A Tired Democracy

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“A despotism may almost be defined as a tired democracy. As fatigue falls on a community, the citizens are less inclined for that eternal vigilance which has truly been called the price of liberty; and they prefer to arm only one single sentinel to watch the city while they sleep.” – G. K. Chesterton

This is precisely what is happening in America today. I have no doubt about it. Our “single sentinel” is the Government. We have this mindset that the government will fix everything. Not only because we think that it can fix everything, despite the overwhelming historical evidence against that idea. But also because we have this very warped idea that it should fix everything.

It’s pathetic (I’m not sure of a better word) that so many Americans are so helpless now without their government. Anytime there is a problem, rather than working to fix it ourselves, we turn to the single sentinel. Anytime there is injustice, rather than righting it ourselves, we turn to the single sentinel. Anytime we find somebody else in need, rather than fulfilling the need ourselves, we turn to the single sentinel.

There will always be people in need. We must help them – not empower some ultimately corrupt government to do so on our behalf. Jesus commanded us to love/feed/help/clothe others.  Nowhere does he teach that we are to force others to do so on our behalf.  And I would challenge every Christian out there who continues to attack “rich” people they’ve never met, and those of you who demand and empower our government to take from one to give to another, to search your heart as to whether Jesus would ever do that?  Or to find one place where Jesus calls us to do that?

The government is not the answer – it’s the problem.  The solution is in every individual freely, living out their vocation.  This not only ensures the most love for those who need it and the sanctification of the most saints, but it is also the best remedy for securing the human rights owed to each and every human person.   It is a personal labor of love that sanctifies us and ultimately serves others best. It may be a harder way, but it’s a better way. Better for those being helped and better for those doing the helping. And it certainly best ensures our continued freedom from despotism.  It is the “price of Liberty.”

But I guess we’re tired. We’re not up for that anymore. We’d rather hit the Easy Button. We’ve voted ourselves a government into power who has enabled us to shirk our personal responsibility and pass it over to some bureaucratic, impersonal, corrupt system. Rather than emptying our own pockets and pouring out our own sweat, we’ve looked away while our government has stolen whatever it wants from some faceless “rich” person we’ve never met to accomplish some Utopian end that doesn’t involve us having to get our own hands dirty.

We are tired.  We want to sleep.  We’d rather not stay awake to keep watch.  We desperately want a single sentinel to stand in for us.  It’s a temptation that every free nation in history has eventually given in to.  Will this tired democracy give in, too?

I hope not.  I think we’ve got a little more “eternal vigilance” left in us.  I think we’ll find it.  We just need to be truly inspired again.

[photo credit]

8 comments Add comment

Lisa@SoundMindandSpirit November 5, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Wow, Matt. What a powerful post that gets it right.

Patricia November 5, 2009 at 6:44 pm

So true!

“Well, I didn’t vote for him!”
“Look, if I went around saying I was king jsut because some watery tot lobbed a scimitar at me they’d say I was daft!”

Ichabod's Cranium November 6, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Great post!

Makes sense why GK Chesterton is called The Apostle of Common Sense.

enness July 13, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Jesus criticized the rich, but he was uniquely qualified, being sinless and intimately familiar with/able to read men’s hearts. And his criticism was not generated from the depths of envy. We covet what our neighbor has (!) and cloak it in a mantle of “fairness.”

Rick November 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm

enness, while I don’t disagree completely with your point, the presumption that the current discontent is purely envy driven is far from the truth.

I, for one, have absolutely Z-E-R-O interest in obtaining the material possessions of the “rich” in this country whether it be by earning them myself or via government “redistribution.” I have no desire to be monetarily “rich.” I’m quite happy where I’m at. In fact, I’m finding that the older I get the fewer material possessions I desire.

However, I have a HUGE issue with the growing disparity between rich and poor in this country. Historically, this is a recipe for disaster (i.e. violent revolution). The corruption that has taken root in our financial and governmental systems needs to be addressed and that can’t happen if we sit idly by waiting for divine judgment.

It seems that you are making some of the very same judgments on your fellow men that you just condemned them for making. Please don’t presume to know what is in my heart.

cepwin November 22, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Well said!

waltermckinley December 6, 2011 at 12:07 pm

I agree with you, Matt. In the midst of the Great Depression, the Church in America (at the time, rightly or wrongly) handed the reins of charity over to the government.

Our contribution to the State for their efforts is in the form of taxation. But as even-handed and potentially altruistic as it may seem, taxation is not charity – for one cannot love his neighbor unless he can do so freely. Furthermore, by distributing our income as the State sees fit, we are denied the opportunity to live out our Christian mission to provide for the sick, the oppressed, the hungry, the naked, the homeless, and the alien. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” As the needy are removed from site and mind, our duty as Christians too becomes ill-defined; we become complacent, further alienating them from us and us from them.

One of the basic principles of the Church’s teaching on social justice is called subsidiarity. It means that matters should always be handled by the lowest or least centralized competent authority – in other words, that the State should perform only the tasks that cannot be effectively performed at a more immediate or individualized level. In her wisdom, the Church recognizes that the State won’t treat the needy with the dignity they deserve, for their care will be dictated by policy, not benevolence. The State is not required, nor are they encouraged, to treat them as anything other than quotas and case numbers.

Society is responsible for taking care of the widow and the orphan and the alien only in as much as society is comprised of individuals. The same may be said of the Church. “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Rom 12:4-5) “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Cor:24-26)

Maybe it’s time to take the reins back again?

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