THE SPIRIT OF LAWS => PATRIOTISM AS A VIRTUE: JULY 4, 2014

flagWhat is the 4th of July? That is a day when many Americans enjoy a summer holiday picnicking and watching fireworks. Should it be something more? We live in an era when America appears to be in a state of rapid decline. Therefore, we see many articles that begin like this.

There are so many scandals plaguing the administration of Barack Obama that any sentient historian would have to contemplate whether this nation’s status as the world’s model democratic nation has finally come to an end. The reason is that past scandals plaguing presidential administrations, with the notable exception of Watergate, essentially involved either money-taking by subordinate officeholders (Whiskey Ring of 1875 or Teapot Dome of 1921-22, for example) or personal misconduct, as in the case of the Monica Lewinsky affair under President Clinton. (continued here at www.washingtontimes.com)

Should the number of scandals worry us? What do they indicate? Is it possible they show we no longer care?

When Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu wrote The Spirit of laws, he concerned himself with many things. One was education, how a people instill into their children the love of their country.

5. Of Education in a Republican Government. It is in a republican government that the whole power of education is required. The fear of despotic governments naturally arises of itself amidst threats and punishments; the honour of monarchies is favoured by the passions, and favours them in its turn; but virtue is a self-renunciation, which is ever arduous and painful.

This virtue may be defined as the love of the laws and of our country. As such love requires a constant preference of public to private interest, it is the source of all private virtues; for they are nothing more than this very preference itself.

This love is peculiar to democracies. In these alone the government is entrusted to private citizens. Now a government is like everything else: to preserve it we must love it.

Has it ever been known that kings were not fond of monarchy, or that despotic princes hated arbitrary power?

Everything therefore depends on establishing this love in a republic; and to inspire it ought to be the principal business of education: but the surest way of instilling it into children is for parents to set them an example.

People have it generally in their power to communicate their ideas to their children; but they are still better able to transfuse their passions.

If it happens otherwise, it is because the impressions made at home are effaced by those they have received abroad.

It is not the young people that degenerate; they are not spoiled till those of maturer age are already sunk into corruption. (from here)

What does it mean to be sunk into corruption? How many of us are already sunk into corruption? For decades we have relied upon our government — politicians, men and women ambitious for power — to educate the children of our nation. In doing so we have forgotten what Montesquieu wrote of education in despotic states.

3. Of Education in a Despotic Government. As education in monarchies tends to raise and ennoble the mind, in despotic governments its only aim is to debase it. Here it must necessarily be servile; even in power such an education will be an advantage, because every tyrant is at the same time a slave.

Excessive obedience supposes ignorance in the person that obeys: the same it supposes in him that commands, for he has no occasion to deliberate, to doubt, to reason; he has only to will.

In despotic states, each house is a separate government. As education, therefore, consists chiefly in social converse, it must be here very much limited; all it does is to strike the heart with fear, and to imprint on the understanding a very simple notion of a few principles of religion. Learning here proves dangerous, emulation fatal; and as to virtue, Aristotle cannot think that there is any one virtue belonging to slaves; if so, education in despotic countries is confined within a very narrow compass.

Here, therefore, education is in some measure needless: to give something, one must take away everything, and begin with making a bad subject in order to make a good slave.

For why should education take pains in forming a good citizen, only to make him share in the public misery? If he loves his country, he will strive to relax the springs of government; if he miscarries he will be undone; if he succeeds, he must expose himself, the prince, and his country to ruin. (from here)

In 1838, Abraham Lincoln, then a young lawyer 28 years of age, wrote a fascinating speech on this very subject, The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions: Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois (January 27, 1838). Here is an excerpt.

I know the American People are much attached to their Government;–I know they would suffer much for its sake;–I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.

Here then, is one point at which danger may be expected.

The question recurs, “how shall we fortify against it?” The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor;–let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty. Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap–let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;–let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom. (from here)

Patriotism, as Americans once defined it, involved a Christian virtue, love. That is, loving one’s family, friends, and neighbors.

If you have time, I recommend setting aside a bit of that time in honor of the men and women who made the celebration of the 4th of July possible. Please read Lincoln’s entire speech.

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