We are evolving beyond the need for liberty, it seems, or so I have noted with increasing rapidity the number of times reasonably educated.liberal minded people betray a willingness to abandon a traditional commitment to freedom, to democracy. We must be convinced because we say things like the Second Ammendment has no relevance today, that it is an antiquated remnant of an age that holds little validity for us as a model for faith in the cause of eternal Liberty, or as example of how to react to a long usurpation of our freedom, and any person’s pursuit of happiness. We do seem unwilling–more so, unprepared–to defend democracy. We have arrived at a place where we are under-educated just enough to misunderstand what democracy is, in turn misunderstanding our responsibilities to democracy. In fact, with the systematic way we are under-educated, you could say we suffer an enforced did-understanding because we are disallowed to defend for ourselves our liberty.
Fear is one of humanity’s greatest teachers, and we do learn conduct through fear. Do we imagine that the monied elite and/or power elite in America will ever act ethically or justly in a society where they can choose to do what they do with impunity, without any fear of potential reprisals? And I speak of the power and influence of potentiality and not the horror of actuality. Potential violence is and has always been an instructor of public morality, not for those who believe in ethics and morality and goodness and kindness, but for those for whom these are not virtues but impediments to their greed, their social gluttonies.
We do think the age of Jefferson and Madison has ceased being valid for our time. Our brand of alphabetics in the name of literacy leaves us unable to manage the basic American texts on liberty and democracy. We do, though, imagine ourselves more enlightened than our founders were. Ours is both the best of times and the worst of times, either one the other in equation of how out of touch any of us could be about where our commitment to democracy should be, and I do insist on the subjunctive here. I have said this before and will say it again, in these and other words amounting to the same beckon call: Democracy needs love and care and defense and nurture; but these cannot happen without advanced literacy being a norm for most of us to achieve. We will not, though, have the opportunity to show this love unless we are willing to protect her from the power and monied elite. Johnny get your gun . . .
Our ability to understand their age is degraded. We are no longer able to respond to their voice, disallowing ourselves to comprehend their diction, their rhetoric, their passion for liberty. I had a classmate in a seminar in 17th century literature, an English major, questioning why John Donne should have to write in the manner he had in his Meditations. I began to suspect that we might be lost as a society, for those of us bestowed with the responsibility to protect and defend literacy could no longer do so. I did hold prejudices then that this was an American phenonmena, and that it wasn’t British, or French or Italian . . . but it is quickly becoming evident that this is not so and that degraded literacy is a crisis not just in America. Why is it so difficult to imagine that Jefferson was NOT a stupid man and that he understood exactly what he was doing in the arrangement of the amendments. Their order is not an accident. We have to be able to read some of them as contingent, mutual and reciprocal. We have to understand the integrity of whole while we respect the importance of its parts.
We only imagine that our lives are more enlightened because we have suffered an academically instilled ignorance that allows us to assume without words attached to the presumption that history is progressive. Ours must be the superlative age because we are farther along in the course of human experience; but then this would infer that human knowledge was some how cumulative, that there was a chronological addition that made every period in the succession of human events a sum larger and thus better than the previous one. History is not progressive and can easily become regressive if we allow it to be so.
It’s not that so many in Jefferson’s day could read, but those who could defended the skill, supported it, understood it better as a cornerstone of civilization and their liberty. Those who couldn’t, at least envied it; they wished they could, or at least enough of them did that justified the pursuit. Today we believe that this is somehow elititst, and unnecessarily so. Less-than-enough in matters of literacy has been good-enough long enough that semi-literate is now the only should we can understand.