The Experiment

Alexis De Tocqueville, in his great work, Democracy in America, was perhaps the first to speak of America as a great experiment.

In that land the great experiment was to be made, by civilized man, of the attempt to construct society upon a new basis; and it was there, for the first time, that theories hitherto unknown, or deemed impracticable, were to exhibit a spectacle for which the world had not been prepared by the history of the past. (from here)

What is the great American experiment? It is the answer to this question: can men govern themselves? Even after over two hundred years, we are still learning whether we can govern ourselves. We have no real alternative. As Thomas Jefferson observed in his First Inaugural Address:

Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he then be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels, in the form of kings, to govern him? Let history answer this question.

Therefore, Jefferson chose to lead our nation into history, and he began his adminstration by explaining the essential principles by which he would govern. Why were these principles important?

These principles form the bright constellation, which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages, and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment:—they should be the creed of our political faith; the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps, and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety.

When we choose to stand on principle, we base our success upon — seek the support of — something apart from ourselves. Then our success depends upon something more substantial than our own weak nature. Then our success depends upon these three things:

  • The principles upon which we choose to stand.
  • Our strict observance of those principles.
  • The providence of God.

The Principles

What then are the principles upon which we have chosen to stand? Here, from his First Inaugural Address, is Jefferson’s compressed list.

  • Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political.
  • Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.
  • The support of the state governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns, and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies.
  • The preservation of the General government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home, and safety abroad.
  • A jealous care of the right of election by the people, a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution where peaceable remedies are unprovided.
  • Absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of the despotism.
  • Well disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace, and for the first moments of war, till regulars may relieve them.
  • The supremacy of the civil over the military authority.
  • Economy in the public expense, that labor may be lightly burthened.
  • The honest payment of our debts and sacred preservation of the public faith.
  • Encouragement of agriculture, and of commerce as its handmaid.
  • The diffusion of information, and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public reason.
  • Freedom of religion; freedom of the press; and freedom of person, under the protection of the Habeas Corpus.
  • Trial by juries impartially selected.

Our Adherence To Those Principles

Do we today still stand upon the principles Jefferson listed? Would anyone be taken seriously if he said yes? Now that so many have departed from those principles, how do they choose to behave? Let’s consider several examples ranging from obstinate foolishness to possible homicide.


A couple of days ago, , that is,  joesix, commented on The Grey-Haired Brigade. Out of the blue, he observed the following:

Dismantling the Department of Education is pretty extreme.

Since the Department of Education was not the subject of the post, I supposed inferred that I would be happy to see the Department of Education abolished, but his use of the word extreme is absurd. In fact,  uses facts selectively, ignores the plain wording of the Constitution, and exhibits a remarkable indifference to logic. For example, when he complained that we spend more on defense than education, I pointed him to‘s reply ignored state and local spending.  apparently considers only spending by the Federal Government relevant to education.

 doubled down with this statement.

You seem a bit ignorant to the fact that the US is ranked far lower than other countries that invest far more in education than we do.

 reference does not say what he thinks it says. As the references below indicate, the United States spends plenty of money on education.

 claims he is a teacher. Is he? I suppose he could be.

Voter Fraud

How common  ‘s political myopia? Read Voter Fraud Or Voter Suppression? by (Cry and Howl), and consider the current administration’s attitude to voter fraud.

Think long and hard about the blatant dishonesty. We have elected officials breaking the bank by spending trillions of dollars, and still they have the gall to equate any serious effort to ensure a fair election (which might throw them out on their collective ears) with voter suppression.

The Drone Assassin President

In Obama’s Personal Hit List. Is Murder with Drones Constitutional?,  (Freedom, by the way) asks us to consider the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s ongoing program to kill alleged terrorists using drones. When you read ‘s post, note that Obama is using these drones against the wishes of nations with whom we are not at war.

Is killing alleged terrorists in foreign lands with drones constitutional? That is something we all need to think about, but what it comes down to is this question: does Obama have Congressional authorization or is Congress looking the other way? Since the issue is rather complicated, I have not decided yet. I just have an observation. Considering that Democrats made a big stink when President George W. Bush decided to imprison terrorists captured on the battlefield, it is odd that the same people have remained almost silent when Obama uses drones to kill people.

Killing Them Softly at the American Spectator and Drone wars and state secrecy – how Barack Obama became a hardliner at the Guardian provide more background.

The Providence Of God

Why have we departed from the founding principles of this nation? Consider this excerpt from Democracy in America by Alexis De Tocqueville.

