Thursday, December 12, 2002

Individualism, Self-Reliance, and Government

As John Jay Ray has said, individualism is a salutary value. I think it promotes self-reliance, and self-reliance is one of the most important values there is in America. Of a sudden, thoughts of leftists speaking of the values of interdependence arise in my mind. Several feminist professors portraying these as more female, more Asian, more holistic - better - values are imagined in my brain right now. But to get back: self-reliance both promotes the good of society and contributes to justice, as self-reliant people are less likely to abuse others. Individualism, which promotes self-reliance, also breeds problem-solving ingenuity. I think you can see Adam Smith’s invisible hand groping around here, as well.

In addition to individualistic government, it would be well also to cherish that way of government that conduces to various other virtues. But what is that way? John Adams said (c.1790) that the government could not straightforwardly make people virtuous. (Again, images of leftists, from Mao to various professors I have known, flit about in my brain, speaking of social engineering....) But a government could increase their virtue indirectly by enforcing justice. A people who can predict a level playing field will play hard and play fair. (Why play hard or fair if the game is rigged?) They will cultivate virtues of character in order to do this. Adams also recognized that classical education (Greek and Latin Classics, English literature, history and politics, math and science) also indirectly promotes virtue. These things contain the ideas out of which each of us can strive to fashion wisdom and prudence in ourselves. They show ways of life that are good, possibilities for fulfillment and character development amongst which each of us can find a way suited to himself.

What would a conservative of the sort that agrees with Adams and Ray have to say about American government? Is there a problem here?

Corporate welfare: unjust.

High levels of taxation, government waste: unjust.

Overly comfortable welfare programs: unjust, self-reliance inhibiting.

Education with lax standards and feeble curriculum.

Too much crime going unpunished.


Corporate welfare ought to stop.

Taxes ought to be lowered and government shrunk.

Government ought to do less for us. End social security. Make life hard? Yes. Then you value it. You don’t get bored and loosen your character for fun if life is hard and just.

There ought to be admissions exams for schools, and elite, mid-level, and general schools ought to be instituted. It is unjust not to recognize and promote hard work and merit amongst young students. More students should be flunked out. (They spend more time watching TV than they do studying. Have you seen the educational ethos in the Caribbean? Not every child gets into high school; they study hard.) Government assistance to university should end. University is about half nonsense and a waste of taxpayer money. Tenure should be abolished, and student admissions requirements raised drastically. About one-third of students today have no business in university. They ruin the institution and waste money.

Policing - well, do whatever Rudy Giuliani did. Catch them and lock them up.

But, then again, I’m pretty naive about policy matters. I’d be interested in hearing from you more knowledgeable people about these things.