Dream, Hope and Reality
Once in a very long while, like a voice from the soul of bygone centuries, history speaks to remind us where we are and where we ought to be. The voice this time is of President Obama speaking of the change he wants to bring about. “The role of government” he says “is to create the environment in which everyone can go as far as their talents will take them.”
It brings us to the days of the birth of the Republic to words spoken by Thomas Jefferson on the aims of the American Revolution. “The privileges of the wealth aristocracy,” he said, “had to be destroyed to make room for the aristocracy of talent and virtue.” In the President’s definition of the role of government, the word virtue was absent, yet inherent in the concept of the success one's talents will achieve.
So, what is virtue?
The Founding Fathers went to great length to define it. Courage? Steadfastness? Honesty? Humility? Temperance? All together they comprise the meaning of what the word held for them. Did the President omit this word deliberately? A man so gifted in the art of expression could hardly be thought as careless or ignorant of the necessity for such distinction. He mentioned the talent, but on the subject of virtue he left the sentence unfinished. And he had good reason for doing this.
Much has been accomplished since the Revolution to create a new nation and even more a great deal has changed. On the accomplishment side, man’s dream for a place on the planet where freedom and justice prevailed broke through the obstacles of oppression, clearing the way for the next generation to enjoy the freedom and justice one longed for. “Land of the free and home of the brave”, the Anthem attests.
But, did the freedom and justice become real? Or, did they remain a dream to be given a new birth by the words of a new President: “the role of government is to create the environment in which everyone can go as far as their tal¬ents will take them”?
Think of what is contained in this order of words!
Freedom, for one: The possibilities that lie ahead for those who dare. Justice? It becomes a different sort of achievement, suddenly. Because justice, too, needs a definition like virtue. What is justice? A judge in black robe? An array of lawyers with briefs? A line of witnesses with observed truths? A prison with bars? It is all these, of course. But not what success for the individual entails. It is something much more, greater in scope. It is the place every one is en-dowed by the Creator in this picture-puzzle called uni¬verse, in which one fits to make it complete. This is the justice in the dream of those who came to America forsaking parents and siblings, entrusting the unknown with courage unheard of before. It was the heart of the dream.
Did it materialize?
It did for a few, the robber barons, but not for all. America is still struggling for that justice which lies in the dream of everyone.
Why is it so?
Material affluence, for one. “What does it benefit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?” the words of Someone in the distant past strike at the conscience with a familiar ring. Not that material affluence is something bad or unbecoming. Not at all! Material affluence is a blessing America was given at birth. It is the force that puts the human soul on trial to choose between virtue and vice.
This is where the government's inadequacy becomes clear. To help, on the road everyone pursues his dream of success, make the right choice between virtue and vice.
The government cannot fulfill this role by enacting a law for every human transgression. It would require so many laws that even a computer would not have the capacity to accommodate, much less a society which the law is intended to protect. Something more and different is needed: Education. There rests the way which can help the government also choose between virtue and vice, between good and evil.
There are great teachers for this from antiquity to the present. Their voices ring enduringly with the same power if one wants to turn off the earphones and listen. And they are ever present by their example. For education is not simply the gathering of information and skills. It is also the transformation of one from the crude brawn and flesh, to the refined spiritual being, able to think. It is, in the words of a great teacher from the past, the struggle to free one's soul from the flesh and in so doing to discover one’s self.
The excuse often given for an unwelcome initiative is that there is no law against it. There is not a written law but there is one unwritten. Sophocles* in his play Antigone, warns his fellow Athenians of how real this law is. Creon, the ruler of Thebes, decrees that the two dead brothers, Eteocles and Polyneikes, killed in the quest for power shall be denied the sacred rite of burial. Antigone defies Creon and buries her dead brothers directed by the unwritten law of honoring the dead. Creon punishes her to die sealed inside a cave. But in the same cave his son who is in love with Antigone joins her in death. Creon is left helpless as a result. The media today give a hint on the reality of the unwritten law by warning of backlash when acts by those in politics are void of truth. Unwritten law is the judgment we envision, stemming from our values, education and character.
Jefferson’s vision was of an aristocracy that would emerge in the environment government ought to create in which the driving force to success would be talent and virtue. This was in great measure the dream of those who came since. Yet the environment they found themselves in had room for neither talent nor virtue. In the hierarchy of values, rugged individualism led over the common good. Survival became the main task. Wealth it seemed would accomplish this, material wealth, as much as one could amass, and more. It became, eventually the end itself. If hope exists that the dream will become reality, education holds the key. It opens the door to the human resource. And that is wealth no material possessions can match.
Democracy depends upon an educated citizenry to function. We have proof of this in the choices we have made for those to represent us and govern. If the results are not what we hoped for, the responsibility is ours, not theirs. Unless we recognize this and act on it, we stand the chance to lose that most precious gift we have been given: Freedom. Each law that is made is not without consequence. It takes away something from us.
The power of an educated society reaches into the government also. Public office reveals who and what one is. The verdict of a society able to judge is a compelling force upon the government to choose between virtue and vice; it is present in the selection of representatives and in their performance while in office. An educated society can help fulfill the role which the President has intimated. It can help realize the dream of the founding fathers, that the real government is the people and that those elected to govern are not policemen but architects of the environment the President has sought. It is the road for the dream and the hope to become reality.
Dream, Hope and Reality by A. Aslanis October 2012 C