Citizens Citizen

By: Guest Authors

By: Greg Halvorson

I love my father, a man who throughout my childhood espoused conservative doctrine—low taxes, job creation, a strong military—a man who voted for Goldwater, for Nixon (twice), and who, when Ronald Reagan ascended, settled into permanent arm-chair glee. My father instilled values. He confessed love of country. But my father is not a patriot. At age 75, he watches television, absorbing issue after issue, but rejects activism as a component of life. Recently, I asked what he’d done to stop “Pelosi-Care,” the monster bill that will decimate medicine, and his reply made me sad. His reply—“There’s nothing I can do”—affirms Benjamin Franklin’s worst fear. When asked, after the Constitutional Convention (1787), what they had given America, Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” This statement, purposely skeptical, marked a challenge to conservers. It served as a dare. But by declaring futility, by saying that he’s powerless to defend constitutional principle, my father is saying, “No, we can’t keep it.” This posture makes me sad because convergence from principle is a symptom of decline. Americans are being assailed by thieves. “Elites” usurp rights—


Because citizens, like my father, believe there’s nothing they can do. Because citizens, too “busy with life” to prioritize freedom, don’t fathom apathy’s link to injustice. Helplessness is the bane of Freedom. To my father, I propounded the perils of sloth, of taking liberty for granted. I went so far as to invoke M.L.K., Jr., saying, “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who are neutral in times of conflict.” “No bill,” he riposted. “It will never pass.” It did. Later, when the Senate followed suit, I assailed his “guarantee” (#2), asking how he felt about kicking the can down the road. Maddeningly, he denied the bill stood a chance.


Optimism is admirable, but there’s a fine-line between hunky-dory and hunker down. Lacking reality, optimism is feckless. Would the Titanic’s captain, by optimistically announcing that the ship will stay afloat, be absolved of culpability? Optimism can be dangerous, too.

I love my dad. But love is not respect. His optimism is rooted, not in embrace of blithe outcomes, but in an unwillingness to aid, out of laziness, an ideal, and it’s clear that he fosters erosion of freedom. To profess to love something (liberty), yet cheerfully refuse to hasten its growth, is intellectually dishonest. Painters paint. Writers write. And citizens citizen. By this I mean, they have a role, a service, to fill, and must grasp that assuming a privilege while discounting its maintenance is degrading. The mindset, increasingly pervasive, that money, taken from one and given to another, can produce “something for nothing” is the zeitgeist of welfare. The difference is that welfare recipients, as defined by government, expect dollars; whereas, my father expects freedom. It’s as if those who fought on foreign soil died so he could sit. Expecting liberty without committing to it is no different than expecting money without committing to it, and it’s sad, indeed, that he knows this to be true yet “commits” to do nothing. For men like my dad, who fail to citizen, freedom’s onus is severed from passion. It was John Kennedy who in a speech said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” and by lauding their brilliance, but lending them little, men sully words. A call-to-action is only as strong as the action. Inertia in liberty’s maintenance is a backward entitlement in which the recipient cottons to history’s dole.

Work is what matters. Freedom isn’t air. It isn’t rain. Arguably, it’s a crop. And farming begs labor. The person who hews to activism—a farmer of Freedom—must grasp that tyranny thrives in the absence of will. To paraphrase Edmund Burke: “When good men do nothing, the conditions for the triumph of evil are set.” Burke, a statesman and philosopher, knew that the cost of freedom was vigilance. He might have said to those who stand back, who feel neither duty nor obligation to “citizen,” what Sam Adams said in 1776: “If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains rest lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.”

I do not claim to know my father’s heart. I do, however, know that an “armchair Q.B.” never slings a touchdown, and that fields grow fallow. His failure to citizen is symptomatic of decline, for it can be said of liberty that it’s “always in autumn.” And too many Americans are unaware of the leaves.

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