Tell the NRA: 'Millions for defense; not one cent for tribute!'

Stephen B. Young, The Daily Record Newswire

“Quo usque tandem abutere patentia nostra”? (“For how much longer will you abuse our patience?”)

With such words did Cicero excoriate Catiline when he, with effrontery and no shame, entered the Roman Senate after seeking to seize the state by armed violence.

Killed with effrontery, little children are dead in Connecticut. President Barack Obama said “our hearts are broken.” He said nothing about our hearts being of steel or our wills as tough as iron. Nothing about our moral obligation as a citizenry to protect the innocent. He too is just another bystander, just another psychic victim of evil in the hearts of young men.

Do not expect leadership against our gun culture from him or others in Washington, D.C.

Those we elect to office these days, like President Obama, are followers, not leaders.

Leadership must come from us, the people. If we have had enough with legalized weapons of death in the wrong hands, then we must speak up, stand up and correct injustice.

The limited reality of Obama’s leadership skills came out in his response to the similar killings in Aurora, Colorado. Sympathy and inaction. He then ducked away from the Simpson-Bowles proposed compromise on spending and taxes; he ducked out of Afghanistan; he ran for re-election on money and organization but not with a vision for the country.

Scripture says in Proverbs 29:18 that “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

I am not hopeful that our elected officials have the will to confront the dark side of our culture of frontier individualism — weapons and the killing of innocents when life just gets to be too much for some.

The demand for weapons and ammunition without restrictions expresses the Social Darwinism in our culture — only the fittest survive, so get your guns and be ready to kill them before they kill you. So apparently did Adam Lanza’s mother, Nancy, believe.

Why have we drifted so far from Christ’s teachings?

Our recent presidents and candidates for president — Bill Clinton, Al Gore, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney — all graduated from either Harvard or Yale. But not John McCain. He went to the Naval Academy where they teach leadership in a different way.

What is it about Harvard and Yale that gives us such quality of leaders?

Simply put: Neither institution inculcates leadership. They only ratify political correctness in one form or another. They are the gatekeepers to an elite, the certifiers of mandarins, the preceptors of a democratic aristocracy. They reward a certain kind of intellectual facility and even brilliance, that is true. But from the perspective of character, they provide only a thin gruel of vision, determination and courage.

I know something of this. For several years as the first-ever dean of students at Harvard Law School, I did my best to make that institution more welcoming and relevant to students. But now, in retrospect, I doubt my efforts were well placed. Building an elite that has a great sense of entitlement but only a small sense of stewardship was probably not working a great boon for our country.

Martha Minow, the current dean of Harvard Law School, wrote in the school’s alumni magazine just before the November elections, “Why do so many law school graduates become leaders?” She was, modestly, reflecting on the fact that both presidential candidates held degrees from her school.

She provides two main reasons for this happy phenomenon: self-selection and the features of the law school experience.

Self-selection: Minow sees gifted and personally ambitious individuals who seek to climb up our culture’s hierarchy of power being drawn to law schools. In a Social Darwinian struggle for pre-eminence, upon graduation they rise to become the winners in our institutions of command and control.

Features of the law school experience: Minow points to learning how to question, to pull ideas and positions apart, to deconstruct propositions — in short, to reason sharply. She also proudly notes how legal education provides information about institutions, rules and practices, a “repertoire of formal and informal processes for tackling disputes and formulating policies.”

She adds, “Legal education models leading by conversation, taking turns asking questions and answering them.”

Nothing here about making decisions and sticking to them. Nothing here about guts and conviction, about self-sacrifice, about having skin in the game of decision-making. It’s all about process and finding differences and distinctions and challenging all firm ground as being potentially untrustworthy. It’s not about truth or core values. Everything is relative, partial, interim, slippery, insubstantial; nothing is meaningfully worthwhile. It is
about finding reasons not to do things, rather than building convictions to buttress action.

Self-seeking individuals given intellectual tools biased toward this kind of self-serving reasoning and away from truth and meaning can never hope to become leaders. They can be masterful mechanics in bureaucracies — clever, articulate and never personally responsible for outcomes. They can posture themselves very well, just as Bill and Hillary and Barack can do with such ease.

And they aren’t up to taking on gun control in order to defend the lives of our citizens, which is, after all, a government’s first responsibility.

But this doesn’t bother Minow: “Contentiousness and a sense of empowerment, grounded in knowledge and analytic tools — these are great ingredients for leading.”

In my book, officials and corporate officers with these skills are not and can never be leaders. They are no more than flotsam and jetsam in the seas of history. When the stakes are great, they are only followers, lacking heart and will to stand up against the more nasty tides of time. They may have positions of authority, but they are not leaders.

The great English statesman and constitutionalist Edmund Burke knew something about the demands on self of true leadership. Burke understood what kind of character was needed in those elected to serve in a constitutional republic. In his 1774 letter to the electors of Bristol, he said:

“Certainly, Gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a Representative, to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion high respect; their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and, above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.

“But, his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to [his friends and supporters], to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from [their] pleasure; no, nor from the Law and the Constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable.

“Your Representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

“[Some say an elected official’s] Will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If Government were a matter of Will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But Government and Legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and, what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion ...?

“Parliament is not a Congress of Ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an Agent and Advocate, against other Agents and Advocates; but Parliament is a deliberative Assembly of one Nation, with one Interest, that of the whole; where, not local Purposes, not local Prejudices ought to guide, but the general Good, resulting from the general Reason of the whole.”

Burke concluded that one elected to office must have powers of judgment and resolve to avoid the twin constitutional evils of “servile compliance” and “wild popularity.”

Burke’s reference to reason and judgment does not embrace what Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow accepts as the reason enhanced by a legal education. Burke is looking for centripetal thinking, and Minow for centrifugal thinking. The former is the work of leaders, the latter of lawyers.

Leaders are good at addition; lawyers, bureaucrats, politicians these days, and special interests are good at subtraction. Leaders move toward critical mass, the tipping point of catalytic emotions that inculcate a higher calling of service to the common good.

We will not get the balance of individual freedom to own guns and freedom from fear of those who have guns right until we get some leaders in office.