward good or evil that suggests that we do not have a choice and by nature are too weak to fend off evil.

    Nature is not ruled by an “equal need of vices and of virtues.” If balance is necessary then it can be assumed that some are destined for evil and some are destined to be good. Once again that negates choice. Nature does not have the power “to move me to evil.” I am part of nature. I will my actions. We do not need to bring balance to the “force”. Rather, the capability of doing the greatest evil or the greatest good is itself balance. There would be no point for man to act with perfect virtue or to act in accord with perfect vice. It would defeat our connection to the universe. “[H]er (nature‘s) own end and needs” are our own ends and needs controlled by our choice. We choose the good because by nature we must bond and be connected as humans. If we choose evil we would loose the connections and bonds which would be unnatural. Evil acts destroy bonds and connections that people need to function as humans. To adhere to nature we must choose good.

    Nietzsche wrote that the universe cares nothing for man, he was right. It is not the universe’s function to care for man, but it is man’s function to care for the universe and each other.

  3. the Hedgehog

    Sade would agree that man is a social animal who is dependent on connections. But why priveledge as part of nature love, friendship and community any more than destructive impulses such as hate, enmity, or co-dependence? They are equaly part of fhuman nautre. They equaly require a bond and depend on a social contract.

    Nature does not manipulate people to do any action per se on de Sade’s account. He is a libertarian in that regard. Rather, nature instills a desire. in some it may be towards friendship in others enmity. But both are equally natural. One obviously has a choice to act contrary to one’s desires but that would be to act counter to your telos. In Sade’s example it would be like staking a tree to grow in a direction other than towards the sky. It could be done, but why?

    When he speaks of an equilibrium of nature, I think it is more in the sense of certain people in society have certain talents. Some have a facility for congeniality others for destruction. The former may become statesmen the later soldiers but both are necessary and “natural selection” (a term he would not be familiar with) will make use of peoples constructive and destructive abilities.

    Again on his account, evil acts will not destroy social bonds; on the contrary it requires them. Evil can not exist apart from the power of the social contract. It demands the “virtuous” so that it can outrage them all the more! Evil flourishes within the social contract.

  4. Vince Giglio

    Aristotle was correct when he stated that “all human action must be aimed at some good”. The good is a must, the most compelling overriding influence of our nature. It is so compelling that we, by choice, are willing to give up our lives for the sake of the good of the community. The so-called “state of nature” is unnatural. For man the true state of nature is the community. Only there can his acts be recognized for their true intentions, only there can justice prevail. The end of good is the constant pursuit of excellence of character. That is what keeps the community together. Evil drives men apart making them alien to one another. The end of evil is the destruction of character and ultimately the human spirit which can only lead to the death of the human soul.

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