We live in the age of ignorance. Never was so much information available. Never was ignorance so widespread among the allegedly educated. Opinion.
19/05/2009

"And then there is the stark reality that we live in an era of what I call 'historical and Constitutional illiteracy.' Most Americans, I am convinced, know very little about world history or American history, and the lessons entailed therein.

Likewise, I'm pretty certain that most Americans have no clue about the Constitutional limits on the powers of the government, and the idea that there should be any limits at all on the Executive Branch is unthinkable. In many ways, it's a sad state of affairs.

Americans are scared and want their President to be an omniscient, omnipotent savior, and the man we elected knows with certainty that he is that savior. Yet it's comforting to know that, in many ways, some of the founders of our nation understood human nature so remarkably well that they could have predicted a day when future generations would want not a President, but a messiah, and a day when a President fancied himself as such.

Such wisdom is yours for the reading in 'The Federalist Papers,' that old compilation of some 85 newspaper editorials that argued for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, published in 1787 and 1788.

While making the case for limiting the power of government, and establishing 'checks and balances' between government's various 'departments,' James Madison eloquently wrote in 'The Federalist Number 51:' 'It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government....'

It would seem that Madison the philosopher (who went on to become our Fourth President of the United States) was quite certain that those who govern will never be 'angels' (he would probably also concur that a President will never amount to a messiah). Madison also seems to indicate that those who govern will naturally begin to think a bit too highly of themselves, and will have difficulty with 'self-restraint.'

The good news, even in this brief passage of Madison's writings, is that 'the people' - - those of us who are 'the governed' - - can still function as the force that prohibits government from spiraling out of control. Certainly, we are still 'free enough' today to speak out, to allow our voices to be heard, and to freely exchange ideas about our country and its government -- even if those ideas are contrary to the edicts of a dead-certain Commander-In-Chief.

The question is not 'can we,' but 'will we' function as that balancing force against a government that is spiraling out of control? Madison and the other founders set the course. Will we follow their lead?" --columnist Austin Hill

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