What We've Bought ...


By William Westmiller

The greatest failure of western civilization may be its nearly complete destruction of personal responsibility. The inclination isn't unique to America, but our piece meal reversal of social ethics has been the most extreme of any nation on earth. Issue by issue, over decades, we have bought the proposition that problems are to be solved by government. What we have wrought is the destruction of individual liberty and any form of civil association.
The tragedy at Columbine High School may bring a brief spasm of enhanced personal relationships. Parents may spend a little more time taking responsibility for their children's well being. But, what will survive after the crisis are a host of new powers we lay in the hands of government bureaucrats, to protect us -- not from the acts of criminals, but from such onerous personal burdens. We will concede our liberty for the easy price of a temporary peace of mind; a hollow assurance that our chosen agents are dealing with the problem.
The immediate reaction of our local school administrators to the killing spree in Colorado was to ban all trench coats. To make sure they covered all the bases, they also outlawed any "Goth" attire. As though eliminating the symptoms of aberrant behavior will preclude any criminal conduct. Such foolishness will be repeated around the country, with a renewed call for universal school uniforms being propounded as a solution to teen angst by our Chief Federal Executive Officer. And far to many people will buy it.
After decades of expanded gun laws -- all of them violated by the two criminals at Columbine -- state and federal governments will seize on new gimmicks to assure everyone that they alone will protect us from the burdensome obligation of self-defense. This flight of fancy will ignore all the facts demonstrating that personal weapons are the only reliable means of preventing violent crime. It won't matter. We have left to political powers the responsibility to deal with our fears and burdens. With each horrific tragedy, there will be renewed demands for government to pretend to do something to relieve our distress. What we will achieve is the loss of our own liberty and the incremental accumulation of absolute power by our new masters.
The most corrupting element of the many reactions to the Columbine tragedy is the persistent rail against violence. The shrill demands that government do something about the "glorification of violence" in the media, movies, video games, or on the internet is a subtle and dangerous exercise in moral bankruptcy. Not because such intervention entails a breach of our freedom of speech (it does), but because it evades any ethical context for violent action. Violence is a high moral right and duty whenever it is exercised in self defense against the initiation of force.
There is a fundamental ethical distinction between initiating force and responding violently in defense of our lives, liberty, and property. One is bad, the other is good. A blind devotion to pacifism is a denial of that critical context. Nearly every movie and video game scrupulously honors that context by clearly distinguishing good violence, in defense against evil violence. Those who condemn violence, while ignoring context, have surrendered one of the basic foundations of civil society. A reasonable, measured, and defensive act of violence ought to be applauded as heroic, rather than condemned as barbaric.
However, the most pernicious assaults on individual responsibility aren't the result of occasional horrors, but rather the common burdens of a normal life. We may honor or fathers and mothers, but leave it to government to see them through their unproductive senior years. We may love our children, but pass to government the burden of providing day care, "free" schooling, and public entertainment. We fear drugs, but avoid the task of learning the hazards, assured that government will control, monitor, treat, and punish misuse. In every corner of our lives, "there ought to be a law" to protect us from every risk and relieve us of every burden.
The "we" in this cultural context probably doesn't apply to most people most of the time. In fact, you may be willing to accept full personal responsibility for all your own burdens and the rewards of your own successes. But, too often we shrug off little invasions of liberty that others must bear. Perhaps it's just another bad law that forbids something you would never do in any case. We all have limited resources and opportunities. When bombs kill civilians in a remote country, that's their problem. When the state police come to take away your neighbor's rifle, that's his problem. When the local school sends your child home because black clothing isn't allowed, it's only a few buck to buy blue. But, every little assault against liberty is an assault against your liberty.
Perhaps truth is lost when a truism loses context. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance," becomes a hollow cliché‚ when we ignore those assaults which don't directly injure our interests. Civilization is not a right bestowed on us at birth and enjoyed perpetually without cost. It is the personal responsibility of every able person to come to the defense of liberty and individual rights whenever they are threatened. If we do not, extreme violence may be our destiny.

©1999, William Westmiller
California Coordinator of the Republican Liberty Caucus
Past Candidate for the Republican Nomination for (24 CA) Congress
Former National Secretary and California Chairman, Libertarian Party
wrought.c49 ~880 Words
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