There were heated and sometimes violent debates in early America about whether “we the people” had sufficient virtue and morality to govern ourselves. Newspapers, preachers, and the market square became centers of moral self-examination. Colonists, sensing a break for freedom, wondered aloud if their society was virtuous enough to handle self-government.
Among the doubters were prominent names such as John Jay, Robert Morris, Robert Livingston and John Dickinson. Misgivings about moral deficiencies were publically confessed in newspapers from New York to Boston, and Philadelphia to Charleston.
What was it about public virtue and morality that caused such concern?
The colonists worried a break from England would replace rule by Crown with rule by mob, a colonial version of the violence of this past weekend in Arizona. They wondered then as we wonder now, will radicals or gangs of bullies eventually rise up, unchecked, and become the new masters by force of arms?
For all of its arbitrary and repulsive tyranny, at least the British crown offered a power of police and enforcement of order and peace. In the wake of Saturday’s shootings, the loudest voices are calling for a return to the power of the Crown: government violation of private rights for the purposes of peace. And that would be the wrong approach.
The best answer is much simpler.
Public virtue is identified with the Ten Commandments and the principles of Natural Law called “right conduct.” The early Americans identified it with the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The whole foundation of self-government is moral responsibility grounded in these principles.
These principles were eventually impressed upon enough of the colonists that public virtue grew strong and spread wide enough that a break with England seemed possible. Powerful expressions of faith came from men admired for their virtue, including George Washington, John Adams, Richard Henry Lee, and Josiah Quincy. They helped the country turn the corner, and the rest is history.
The astonishing debate now underway—whether the Arizona shooter was a right-wing fanatic spurred to action by extremist rhetoric or a drug abuser driven by his pagan lifestyle, Mein Kampf and flag burning—is beside the point. Drugs, hatred, politics, guns and demonic voices are all convenient scapegoats. The left’s and right’s name-calling is just a brush fire across the airwaves, burning bright and attracting attention. Soon it will burn out in favor of a new cause de jour.
The real question is: What happened to America’s virtue? Have the former generations been incapable of branding their posterity with this moral value? Unfortunately, virtue cannot be inherited. It must be taught and embraced by each new generation. And there is the ultimate problem.
Should we be surprised that our country suffers from high-profile killings when we’ve worked so hard to separate ourselves from virtue? Until enough Americans stand up to resist the current tide pulling us from the necessary pillars of self-government—which are acknowledgment of God, acknowledgment of values in the Bible, acknowledgment of serving one another voluntarily and without force—then it’s just a matter of time before Arizona’s tragic loss of life is repeated again and again, in varying degrees and forms, all across our land.
Our future has two paths only: an America devoid of virtue and buried in prisons of our own making, or a re-established America that embraces, teaches and promotes virtue as the keystone to happiness, peace, and security.
Paul B. Skousen is a former analyst for the CIA, an intelligence officer in the Reagan White House, and a staffer for Senator Orrin Hatch. He is a national Constitution Coach and a senior editor with PowerThink Publishing, LLC. Website: www.powerthink.com, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.