Friday, June 22, 2007

Providence and "The National Malaise"

A June 21 Gallup Poll suggestes that Americans' Confidence in Congress is at an All-Time Low. And Americans' confidence in just about all other institutions is also quite low. Less then half of Americans have confidence in the following institutions:

Church/Organized Religion -- 46% have confidence
Banks -- 41%
U.S. Supreme Court -- 34%
Public Schools -- 33%
Medical System -- 31%
Presidency -- 25%
TV News -- 23%
Newspapers -- 22%
Criminal Justice System -- 19%
Organized Labor -- 19%
Big Business -- 18%
HMO's -- 15%
Congress -- 14%

It's actually a good thing for Americans to have no confidence in government. Some people criticize libertarians for not having enough trust in government. Especially as we approach "Independence Day," we should remember that America's Founding Fathers did not have confidence in government.

John Adams wrote in 1772:

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty."

Should libertarians have more confidence in their government? Thomas Jefferson, 1799:
Confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism. Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence; it is jealousy, and not confidence, which prescribes limited constitutions to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power.… In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.

James Madison warned the people of Virginia (1799):

the nation which reposes on the pillow of political confidence, will sooner or later end its political existence in a deadly lethargy.

Madison added in Federalist No. 55,

[T]here is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust. . . .
Trusting government, having "confidence in government," is un-American.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "malaise" as
1. A vague feeling of bodily discomfort, as at the beginning of an illness.
2. A general sense of depression or unease: "One year after the crash, the markets remain mired in a deep malaise" (New York Times).
If America is ill, perhaps America needs a physician. Unfortunately, Americans have far more confidence in the healing powers of government than the Gallup poll might indicate (and certainly more than the Founders did). Here are the three institutions which a majority of Americans do trust:

The Military - 69%
Small Business - 59%
The Police - 54%

A person's sense of confidence in his own health should not increase when he sees the paramedics show up and is told to get on the stretcher. Having confidence in the "military" and "police" is another way of saying Americans are expecting to fight a viral invasion of some sort.

Having confidence in "small business" (59%) but not "big business" (18%) could be a sign that those polled felt obligated to say something good about "capitalism" or "the free market" -- after all, this is America, and we're not commies -- but that too many Americans basically buy into the liberal criticisms of business, which apply to all businesses, but tend to fall more visibly on Walmart and a few other successful businesses. Many small businesses dream of getting their products on the shelves of Walmart. And 138 million Americans give a vote of confidence to Walmart every week.

But if Americans could take a crash course in capitalism, and come to have unbridled confidence in the Free Market, this would still be inadequate. The Free Market might work today, but what about tomorrow? In an impersonal, evolving universe, perhaps capitalism is outdated, and socialism is the wave of the future? Who can know?

America's Founding Fathers knew. America's Founders had confidence in the future because they had confidence in God. Undergirding the universe was the rational mind of God, and all their endeavors were undertaken "with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence," as the Declaration of Independence reminds us.

Every single Signer of the Constitution believed in "Providence." There was not a single atheist or deist among them. Not one of them believed that the Constitution they were signing gave the federal government the authority to remove the teaching of Providence or "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" (the Bible) from public schools.

Most Americans today cannot even define "Providence," and do not have a firm reliance on the goodness and trustworthiness of God. They believe the universe is ultimately chaotic, random, impersonal, and meaningless. Institutions which are built on this philosophy do not deserve anyone's confidence.

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