With Privilege Comes Responsibility

There is a principle in life that says if you would be trusted, you must be trustworthy. Not only that, but trustworthiness comes before being trusted. The same thing applies to liberty. If we would be left alone by government, we must be able and willing to govern ourselves in a responsible manner. When a liberty is misused, in many cases it will be taken. Now, there are limits to a government’s lawful jurisdiction upon which a citizen’s actions have no bearing, and there is an aspect of human nature that seeks to gain power regardless of the rights and privileges of others. However, I am speaking from the perspective of the citizen, not the government. My focus is on the individual’s responsibility rather than that of government. There is a way we as citizens can sow a harvest of oppressive governmental involvement in our lives.

R. J. Rushdoony puts it this way:

“Civil government is out of control because we have lost the ability to govern ourselves. If we as individuals neglect our personal governing duties, then we can expect the state to assume the role of other legitimate governments and claim to be the sole government, while labeling all others as counterfeits.”

The Proverbs put it this way:

“For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged.” Proverbs 28:2

Our government was designed for a self-governing people. President John Adams warned,

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion…..Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

And indeed it is. Is it any wonder that our government has overstepped its bounds to such an extent, when we as citizens do not rule ourselves properly? When a teenager abuses a privilege, his parents take it away. When our nation is filled with people who will not assume responsibility for their own conduct, can we complain when more and more laws are passed to govern areas of life previously untouched? And to think we shake our fists in the face of government, thoughtlessly saying “Now if I were in Washington, I’d fix a few things.” Would you? We who think that we could set right all governmental wrongs never give a thought to the fact that perhaps our own conduct is partly responsible for those wrongs.

Again, not all usurpations are caused by the behavior of the people. However, there is a balance between governmental control and individual responsibility that requires action on both sides in order to be maintained. There is a place for seeking to reform government, but if we focus all our efforts on that while neglecting to work to reform the character of the citizenry, I fear we are fighting a losing battle. In the words of Patrick Henry,

“Whether this [new government] will prove a blessing or a curse will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation. Reader! Whoever thou art, remember this, and in thy sphere practice virtue thyself and encourage it in others.”

Our nation is “of a contrary character”. It is time to cultivate virtue in addition to reforming our government.