Principled Ideas from the Centennial Institute Volume 4, Number 1 • January 2012

Publisher, William L. Armstrong Editor, John Andrews

By John Andrews
Freedom and the success it produces can be their own worst enemy, unless they are tempered with personal responsibility. If America forgets this, we are finished. Alexander Tytler, analyzing world history in the 1770s, observed that great nations tend to decline after about 200 years. Liberty and abundance give way to complacency and apathy, he warned, then to dependence and bondage. Where are we on that scale? In the 1970s, historian John Glubb diagnosed the recurring pattern of decadence overtaking national greatness, with symptoms such as “pessimism, materialism, an influx of foreigners, the welfare state, the weakening of religion, the love of money, and the loss of a sense of duty.” The echo with Tytler is exact; the fit with our own How times, sobering. On January 20, 2009, just before we launched the Centennial Institute, I was completing a book on America’s need for a rebirth of responsibility to head off the danger of decline. Pausing that day to watch Barack Obama give his inaugural address, I was struck by one statement: “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility.” It sounded good. Conflicting Definitions Within a week, however, the new president was telling businessmen that at a time of economic crisis, making profits is “not responsible.” Since then it’s been clear that words have a different meaning in Mr. Obama’s vocabulary. He has misappropriated the language of personal responsibility, freely chosen, to cloak a radical agenda of collective constraints, coercively imposed. In the coming year of 2012, Americans will have their chance to electorally ratify or reject the Obama agenda. But regardless of who holds power, renewal of our nation’s responsibility ethic will be a matter of citizen attitudes

from the bottom up, not of policies from the top down. And it will be the work of decades, not months. We need a deep-rooted, far-seeing agenda of our own. In Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen’s Guide to the Next American Century, I look to a 2020 horizon and propose ten priorities for all of us in this decade, transcending the ebb and flow of elections. My first five agenda items, in fact, don’t concern government at all. In civil society, responsible America must strengthen families, insist on learning, renew a common culture, and expect more of churches. Then in the political arena, responsible America must assert civic ownership, rebuild our defenses, resist over-government, guard U.S. sovereignty, and protect freedom of conscience. Let’s look at each of these in more detail: I. Strengthen Families A free, responsible, and virtuous society rests on the marriage bond between men and women and on the lifelong relationship of loyalty and caring between parents and children. Strengthening the family is the best way of limiting the irresponsibility and neediness that lead to excessive government. Divorce damages everyone involved. So does illegitimacy. So does abortion. Social-science findings are conclusive on this. The response in public policy remains controversial, but nothing prevents us from working individually for stronger traditional families. The widespread American reality of adoption, single parenting, and same-sex households cannot change the fact that the optimum for human flourishing is one man and one woman, married for life, procreating the next generation and raising them lovingly. To repeat, this agenda for responsible America is about attitudes. A pro-family, pro-marriage, pro-life attitude is paramount.
John Andrews, is director of the Centennial Institute and former president of the Colorado Senate. He ran for governor, helped found the State Policy Network, and originated Backbone Radio. This is from a talk at Colorado Christian University on August 29, 2011, introducing his new book, Responsibility Reborn. Centennial Institute sponsors research, events, and publications to enhance public understanding of the most important issues facing our state and nation. By proclaiming Truth, we aim to foster faith, family, and freedom, teach citizenship, and renew the spirit of 1776.

can America avert decline?

II. Insist on Learning Moral and intellectual ignorance is the worst form of irresponsibility, because it sets up all the others. The individual who has not been pushed to learn and helped to learn is left at the mercy of impulses from within and impositions from without. So an attitude that honors learning, and that insists children must learn, is vital if we are to sustain responsible America. Unless this fundamental change in thinking spreads from the bottom up, talk of education reform will remain empty. Parents are the primary educators of the child. Academics and character cannot be separated. School and state eventually should be separated. The NEA and other teacher unions should be exposed as a money racket, a leftist indoctrination machine, and a partisan auxiliary, unresponsive to their members and unconcerned with learning. Charters, vouchers, tax credits, and home schooling should be encouraged. Competition, choice, and markets will deliver better learning performance at less cost than monopoly, bureaucracy, and unionism. III. Renew a Common Culture The Declaration of Independence, said Jefferson, was “an expression of the American mind.” What expresses the American mind today? How does the national conversation take place? Are we satisfied with it?