In the United States the influence of religion is not confined to the manners, but it extends to the intelligence of the people. Amongst the Anglo-Americans, there are some who profess the doctrines of Christianity from a sincere belief in them, and others who do the same because they are afraid to be suspected of unbelief. Christianity, therefore, reigns without any obstacle, by universal consent; the consequence is, as I have before observed, that every principle of the moral world is fixed and determinate, although the political world is abandoned to the debates and the experiments of men. Thus the human mind is never left to wander across a boundless field; and, whatever may be its pretensions, it is checked from time to time by barriers which it cannot surmount. Before it can perpetrate innovation, certain primal and immutable principles are laid down, and the boldest conceptions of human device are subjected to certain forms which retard and stop their completion. (from here)

What we believe affects how we behave. There was a time when most Americans at least attempted to follow the principles that Christ taught. That included adhering to a strict code of honesty. So there was more reluctance than there is today to say the Constitution says something it clearly does not say. Now, because we have chosen so many unprincipled leaders, we have a “living constitution,” and lying about what the Constitution says has become virtuous.

Matthew 23:13 Amplified Bible (AMP)

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, pretenders (hypocrites)! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces; for you neither enter yourselves, nor do you allow those who are about to go in to do so.

In times not so long ago, and in places today not so far away, so-called noblemen live and play at the expense of their neighbors. Yet when we choose to prey upon our neighbors, choosing to rob and enslave them, we do nothing noble. At best we are predators. We immediately murder and devour our victims. At worse we are parasites. We degrade the life and character of our society, particularly the people on whom we have seized. In either case we are destructive. We blacken our own souls, and we do our best to render those upon whom we feed ignorant — even ignorant of what is good and what is evil.


  1. joesix – Because government exists to protect our rights, government must be able to exercise force. Because some people can abuse such power, some people will abuse such power. Therefore, I do not like government officials running our schools, and I favor school choice.

    Did you know Germans elected Hitler? When you cannot guarantee we will put good people in charge of our government — or our public schools, why would you want to pressure parents to use them?

    Observe three things:
    1. Because government produces nothing, government charity requires taking property from some people to give to others. What distinguishes such taking from stealing?
    2. Even if we assume government should subsidize the education of poor children, that does not mean it is desirable for our government to run the entire education system. Yet that is what you advocate.
    3. For the most part Conservatives just want to make their own decisions about their own families. How is that extreme?

    If you really want to know where I stand, please consider these posts. — Links to another web site. That post argues for school choice. Would charter schools be an improvement. I think so, and I like education vouchers even better. — In the 1830’s Americans had nothing like the education system we have now. Instead, men and women shared a better understanding of their civic duties. So here I reference someone who wrote about the way Americans in the 1830’s practiced their THE RIGHT OF FREE ASSOCIATION.


    1. Did you know Hitler breathed air? As I’ve mentioned about three times now, I don’t think government should be the only force in education. Public schools, private schools, home schools, and even those hippie communes from the 1830s are all needed to change our cultural attitudes towards education and ensure our children are getting the skills they need to survive in this constantly changing world. Your past posts don’t address how to provide children an education when their parents have no time, money, or nearby 1830s hippie commune.


      1. joesix – Imagine being mugged. You are minding your own business, and a guy with a gun demands your money. Then he runs away. What do you do? You call the police, right? What if that guy thinks he is Robin Hood? Do you think that should stop the police from arresting him?

        Now imagine paying taxes. Some guy from the government demands your money, and you have to give it to him OR YOU GO TO JAIL. That guy thinks he is Robin Hood. He gives part of you money to the poor and the rest of it to bureaucrats and various special interests. But that’s okay, right? He gave part of your money to the poor.

        So why do you want to throw the mugger in jail?

        Charity is not a government function. When government does charity, we end up with institutionalized stealing and institutionalizing the poor. That is why I pointed you towards this post.


      2. Imagine an entire generation of young Americans being mugged of their right to a proper education. Public education is not charity, it’s an essential equalizer that prevents distinct social classes from forming. As you’ve rightly pointed out, one of our government’s functions is to protect its citizens. In the highly competitive global market of 2012, almost nothing compares to the protection one has from a proper education.

        I grumble about paying taxes just as much as anyone when April comes around. Taxes suck, but so does anarchy. Do you have a better idea of how to fund a government?

        I’ve read through your “Right of Free Association” post twice now, but I still don’t see where you suggest how to provide children an education when their parents have no time, money, or nearby 1830s hippie commune. No one is infringing on your right to peacefully assemble and teach children in your community. By all means, go for it. I just fail to see how you could get rid of all public schools and instead encourage community leaders to volunteer teaching without government intervention.


  2. Freedom, by the way — Thank you for the compliment. Glad you enjoy the post. Can we turn back the power grab. I don’t know, but we have to try.

    joesix — I believe your commentary is one of the best spoofs I have seen, and I don’t mind being a straight man. Therefore, I enjoyed highlighting your commentary and providing the plug. So let’s continue in that vein just a bit longer. You say “Federal spending is the only relevant way to compare education and defense budgets since local and state governments don’t usually fund standing armies or wage wars.” That leads to a several questions.
    1. Don’t the Federal Government, state governments, and local governments all spend the same kind of money? Doesn’t that money come out of the same people’s pockets? Why this artificial constraint? Why can’t we just add state and local education spending to Federal education spending?
    2. What is the value of the comparison? What relationship does education spending have to defense spending? If education spending was double defense spending, would you feel obligated to double defense spending?
    3. Other than one more unneeded layer of bureaucracy (and administrators who don’t teach), what do we gain by having the Federal Government spend money on education?


