Of I and We

Photo by Ilona Frey on Unsplash

Perhaps you have been chary of letting other people speak for you.  I know that I have.  I tend to bristle when someone announces what “we” are going to do without consulting with the “I”s in the “we.”  I feel much the same when I hear someone declare what “we” think without caring to learn what I and the other components of “we” think. 

Sometimes it is necessary or unavoidable to have someone speak for me.  I think of representative government.  A Congress of 330 million people will either get nothing done, or it will devolve into rule by a dictator who has, as an effective demagogue, arranged for enough of all of us to cede to him their will.  The city states of ancient Greece experienced both failings of genuine democracy—mob rule and dictatorship—and displayed how it never worked for long.

The Romans, inhabiting a city state governed by a king, threw off their king and created a democratic republic that flourished for several hundred years.  They elected Senators to represent them.  The Romans did not like a king who spoke for them without asking, but they thrived under a system of Senators who spoke for them, but only after obtaining the Romans’ permission.  That worked for centuries until the process of gaining permission—elections—became corrupted.  The Senators concurrently became corrupted, unwilling to face blame for making decisions.  The democratic republic was replaced by a government of emperors and Caesars.  Rome afterwards oscillated between civil strife and dictatorship on the way to collapse and invasion.

In the years following 1776 we, as a people of free individuals, united to shake off our king who claimed the privilege of referring to himself as “We” when speaking.  In 1787 “We the People,” through our chosen representatives, also established a democratic republic.  That followed the formation of democratic republics in each State.  Both sides in the debate to ratify the new Constitution emphasized keeping representatives tied closely to the represented.  Skeptics wondered whether that would actually happen or long endure if it did.

Individual people, representatives and represented, are imperfect, as the Founders understood.  We each prize our individuality and the liberty to live it.  We each can also be tempted to exert our will over others.  Consider the occasional neighborhood “WE BELIEVE” yard signs.  Are these an expression of personal faith or a declaration that you and I ought to consider ourselves included in the “WE”?  I wonder about the latter when I see decrees by federal officials, state governors, and local mayors extending government force to the seemingly anodyne slogans ornamenting the signs.  The man who today sits in the oval office, who would not dare to call himself a czar, has appointed a man (previously rejected by a national election) to be the nation’s “Climate Czar.”

We are scheduled to reach 250 years of our democratic republic when the 17-year cicadas next return.  Will they emerge in a nation still governed by “We the People”?  Or might they come out of the ground where the voices of the I’s have been subsumed by other Czars who announce what We think, do, and say?  Creeping political correctness, which has been chastising free speech for decades, telling us what not to say, has lately become enforced by governments, workplaces, media, and schools.  As the prophet Isaiah warned, a man is made “an offender for a word” (Isaiah 29:21).

By the way, the titles “Czar” and “Kaiser” are derivatives of the Latin title “Caesar.”

About Wayne Abernathy
I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I am the husband of one wife, the father of 5 children, and grandfather of 16 (and counting). In my career I have served on the staff of the U.S. Senate for some 20 years, including as staff director of the Senate Banking Committee. For just over 2 years I was the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Institutions. Just recently, I retired from the American Bankers Association, where for 15 years I was an Executive Vice President, for financial institutions policy and regulatory affairs. I am most comfortable at home, where I like to read and write, and at the Temple, where I rejoice in helping to unite families.

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