OPINION – Many Americans today can’t decide if they are supposed to be citizens or subjects. One of the reasons we’re facing a national identity crisis is that we’ve forgotten what it means to be a citizen.
This means that we spend a lot of time arguing about what government is doing and is demanding that we do. Unsurprisingly, we spend very little time questioning whether the action in question is within the proper role of government in the first place. Is government supposed to be our servant or our master?
The answer to this question depends heavily on whether or not we understand the difference between citizens and subjects.
Rule No. 1 is that people given power will tend to abuse it.
Rule No. 2 is that politicians have an inclination to lie.
Rule No. 3 is to always oppose excessive government secrecy.
These rules were once well understood by the average American, all the way back to the founding of this nation. But years of state-sponsored indoctrination and a growing dependence upon government-dispensed favors have created a kind of national amnesia. Even though most Americans have forgotten these rules, they still apply from our local governments up to the national government.
The first rule about abusing power is one that has held true for the entire history of mankind. It’s why government power is to be checked and balanced to prevent any one branch or individual from becoming too powerful. Charley Reese rightly pointed out that not everyone in government abuses power, so it is our duty as citizens to recognize those who don’t and to refuse to elect those who do.
The second rule about politicians lying can be observed today in the shameless threat inflation and distortions that are being told to justify aggression against Iran. This rule of citizenship is among the most important, according to Reese, since lying is so pervasive in politics today. He states that, “Citizens should consider a lie a mortal sin in the realm of civics, for lies are an attempt to deceive the people about very important matters.”
When a politician lies, he or she is directly attacking the very concept of self-government that presumes that the public will make the right choices if we know the truth.
The third rule regarding government secrecy has become more important than ever in our so-called post 9/11 world. Not only does our government cooperate to spy on us at all levels, but it also claims the power to secretly target people for extra-judicial assassinations in the name of national security.
Governments that operate in secrecy and the loss of personal privacy go hand in hand, said Reese. But many otherwise rational Americans have been persuaded to surrender crucial due process protections for a false sense of security from the very state agencies that could someday target them. Subjects maintain that they have no choice but to submit.
Citizens, however, should be actively voting out of office every politician who supports such measures. They can also encourage their state leaders to exercise their state’s powers of interposition to deny federal overreach.
One reason that folks tend to get angry over draconian government mandates is that they already know that they will compromise and obey even the most oppressive dictates. They believe they are subjects and must do exactly as they are told, no matter what. On the other hand, citizens who understand what government may or may not rightfully do, will reject unjust dictates and live their lives as freely as possible.
There are times when ignoring the state is justified because the state is in the wrong.
Subjects tend to conflate this lack of submission with a state of anarchy where every man is a law unto himself. But there is a proper place and time for peaceful disobedience when government exceeds its delegated authority. Rosa Parks is a good example of a citizen who publicly flouted an unfair law that required her to behave as a subject.
Good citizenship is not the same thing as blind obedience. It entails knowing when to support good government and when to say “no” to policies that treat us as subjects.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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