IV. Expand Charity Voluntary assistance to others in need, along with philanthropic giving for community benefit, meets the universal instinct of human decency as expressed in the Golden Rule. Charity is also a bulwark against excessive government and welfarism. Coercive redistribution is less tempting when unforced generosity prevails. Americans already lead the world in charitable good works, donating more of their income and volunteering more of their time than any other people. Yet despite welfare reform in the 1990s, tax-funded bureaucratic provision for more and more people’s living standards continues to grow. The ethic of self-chosen benevolence to our neighbors must become stronger still. Otherwise we’re headed for an absurd future where the law holds you and me “responsible” for each other’s wellbeing and no one is responsible for himself. Irresponsible America will have become what Frederic Bastiat called a “great fiction by which everybody seeks to live at the expense of everybody else.” V. Expect More of Churches Devout as we are, Americans remain unconvinced as to whether humans can be good without God. We can’t. The only options are personal responsibility, the real thing, freely chosen in the fear of the Lord, or purchased responsibility, the counterfeit, imposed by legal compulsion American and material allurements.

America’s political rebirth of responsibility since the 1970s has made no impact culturally. Sensation and celebrity coarsen the news media, culture is one. Our nation’s greatness was forged when all of the responsibilities discussed so far—family, movies and TV, books and music, advertising learning, culture, and charity—were far more shaped by the and art. Little is heard of the ethic of mutual obligation churches and far less tied to government. Secularists and and the grateful recognition that life is a gift. statists seeking a sheeplike population, the soft despotism But the idea marketplace does respond to consumer that Tocqueville feared, now manipulate such ideas as demand. We can begin demanding from it the attributes responsibility, progress, and even liberty, to achieve benign of what is best: truth, beauty, goodness, integrity, faith, control over the whole people. excellence, decency, duty, dignity, sacrifice, trust, unselfishness, reverence. We must also insist that American culture is one. English is the language of our shared future as well as our heritage. While the many cultural streams flowing together into this “first universal nation” are to be celebrated, the “ism” of multicultural propaganda is divisive and demoralizing to the land we love. Away with it. The best defense against such entrapment is the Christian precept of “Render to Caesar, render to God,” and the Jewish commandment against idolatry. Those truths don’t ring from the pulpit, however. Religious bodies in America today—active, prosperous, and to all appearances free—too often drift with the materialist and collectivist undercurrent, neglecting the spiritual formation of their members. If the church won’t shepherd its own flock, Caesar is quite ready to do so. Which will it be?

CENTENNIAL REVIEW is published monthly by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University. The authors’ views are not necessarily those of CCU. Designer, Danielle Hull. Illustrator, Benjamin Hummel. Subscriptions free upon request. Write to: Centennial Institute, 8787 W. Alameda Ave., Lakewood, CO 80226. Call 800.44.FAITH. Or visit us online at Please join the Centennial Institute today. As a Centennial donor, you can help us restore America’s moral core and prepare tomorrow’s leaders. Your gift is tax-deductible. Please use the envelope provided. Thank you for your support.
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VI. Assert Civic Ownership Our responsibility agenda is not primarily a political project. It is about living well as individuals in community. Politics enter in because law and government are needful to us as social beings, intelligent but imperfect, above the beasts and below the angels. Politics will go better if Americans begin to demand less of government by taking more responsibility for ourselves and our neighbors in the five areas considered above. But there is also a need for each citizen to “own” his place in the body politic responsibly and conscientiously, much as we own our physical bodies, homes, and other property. Our polity is vulnerable to what economists call the tragedy of the commons. Each of us as citizens must take an ownership attitude as an antidote. “In the long run we’re all dead,” some shrug when warned of the looming dangers of debt, entitlements, and weak defenses. Wrong; responsibility has no expiration date. We must assert civic ownership; accept it; practice it. VII. Rebuild Our Defenses

free responsibility, responsible freedom, and resist over-government. Does government expand because of its own power dynamic, or because lapses of responsibility in civil society leave a vacuum? Yes—both. There’s a vicious circle. Moral entropy weakens individuals and institutions. Unmet needs, along with the state’s inherent expansionism, draw a political response. Civil society suffers a further loss of vitality, and the spiral worsens. The greatest threat to responsible America is not Caesar. The greatest threat is the person you see in the mirror. The line between good and evil runs right down the middle of every human heart, said Solzhenitsyn. We get the government we deserve. IX. Guard U.S. Sovereignty Americans became the world’s freest and richest people by governing ourselves through consent and the rule of law to secure our God-given rights. Never since 1776 have we yielded our “separate and equal station among the powers of the earth.” But all this may soon be submerged into global governance by the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, and other worldwide entities.

