Saturday, October 5, 2013

Unity in Government


Thoreau said the best kind of government is that which governs least. He was, you see, a big advocate of individual liberty, not in an anarchistic sense, but in our ability to govern ourselves. Apparently, Thoreau thought the government existed to serve the citizens, not the other way around. His convictions led him to civil disobedience, that is, not obeying any law that he disagreed with. I guess that is fine for a reasonable man, which he was, but the unreasonable person picking and choosing which laws to obey would certainly lead to anarchy at best and chaos at worst. When a representative government such as ours has such diversity to represent, is there any way to bring unity? Perhaps love is the answer. But before we can have an answer, we must have a question.

I like independence, don’t you? I don’t like being told what I must do. “You have to,” is a phrase none of us likes to hear. Remember the old saying that death and taxes are inevitable? I have heard people say that death they can accept, but they hate being taxed to support policies or activities they disagree with. My response to this is to remind myself and others that our government is supposed to be a representative government. We can and should communicate with those who represent us, from the president on down. And, communication is much easier and more convenient now than it ever has been. We must speak up: if we like a policy, we should say so; if we don’t, likewise.

I have “governed” in my family and, to some degree, in my work. As a daddy, I would always try to reason with my children, making sure they knew their own responsibilities in situations, and certainly making sure they knew I loved them. As a dean, I would most often try to reason with faculty, which is much more difficult than many imagine. There is diversity at the university, diversity of conviction, thought process, and method of operation. It is a blessed thing when people dwell together in unity but unity of conviction is very rare in academic settings. I suppose that is where the phrase “the greatest good for the greatest number” came from. But then we have the argument about where our concept of good comes from.

The great author William Faulkner has one of his characters say that what the heart holds to becomes the truth as far as we can know it. And he lists some of these truths: love, honor, pride, compassion, sacrifice. All of these qualities stem from love and, I dare say, every creature born loves, some more than others. So, Walt Whitman was onto something when he wrote that love is the keelson of creation. It is the one thing that keeps us on track, even in the midst of great diversity of thought and opinion.

So, when we think of the intense polarization in government now, we wonder if love might be the answer, for it alone sums up the law.

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