The Weekend Read
The Twin Poles of American Integrity

Amid a growing consensus that Americans have lost faith in their country, ideas about strengthening institutions, on the one hand, and inspiring individual virtue, on the other, ought to be integrated.

Published on: September 28, 2014
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  • Pete

    Thank you to bring these sordid situations to light.

  • Bruce

    There is a reason the suburbs around Washington are the richest in the nation. Government pays great and anybody that bucks the self-serving system of the bureaucracy is not going to be treated kindly. Granted, the Fed is not government, but it functions very similarly and regulatory capture certainly exists. Did we think a private bank was going to use the power to print money responsibly? The reason people are losing faith in the institutions of government is because they have gotten too large, too greedy and too corrupt. People that oppose their usurpations are their largest enemies. They’ve turned on the people they are supposed to govern. They have powers the Founders never intended government to have. We all know that man cannot use power responsibly. Why in the world would we think these institutions that are failing us would?

    • FriendlyGoat

      Shouldn’t we credit some of the wealth around Washington to the flood of money that arrives there for lobbying efforts? Sure, lots of people work FOR the government and all its tentacles. But how many people in the Washington area have well-paid jobs trying to get the government to do things, trying to fill bills and agencies with trick language, trying to prevent government from doing things, and running “Americans For This and That”? The place is a MAGNET for the attempted purchase of specific outcomes. We would be astonished to know the truth of what all is funding those suburbs you mentioned. It sure as heck isn’t all liberal stuff, as conservatives like to imagine.

      • Bruce

        Plenty of the bribery, euphemistically called lobbying, is liberal and plenty is conservative. And yes, it has led to a lot of the wealth in the suburbs. Big government has made it possible.

        • FriendlyGoat

          Oddly, individual conservatives usually have greater (sometimes hidden) financial states in the outcomes they want and are able/willing to spend a lot to get them. Consider how many more people can and will spend to stop environmentalism vs. to promote it.

  • Anthony

    Established behavior patterns, called institutions are efficient when they serve the needs of members in just the way they want to be served; consequently such members feel at ease when being a part of said institutions. Essay gives impression that for many Americans group membership (citizenship) no longer generates aforementioned ease. Behavior patterns of institutions generally are structured by ideas about how one ought to act in order to accomplish certain desired ends. In the same way, essay implies American institutions facing doubt of their efficiency by its constituent members. That is, social trust is ebbing and Murray et al ask will such deterioration lead to eventual societal anomie. Similarly to the extent that such conditions and problems exist (arise), planning requires discovery or invention of new solutions and perhaps patterns for behaving. That said, implied sentiments among populace inferred in essay may indeed be real and persistent (lurking behind essay’s general thrust is idea that many Americans feel irked). And if this is true and such feelings persist, they may fuse with other feelings – such as not benefiting as loyal members of group (national citizens) whose loyalty has been attenuated.

    On the whole whether clearly articulated or not (and yes objective factors may indeed be irksome for many), the genesis of sentiments explored by essay is marked relationship between economic power and political power as played out in United States (coupled with the overreaching influence of the cultural apparatus). In particular, who governs in the United States, who gets what, when, how, and why, who pays and in what ways are central questions needing examination as one grapples with essay’s general thrust.

  • Corlyss

    Is anyone surprised by this? The Obama/Dem shakedown teams let it be known early on that they would not prosecute individuals in return for their commitments to support Obama’s re-election. In the interim Holder prosecuted firms to screw out of them enormous settlements that the victimized stockholders never saw. The settlements operated like criminal forfeiture and went straight into the government coffers. After all it was not like the stockholders were “real” people; they were either the malignant rich or they were faceless institutions. Both groups could afford the loss. The most courageous champion of justice is only as effective as the boss permits. Obama was never willing.

  • American prosperity and happiness has rested on two pillars: virtue and liberty. Virtue is the belief in doing the right thing even when it hurts and specific values — self-reliance, honesty, and so on. Liberty is the space between the universally condemned (murder, driving the wrong way on the freeway) and the universally approved (a nice pet, a successful marriage).

    Many of us now have only a dim concept of virtue — we consider it subject to redefinition at will. Virtue is to the success of humanity as the laws of physics are to the material world: Congress could repeal the law of gravity but would apples falling from trees go along? The same is true when new so-called rights are created and virtue is told to move over, sit down, and shut up: What works for human society does not change.

    Liberty covers everything that’s sometimes right, sometimes wrong; a matter of judgement or skill, controversial, or none of my business. Most Americans dislike it and support any effort — passage of laws, condemnation, etc. — to eliminate liberties they don’t exercise themselves.

    You want to braid hair? Operate a taxi? Own a gun? Breed a litter of pet dogs? Sell lemonade on the sidewalk? I DON”T TRUST YOU TO DO IT RIGHT — YOU NEED A LICENSE AND INSPECTION!

    The end of virtue and liberty is happening because we don’t see any value in them. Both the understanding of these and appreciation of their value is transmitted in families and it is the collapse of the nuclear family that is the source of the larger problem.

    Institutions of larger scale than the nuclear family are dependent on it to teach the meaning and value of virtue and liberty: We cannot have a good Federal Reserve or a Congress that does its duty without families.

    Name a dozen political leaders who genuinely understand and appreciate virtue and liberty. I can’t. How can we have successful political institutions without true leaders rather than just officeholders? Eric Holder is an American icon.

    No institution can fix this: Only we the people can do so, by putting the nuclear family back on its pedestal and shaming rather than supporting those who procreate in other settings. Government must stop taxing (monetarily and otherwise) successful families and their offspring to allow others to live and reproduce in non-family settings. This will be extremely painful and I don’t think we’ll do it short of catastrophe and survival of the fittest.

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