About a month ago I wrote a post about a book by Dennis Prager, “Still the Best Hope: why the world needs American values to triumph.” According to Mr. Prager, there are three ideologies competing for the allegiance of humankind. They are: Islamism, Leftism and Americanism. He defines American values as 1) Liberty, 2) In God We Trust and 3) E Pluribus Unum, the three expressions which appear on all American coins. His trinity of ideologies and values helps me understand my own political framework.
I consider myself to be a cultural Christian meaning that I identify with Christian values such as practicing the Golden Rule and trying to be a Good Samaritan rather than believing in any particular theological doctrines.
My social values are based on my moral and religious values. Americans have the good fortune to live in a very prosperous country with much personal liberty. But along with our freedom and prosperity comes responsibility. First of all, we are responsible for our own behavior. If we make bad choices, we have to accept the consequences and try to learn from our mistakes. We have greatly benefitted from the hard work of our forebears. In return it is our responsibility to leave the world a better place than we found it.
Just as my social values are consistent with my moral values, so do my social values determine my political values. I am a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. I consider it highly irresponsible for my generation to leave a huge, and growing, national debt for future generations. Either government should cut back on spending or it should raise taxes to pay for what it spends.
But I also consider it to be America’s responsibility, as well as in its own self-interest, to promote freedom and responsibility around the world. This is demanding, expensive and sometimes controversial but we need to be willing to do it. Likewise, we need to provide an adequate safety net for those among us who are truly unable to cope for themselves.
This is my first public attempt to describe the underlying values around which I organize and conduct my life. It’s a start but I’m pretty sure that I’ll be coming back to this theme again in the future!
I hope to serve as somewhat of an alter ego to your remarks. I do appreciate your broad over-view. I too see myself as a fiscal conservative in light of my personal life. As a rule I dislike spending money. But I could hardly expect capitalists would find me the ideal consumer. My car is 20-some years old. I rarely shop and would like to think my economic views are similar to Henry David Thoreau. For instance, he noted that a suit of clothes does not fit the body until it is well worn. I still darn my socks and patch some of my jeans–my primary daily wear. However, our national expenditures are not comparable to mine. And what corresponds to my ‘whole’ is not comparable to the role of the government. Personal economics are dissimilar to national demands.
On the matter of responsibility, I see it as two words: response and ability. If our people are not taught how to respond to acquire certain abilities I can hardly expect them to be responsible. In my experience of teaching for four decades, I have found the quality of the educated to be diminishing. And when I learn the national student debt topples 1.3 trillion, I shudder, especially when I know homeowners refuse to pay increased, property taxes for schools.
Your use of the word ‘freedom’ troubles me as well. I have to think of freedom in light of free from and free to. Being the son of a migrant worker and later, sharecropper, I knew quite early that my freedoms were much less than the sons of farmers who owned their property. I understand the need for equality in light of opportunity and differences. Those difficulties begin at birth on several levels for all Americans.
Again I appreciate your remarks. It takes courage and effort to make one’s views public. I admire what you are doing. I hope you continue.
Thanks for sharing your own personal values with me in this public way. As you point out from your own background, there is much intrinsic inequality in American society. The children of the wealthy enjoy huge advantages over the children of the poor. The best we can do to overcome this basic inequality is to try to provide as much equal opportunity as we possibly can. We’re doing this in K-12 public education, although very imperfectly in many respects.
I like your view of responsibility as ability to respond. Obviously some people are far better able to respond than others. To me this means that the more capable have the greater duty to respond in some sense.
You’re correct that freedom is a loaded expression. What we are free from has a lot of influence on what we are free to do.
I will be thinking about how to give a more adequate response to your remarks!