Saturday, April 07, 2007

Quote of Today

From the Underground Grammarian:

Civilization is itself an institution and has, like all institutions, one paramount goal, its own perpetuation. It was Jefferson's dream that that civilization could best perpetuate itself in which the citizens were "educated," whatever he meant by that, and we do have some clue as to what he meant. He wrote of the "informed discretion" of the people as the only acceptable depository of power in a republic. He knew very well that the people might be neither informed nor discreet, that is, able to make fine distinctions, but held that the remedy for that was not to be sought in depriving the people of their proper power but in better informing their discretion.

And to what end were the people to exercise the power of their informed discretion? The answer, of course, shouldn't be surprising, but, because we have been taught to confuse government and its institutions with civilization in general, it often is. Jefferson saw the informed discretion of the people as one of those checks and balances for which our constitutional democracy is justly famous, for it was only with such a power that the people could defend themselves against government and its institutions. "The functionaries of every government," wrote Jefferson, although the italics are mine, "have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents." Jefferson knew--isn't this the unique genius of American constitutionalism? that government was a dangerous master and a treacherous servant and that the first concern of free people was to keep their government on a leash, a pretty short one at that.

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