    1. 1. You’re more than welcome to add state and local spending to the pie, but when you do that, you see that they fund much more of it than the federal government. So, why advocate dismantling the Department of Education if they’re spending comparatively less than state and local governments? It would seem to weaken your own argument — unless you’re not so concerned with spending and more against the concept of a strong central government and “bureaucracy,” that dreaded word now more reviled than “socialism.” Or maybe you, like other pockets of conservatives out there, are in favor of tossing out all public education. I won’t insult your intelligence by assuming for you.

      2. There’s no direct relationship between education and defense. I merely used it as an example to highlight how far off our priorities are as a country. Our schools are comically underfunded while billions of dollars are spent on “base” defense in peaceful countries like Japan, Germany, Spain, and countless others. As I mentioned multiple times, more spending is not the key to improving the education system. I won’t insult your intelligence by repeating my past assertions of what other countries are doing to fix their schools.

      3. That layer of “bureaucracy” measures how well we are preparing the next generation and ensures that only facts — not political or religious ideologies — are being taught. Some education administrators don’t teach, some military personnel don’t fight, some hospital administrators don’t treat patients; that’s not a good reason to get rid of them seeing as how many of them do actually serve essential purposes. What do we gain by cutting that essential 5% of the budget?


      1. 1. I personally have no use for government involvement in education. However, we have a Federal system, and our republic, tempered by respect for individual rights, is based upon majority rule. Therefore, so long as the majority sees the need for a Department of Education, I am stuck with it. Nonetheless, the Department of Education is clearly unconstitutional and wastes money. Nationalizing our education system just eliminates whatever competition we do have, that between state and local school systems.

        2. How much money we should spend on anything depends upon how much is needed. Because government spending is driven by politics, it is best not to give government a task we can do ourselves without it. Private schools — even home schools — generally work better than government-run schools. Then parents decide the amount they want to spend on their child, not politicians who just yank money out of other people’s wallets and spends it as they see fit.

        3. There are two problems here. First, what you offer is an example of circular reasoning. President George W. Bush and Republicans (No Child Left Behind Act), not Liberal Democrats, first demanded some accountability for the money that the Federal Government spends on education. Republicans adopted this approach when could not get rid of the department and saw the waste. Unfortunately, because the quest for accountability gave the Department of Education a mission and more leverage over state government spending, the plan has to some extent backfired. Conservatives just want the Feds to justify its own spending, not to screw up spending at the state and local level. Second, who determines what are “facts”? You really want politicians doing that? What if the “wrong” politicians get elected? In a republic, the People compete to sell their ideas and beliefs. The hope is that honest competition will bring the best ideas and beliefs to the forefront. In any event, we each get to choose what we want to believe and teach our children. That is the basis for Freedom of Religion.


      2. So, it would seem you are in favor of tossing out all public education. I’m curious to hear your ideas for how parents would educate their children if they can’t afford private schools and have no time to home school them.


  3. Excellent discussion, Tom. Reading the principals outlined in Jefferson’s inaugural address is a good refresher. My how those that would be mighty at the federal level have grabbed power from the states and the people. I don’t know if there is any turning back and that is both frightening and very sad.
    When the federal government “gives” taxpayers their money back through federal programs, they dictact the terms and therein lies the problem. How can 500+ odd indiviuals possibly know what is the best use of funds for 50 states, thousands of communities and over 300 million citizens? They can’t. The answer to our gargantuan federal bureacracy is to look to the constitution and determine just what the federal government should be responsible for and leave the rest “reserved to the states, respectively.”


  4. Hey, thanks for the plug, [avatar of Thomas Paine]. Allow me to triple down on my statement. The subject of your original post was that the Tea Partiers are not as “extreme” as other media sources would lead us to believe. I countered by suggesting that dismantling the Department of Education, which is just one of the many government agencies Tea Partiers and even moderate Republicans have advocated tossing, is an extreme measure. Federal spending is the only relevant way to compare education and defense budgets since local and state governments don’t usually fund standing armies or wage wars. I also believe I mentioned that the education problems in America can’t be solved with simply more money, but with a comprehensive shift in how we’re teaching our students to make learning more interactive and exciting. South Korea, among other countries, achieves this with the mutual cooperation of both the public and private sectors.

    I could write countless more paragraphs examining your Constitutional devotion and how it conflicts with religious zeal, but I’ve been called “myopic” enough times for one day.


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