The Future We Deserve

This is not a difficult equation, even for those who are as math challenged as I am. Perhaps you are an anarchist, and this might be a bit over your head. But if you think, as I do, that government is necessary and the least amount of government possible to maximize both the freedom and the security of the individual citizen is best, then this is the equation for you. 

F + S = C 

Now, it is very telling that Wikipedia (as of June 20, 2023, given the fungibilty of most online information) defines citizenship as an allegiance of person to a state.” In other words, the state comes first. The state defines what a citizen is or can be. “Each state determines the conditions under which it will recognize persons as its citizens, and the conditions under which that status will be withdrawn.” 

The current Merriam-Webster definition is closer to my own heart: “The status of being a citizen . . . membership in a community . . . the quality of an individual’s response to membership in a community.” The American Heritage Dictionary says, “The status of a citizen with its attendant duties, rights, and privileges.” And the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica describes citizenship as, “[a] relationship between an individual and a state to which the individual owes allegiance and in turn is entitled to its protection. Citizenship implies the status of freedom with accompanying responsibilities.” 

Though I rebel at the attitude of Wikipedia, I am copacetic with the others. The need for citizenship is the same as the need for government. Without it, you have nothing—potentially less than nothing in that your life is in danger. 

But in the equation “F + S = C,” the state is not mentioned. Properly viewed, the “state” is a sum, a result, an aggregate, of the equation that freedom and security equal citizenship. Without those elements, the “state” comes first. 

The “state” might be a king, or a dictator, or an oligarchy. As Max Weber noted, “A government is an institution that holds a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.” That is why we need a state derived from the individual citizen. If citizenship is derived from the king, then you get serfs. This statement might not cover all the permutations of power, especially in an age of bureaucracy, but it does cover the basic use of force. A better society is guided by common law and consent.

All right, what’s all this then? In less Pythonesque terms, what do we have here? Common law is in tatters, reformed by the whim of the mob, judges, and politicians. The bureaucracy of the state has its own rules, its own priorities, and its own means of enforcement. Even the president is a pawn in this game of ‘“deep state.” The Constitution is now a matter of interpretation by judges who have no army but understand that their own power is dependent on the bureaucracy of that state. A mob can and will show up at their homes if they turn their heads the wrong way. 

I am tempted to say we are ruled by an oligarchy of special interests, the leaders of multinational corporations, unions, and political parties. I have said just that before. But I am also aware of the mob. Even Robespierre could not control the mob. As a result, France turned to dictatorship, the military turned to Napoleon, and a generation of Frenchmen was lost to war. 

The equation is freedom and security equal citizenship. If we are not interested in the responsibilities of citizenship, we must not be interested in freedom or security. As the Britannica says, “citizenship implies the status of freedom with accompanying responsibilities.” What are we responsible for? 

In ancient times, as late as my grammar school days of the 1950 and ’60s, citizenship was a course of study. Every public school taught this. I am aware that the semblance of such courses still exists. However, they spend more time now instructing students on woke behavior and political correctness. The reasons for our responsibilities and whence they come (e.g., the Constitution) are seldom taught. The idea that proper pronouns are more important than civic duties and the reasons for that says much about why the mob now rules. 

Civic duties, including voting (unenforced), paying taxes (enforced, selectively), attending school or select committee hearings (only necessary if you are aiming for higher office), or the duty to serve on juries and to appear as a witness (mostly enforced), and signing up for selective service (somewhat enforced), are seen as punishments to be avoided. The facts are that most people find ways around these civic responsibilities. 

What we have here is “failure to communicate,” as Strother Martin once told us. If civic duties, as derived from the Constitution, are no longer taught, then we can understand why those duties are ignored and the mob rules. 

The proposition is that all men are created equal, but if that is not taught or enforced, practically speaking, it is null and void. And this is now. Not sometime in the foreseeable future. Our failure to communicate our values as citizens of a republic resulted in the failure of that form of government and the rise of the oligarchic state we now have. As the structures of the old republic fall into ruin (think Rome, if you like, or New York City, or San Francisco), they will be replaced by something more appropriate to postmodern mediocrity, such as yet another Chinese urban center for the tens of millions. 

Perhaps the recent failure of the public health community concerning COVID restrictions and vaccines, or the disasters of foreign policy that killed and maimed hundreds of thousands, or the Department of Education and the fact that Johnny can’t read this, or pick your own favorite government program will be an opportunity for productive argument.   

The future is being made now. We will get the future we deserve, and this will only be the future we make. If we want it to be better, we have to engage in our government as citizens. We cannot withdraw or capitulate. We cannot dictate, or bribe, or threaten. We must communicate. 

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About Vincent McCaffrey

Vincent McCaffrey is a novelist and bookseller. Visit his website at www.vincentmccaffrey.com.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

Notable Replies

  1. Recently AG+ members were subjected to a scolding by contributor Laura Hollis in her piece “You Can’t Move On from Corruption.”

    Now comes Vincent McCaffrey to explain our civic responsibilities and how our failure to fulfill them is leading us down the road to perdition. Well thanks so much. We really appreciate the heads up. Although most conservatives have been voting, contributing to candidates and communicating our heads off for years these traditional mechanisms of political expression no longer work. A solid majority of Americans cast their ballots for rational candidates and initiatives only to see elections hijacked by urban machines and meddlesome billionaires.

    Conservatives are not pitchforks and lanterns types. Besides, as we were so thoughtfully reminded recently by our CiC, our puny weapons are no match for the US military.

    Our best bet is a concerted legal challenge by red states to blue states election grift - before the election is held and before votes are counted and certified. Unfortunately lawyers like Ms. Hollis and the boys over at Power Line prefer internet punditry to the law. And so it goes…lots of civic involvement for increasingly pitiful returns. But not our fault.

  2. I’m on the same page, brother.

  3. OK. First read Fukuyama and his Origin of Political Order. The problem is that once you have a state you have a monarch or an oligarch, a police, an army, and a bureaucracy to collect the taxes.

    Once you have a state, I’d say, the individual citizen is toast. And I don’t know how to reverse that.

  4. Mr McCaffrey has been one of my favorite reads. His windup here does not disappoint. But the solution is to communicate? How? With whom? In a thousand blogspaces we are communicating from dawn’s early light until the cows come home and lights out. All that I see is a continued slide into the abyss. As Mr Chantril observed, the State has been formed, and its levers have become wholly inaccessible to Us. I suggest that the communication is sufficient. Doing is necessary. Doing what – that isn’t uglier than what we’ve got – is what I’d like to know.

  5. . . . "Citizenship implies the status of freedom with accompanying responsibilities.”

    That is to me the most important element missing in our current culture - responsibility not only for one’s self but for the society in which we wish to live. Without personal responsibility, which encompasses social responsibility, we cannot hope to have a future of freedom and hope.

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