Commentary Magazine


Contentions

America’s Civic Test

The budget that Representative Paul Ryan will unveil tomorrow will be unprecedented in its scope, its reach, and its structural reforms. He, along with his House colleagues, will have passed the test for political courage. Rather than avoiding entitlements, House Republicans take them on directly–including the main cause of our fiscal crisis, Medicare. All told, Ryan will propose cuts greater than $4 trillion from federal spending over the next decade.

Now comes a civic test of sorts. What will be the American public’s reaction to the plan that Ryan presents? Will they rally behind it, or rebel against it?

It’s hard to know. Perhaps we find ourselves in a new political moment, in which reforms and cuts that were once unthinkable can now be advocated without danger of self-immolation. On the other hand, it may be that what Ryan will propose goes beyond what the public is willing to accept. What is reasonable to conclude, I think, is that if the public continues to resist reforms to entitlements—either because of ignorance, demagoguery, or selfishness—we will experience, sooner than we think, the kind of “domestic convulsion” the founders warned about (and which Europeans are now experiencing). Demography and mathematics make that inevitable.

The greatest political thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries were quite realistic about human nature. They based self-government on modest rather than heroic virtues. They understood that people acted most often not out of altruism but self-interest. But it was self-interest “properly understood,” in the words of Tocqueville–meaning self-interest that was, especially at key moments, enlightened and public-spirited rather than narrow and selfish.

“That which is new in the history of societies is to see a great people, warned by its lawgivers that the wheels of government are stopping, turn its attention on itself without haste or fear, sound the depth of the ill . . . and then finally, when the remedy has been indicated, submit to it voluntarily without its costing humanity a single tear or drop of blood”—that’s how Tocqueville put it in Democracy in America.

A great people has been warned by its lawgivers–at least the responsible ones–that the wheels of government are stopping. Will the people embrace what they never have before (entitlement reform)? Will they act with sobriety now in order to forestall enormous damage later?

Those questions should begin to answer themselves very soon.



Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.