“[E]very generation, apparently, is susceptible to the tempting argument that there is such a thing as a free lunch, that the stern ethics, hard work, and self-reliance required of citizens of a free country can be slackened without consequence.”
Experts across the nation are furiously debating the possible effects of our government’s macroeconomic responses to the current financial contraction. But we should be concerned about, perhaps even more than about those material consequences, the spiritual effects on our national character such massive government intrusions into the marketplace may cause.
Picking winners and losers, bailing out private companies, rewarding those who were improvident (with the tax revenues of those who acted responsibly) are more than mere acts of unfairness. Over time they may derange the moral calculus that each of us makes every day as we live our lives.
There is a reason why people who live south of Canada and north of Mexico happen to live in a unique expression of freedom. American freedom didn’t flow merely from the bountiful land or from our Declaration of Independence. It was, and is, the product of the unique American character. What is that character?
When I considered a title for my latest book, I wanted it to capture the singular nature of our American character. I chose the word grit, thus the title: American Grit. The dictionary definition is “firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” A list of synonyms includes: courage, spirit, resolution, determination, nerve, guts, pluck, backbone, fortitude, toughness, tenacity, perseverance, mettle, doggedness, hardihood. Many people when they hear my book title tell me they think of the great John Wayne movie True Grit. So did I before choosing the title.
But the instinct to maintain those American virtues is undercut by the economic paternalism in which Washington is attempting to shroud the country. As I argue in my book, America has always benefited in a spiritual — as well as material — way from free markets. The material benefits are obvious, but the American work ethic, the willingness to take risks, and the sturdy sense of self-reliance are moral benefits that have shaped our character.
It is precisely the absence of individual self-reliance amongst our European cousins (in my case, as an immigrant from England many years ago, my literal cousins) that has shaped an excessive dependence on the state, and thus somewhat curtailed individual freedom on the old continent. Unfortunately, from time to time, events offer up a centralizing temptation to the American people. We face such a moment now.
I came of political age in the early 1960s and was part of the then modern conservative movement of William F. Buckley Jr., Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Maggie Thatcher. Having then seen the collapse of the Soviet Union and the discrediting of the socialist experiment, I thought we had ended once and for all the arguments of the statists, redistributors, and collectivists.
Well, time passes and people forget. So every generation, apparently, is susceptible to the tempting argument that there is such a thing as a free lunch, that the stern ethics, hard work, and self-reliance required of citizens of a free country can be slackened without consequence. Finally, fearful people believe the politicians who tell them they can sell out their economic freedoms and still maintain the individual dignity that they had once been told comes only with being free and independent men and women.
But just as General Douglas MacArthur once said that in a war between nations “there is no substitute for victory,” so in the struggle to save the soul of the American people there is no substitute for freedom.
Washington Times columnist Tony Blankley is an executive vice president with Edelman, a public relations firm in Washington, D.C., and a regular on The McLaughlin Group. His most recent book is American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century (Regnery).