Monday, August 10, 2009

A Crash Course in Who We Are

I hope within the next few months (is that asking too much?) to take the civics test for my American citizenship. I will not study for it, of course. If I can't pass this test with a Ph.D. in political science, I don't deserve citizenship or any other kind of honor. But one cannot escape the irony that whereas people from other countries who apply for American citizenship must pass a test on American history and political institutions so that they can participate in our political process more intelligently, people who were born here and have the right to vote simply by virtue of having survived to eighteen years of age can be as abysmally ignorant of these matters as the government school system allows them to be (and that's pretty bad).

Recent developments in Washington--and I'll throw in the last 75 years as well--demonstrate that Americans in general are in need of a remedial course in our political principles. There are many institutions that are working on this national project in adult education. But most recently, David Corbin and Matthew Parks, who teach political science at The King's College and University of New Hampshire respectively, have started an effort in the blogosphere, aptly entitled republican101. Here is one of Prof. Corbin's posts that presents the gist of the blog.

Sarah Palin’s surprise announcement that she was resigning as Governor of Alaska amounted to another bad news day for Republicans. Every news day recently has seemed like a bad news day for Republicans. Which has led some to suggest that the party would do better to resemble its political adversary. This is bad advice. Republicans instead should do the following:

(1) Remember that before there were Republicans, there were republicans.

(2) Consider that the American people are a republican people, not a Republican people.

(3) Understand that this is a good thing.

(4) Begin to transform the Republican party into the republican party.

Well, what is a republican?

John Adams defined a republican as a species of man who ascribes to “an Empire of Laws, and not of men . . .in other words to that form of government which is best contrived to secure an impartial and exact execution of the laws.” Knowing that there was “an inexhaustible variety of Republics because the powers of society are capable of innumerable variations,” Adams endorsed a republican form of government held together by a regime that “introduces knowledge among the People, and inspires them with a conscious dignity, becoming Freemen.” For Adams, the most excellent form of government encourages excellence in both its leaders and its citizens.

How often has government at any level inspired dignity, excellence, and freedom in the past year?

You might be a republican if you’re still racking your brain.

And if you’re a discouraged Republican, you might think encouragingly about the prospect of the Republican party becoming republican again. If the American people are more republican than they are Republican, Republican politicians would do well to take note.


R.B. Glennie said...

Hi David, good luck with your citizenship exam.

Your opening remarks reminded me of a comment I read years ago:

When I got to Canada, I couldn't:

-speak nor read English
-couldn't walk, work or otherwise contribute to society, and would have to be supported for years by the taxpayer -

`When I got to Canada' = When I was born

Rich said...

Good stuff.

Chris J. said...

More than once I have considered whether it would be appropriate to have a basic "voter's exam" to be sure that people are aware before they vote. I know of many people who seem so ignorant of what they vote on.