I was born into the first wave of the boomer generation (1945-1965); we as a generation have made an extraordinary impact on America. Most of the wealth created in the last 40 years is due to the scope and vision of my generation; regrettably many of the problems are also attributable to us, both economic and social. Our parents were neither the “best” generation nor the worst; however they lived through one of the most significant times in the history of our republic. The threat to America from Germany and Japan was a very real one and defeating these countries in war was the proper thing to do. We, their children, the boomers, reaped the crops of freedom planted by our grandparents and our parents, and for the last 50 years have planted and sown our own harvest of liberty. Our country has prospered as no people in history have. Our standard of living, even for our poorest, is the envy of the world.
Today, the oldest of the boomers are retired and more of us will retire in huge numbers over the next few years. The call for funds to support us in retirement is going to put a strain on society because of the promises made by administrations and presidents long dead and expanded yearly by proliferate congress to a point where there are not enough productive workers to support the retirement of us, their parents and grand-parents.
Many in my generation are seeking succor from the government to make our later years better. Many others, perhaps the majority only want the government to stay out of our business and let us be. Between these two views there is little, if any communication. One sub-cohort is very loud and insistent; the other is not as loud but just as insistent. The boomer generation has in effect divided itself into two very distinct groups. The first, I will call the “entitlement generation” acts as if they have a direct line to the treasury of the government and that taxpayers should provide all their needs and desires. We find members if this generation largely in the Democrat party and those who describe themselves as “liberal’ or “progressive”–more on that later.
The second sub-cohort is much harder to define, but in fundamental nature these are individuals who choose to rely on themselves and not the government. The image of John Wayne standing on a hilltop is conjured up: the Hollywood version of “rugged individual”, and there is a component of that myth, but more fundamentally it is a group of people who choose not to be treated as children by the government. The best label for this part of the boomer generation is the “Get off my property and go to hell generation”. Tired of our government telling us how to live our lives and aware that many things have hazards, we know, for example, that smoking is bad for our health, but many of us smoke in spite of forty years of warnings. We have made a decision as an adult and we do not need some nattering “do gooder” to tell us what is good for us. We understand full well the words of C. S. Lewis.
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
Intellectually, we know that seatbelts are safer should we be in an automobile accident, but we do not need our government to make law about it. For us our home is in the state and communities of our state, the government of our home is not in Washington D.C. I wonder if we have the same will to resist of our founders, changing an oppressive government is more difficult than revolution.
In the fall of 1863 Lincoln at Gettysburg said, “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. Have we given up the vision of self-government? Are we content to allow someone else to do the dirty work of governance? I am reminded of the last years of the Roman republic. The first century BCE was one of constant civil war and discord, Maris, Gracchi brothers, of course Caesar and more significantly Augustus. None openly wanted to dismantle the republic, although, each had ambitions that would surely contribute to the end of republic. Rome created the modern welfare system, at the time of the Caesars the city of Rome was an entitlement state, hundreds of thousands of Romans lived on the food given them to buy peace from the mob. Our modern welfare state is not in any substantive manner different, except perhaps in scope.
In much the same way I suppose that few, if any, of our representatives or senators wish to tear down our nation, but personal ambition, distain for the constitutional system and rule of law is part of the thousand cuts that when completed will destroy the ideals that our founders sought to create. We the boomer generation, have no small responsibility for this debasing of our liberty.
Who are the liberals/progressives that are destroying our freedom? The liberal/progressive tree has many roots but it can best be expressed as a part of human nature. Human beings divide themselves politically into two distinct groups; those who seek to control what people do, and those who don’t. Today those who seek to control our lives are progressing with expectations in the Obama administration; they view the election as a mandate to make the radical “progressive” changes in government they want.
The modern progressive is nothing new. They are unchanged from the progressives of the 1890-1920 years. Their world view consists of a disregard for the common people, and a sincere belief (albeit erroneous) that elite of good will with unlimited power is the best method of governing. We find many philosophical roots to the progressives as far back as Plato, but the modern roots are in European socialism, and nihilism. Jonah Goldberg has written a book detailing the growth of the liberal/progressive called Liberal Fascism. I recommend it to anyone who questions our current political atmosphere. I also recommend F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, for a concise picture of the thinking involved in expansive and intrusive government.
Libertarians and Conservatives often talk about “small government,” which, in a way, is allowing the issue to be framed in progressive/liberal terms: they’re for bigger government and more government involvement in individual lives. However, small or better yet, limited government gives you big freedoms, and big government leaves you with very little freedom. The bailout, the stimulus, the budget and the trillion-dollar deficits are not only massive transfers from the most self-motivated and industrious sector to the least self-motivated and industrious. When governments annex a huge chunk of the economy, they also annex a huge chunk of individual liberty and freedom. This produces a substantial change the relationship between the citizen and the state into something closer to that of junkie and pusher, and you make it very difficult to ever change back as withdrawal is very painful to the addicted.
We started talking about welfare reform in the 1980’s. It was a democrat president, Bill Clinton pushed by a republican congress that finely brought some reform. However, today a democrat president and congress are feasting on the trillions of healthcare dollars up for grabs, seeking to create an entitlement system that will dwarf the trillions of dollars transferred from the “Great Society” of LBJ.
Americans face a choice: We can find again the principles of the American idea, of limited government, a self-reliant citizenry, and the opportunities to exploit skills, talents, and ability to the fullest, or we can join most of the Western world in mortal demographic decline. To rekindle the spark of liberty once it dies is very difficult and can create a monster, consider the Weimar republic created after WWI. This gave birth to the most destructive world war in human history. Our enemies will not wait for an answer, but continue to attack us. Do we still have the will to win?
The disinterest, the existential melancholy, malaise and the fatalism is more horrendous than the demographic decline and fiscal extravagance of the social democratic state, because it’s subtler and ephemeral. But once in a while it looms into very sharp focus. The solution is simple; the implementation is going to take courage and be difficult.