"In dealing with the State, we ought to remember that its institution are not aboriginal, though they existed before we were born: that they are not superior to the citizen: that every one of them was once the act of a single man: every law and usage was a man's expedient to meet a particular case: that they all are imitable, all alterable; we may make as good; we may make better. Society is an illusion to the young citizen. It lies before him in rigid repose, with certain names, men, and institutions, rooted like oak-trees to the centre, round which all arrange themselves the best they can. But the old statesman knows that society is fluid; there are no such roots and centres; but any particle may suddenly become the centre of the movement, and compel the system to gyrate round it, as every man of strong will, like Pisistratus, or Cromwell, does for a time, and every man of truth, like Plato, or Paul, does forever. But politics rest on necessary foundations, and cannot be treated with levity. Republics abound in young civilians, who believe that the laws make the city, that grave modifications of the policy and modes of living, and employments of the population, that commerce, education, and religion, may be voted in or out; and that any measure, though it were absurd, may be imposed on a people, if only you can get sufficient voices to make it a law. But the wise know that foolish legislation is a rope of sand, which perishes in the twisting; that the State must follow, and not lead the character and progress of the citizen; the strongest usurper is quickly got rid of; and they only who build on Ideas, build for eternity; and that the form of government which prevails, is the expression of what cultivation exists in the population which permits it."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Government, politics, popular vote and the Electoral College have been discussed a great deal since the results of the election last week. There was and remains a great deal of noise in support and in opposition to the election. There is fear percolating in our society. There is also hope. There is a desire to move to another country and a desire to stay and fight. There are clamoring voices and confusion. One could easily lose their voice in the flow of words and propaganda. One could also find their voice in opposition to and faith in the new regime. In times like these, I read, I listen, I think, I question. Reading helps in all those endeavors. While in Los Angeles recently, I went to my favorite bookstore - Iliad Books. I found an old volume of Emerson's Essays. One essay was called Politics. The essay began with the above quote.
Government and politics are not "natural" to man. They are constructs that reflect who we are, what we wish to be, our fears and our deepest desires. But man changes from generation to generation and so does government. We like to cling to the past. Many lawmakers and the Supreme Court even try to discern what the original Founding Fathers would do. It's a similar to WWJD bracelets and other merchandise I used to see. What would Jesus do? Well, what would you do in our day? Forcing government to align with the past misses the mark. Government should be fluid. A government that cannot bend fractures. But there are also lasting principles. The bedrock Constitutional principle is freedom of speech. This principle has changed over the years. Pornography was considered obscene until the Supreme Court affirmed it under the First Amendment. The Founding Fathers conceived freedom of speech in political terms. But decades of a changing society expanded it to art and commerce.
The recent election made me ponder speech and its inherent importance in a free society. We must be allowed to criticize, refute and joke about politics. We must be able to write unfavorable views of politicians. We do not have to serve the status quo. We need only serve what is foundationally human and protect it as society revolves. Take time to read, write and speak your mind every day. That is your duty as a human and not a political citizen. You do not owe your soul to the State. You owe only your commitment to your humanity