We know this is a dangerous world. We know America needs defending because she is a target of Are we Transnational progressives, convinced the the envious, the ambitious, the fanatical, and obsolete the tyrannical. We know America is worth rendering too nation-state ismaneuver and a world polity is preferable, quietly from highdefending because she is good. So we must much to Caesar? level positions in government, universities, insist that America have a defense second to foundations, and the media. Both parties are none. susceptible to the utopian visions of these “tranzies” and Government’s first job is to protect us against violent their corporate allies. predators at home and abroad. This is obvious, yet The latter, oddly paired with the guilty-America lobby, have constantly forgotten. Man is a hopeful and gullible creature, also worked for open borders as 20 million illegal aliens and Americans in particular have a pacific temperament. poured into the country. Amnesty and a path to citizenship A morally and militarily disarmed United States in the late for these millions, which was defeated in 2007, is being 1970s came back in a decade to win the Cold War and pressed again. emerge as the world’s only superpower. Now as we struggle Unequivocal sovereignty against a new kind of enemy in jihadist Islam and its state for the United States sponsors, it seems the cycle may repeat. Churchillian of America under our voices of warning are needed. Our Chinese and Russian Constitution, including adversaries never sleep. Will we wake up in time? secure borders, is VIII. Resist Over-Government nonnegotiable for the You know it when you see it: government health care, continuance of our government energy policy, government climate regulations, way of life. Accept no government entitlements, government bailouts, substitutes. government banks, government automakers, government X. Protect Freedom handouts, government favoritism to unions, government of Conscience deficits, government economic stimulus. Each is a cure Each person must be at worse than the disease. liberty to determine in Over-government has never worked and never will. his own heart right from Something for nothing doesn’t work. Command and wrong, good from evil, control doesn’t work. While there’s not space to discuss truth from falsehood. each issue in detail, one remedy fits them all: Defend

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Centennial Review
January 2012

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Responsibility Reborn: An Agenda for 2020 By John Andrews Has terminal decline overtaken the United States? Great nations tend to commit moral and fiscal suicide after about 200 years. But America’s success story, grounded in freedom and responsibility, can continue if we all do our part.

Actions that injure others can then be punished, but laws purporting to forbid certain ideas and words are tyrannous and un-American. If absolutist minorities can persuade timid majorities to invade personal conscience, Orwell’s 1984 is here, and we are no better than robots. Canada has tried journalists for criticizing Islam and clergymen for preaching against homosexuality. This kind of thought control is already being advocated in the United States in the form of speech codes, laws about hate crimes, and “human rights” commissions. Religious practice will be the first casualty. Scholarship, the press, and political expression Never forget are also endangered as laws we may who we are. increasingly decree what subjects not say about taboo from abortion clinics to candidates for office. Moral accountability, the true meaning of responsibility, is destroyed if the mind and conscience of individuals are forced into a mold by governmental coercion or its proxy, political correctness. The danger is rising. We must not yield. Jefferson’s vow must be our own: “I have sworn upon the altar of Almighty God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Decade of Decision The nation does not lack for threats and problems right now. Yet turning difficulty into opportunity has been the story of our country for four centuries past. This next American century holds more of the same. These Obama years and their sequel are a decade of decision. Our difficulties could bring out the best in responsible America. Or the situation may fool us and frighten us into bad decisions that worsen the responsibility deficit. A generation of remarkable gains could be undone. Irresponsibility and enemies abroad at home are not the worst threat we face. The undertow of weariness and carelessness is worse. Lincoln led magnificently in wartime.
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But long before the Civil War, he warned of a far future when “the silent armies of time” might bloodlessly take America down—simply through our forgetting who we are. Has that day come? Not if you and I can help it. With this responsibility agenda for America 2020, we can refute the voices of decline and prove that the best is yet to come. ■

Responsibility Reborn

A Citizen’s Guide to the Next American Century By John Andrews
Published by Denali Press on July 4, 2011, the book explores the crucial question that also impels Centennial Institute: What will sustain America to 2076 and beyond? ■ “Valuable for everyone who aims to lead,” said Hugh Hewitt in the foreword. ■ “John’s book nails it,” said Chuck Colson. ■ “A timely book that all Americans should read,” said Edwin Meese. ■ “A beacon of hope,” said Hank Brown. ■ “Identifies the key to American exceptionalism,” said Bob Beauprez.
Order online at Or send $20 for a signed copy to Centennial Institute 8787 W. Alameda Ave. Lakewood, CO 80112

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