A month ago, the topic of social justice was addressed. Personal responsibility is the other side of that coin, and deserves a distinct consideration in light of the recent movement toward nationalism.
For the last half-century, American political movements have been generally separated on the notion of conservatives, who claimed to be believers in personal responsibility, and liberals, who claimed that group responsibility was paramount. This extended to both results of responsibility: credit and blame.
The generalization was useful for estimations of overall reactions but failed terribly on a case-by-case basis, because the liberal arguments were being dominated by their progressive faction. “You didn’t build that” and “It takes a village” were promoted by prominent and successful politicians, but on a daily basis most people who proudly described themselves as liberal were getting up, going to work on time, paying their bills, working hard toward goals and raising their children to be good citizens. Meanwhile, some people who considered themselves conservative were happily living off the public dole and sponging from their family and friends.
Still, the two philosophies, promoted from the highest points of politics and dovetailing on the personal level, were the dominant arguments. As time passed, when progressive (which, here, differs so greatly from the classical liberal tag that it should be used exclusively) politicians gained power they enacted rules to redefine personal responsibility from the necessity for making decisions to the necessity of following instructions.
As a conservative, I tend to stand against that. I don’t want the government – local, state or federal – fining me if I fail to wear kneepads while riding a bicycle. By the same token, I recognize that there are valid instances where, because of potential infringement upon the rights of others, behavior controls are necessary; I’m fully in support of anti-drunk driving laws, for example. This mechanic is at play when credit is allocated, as well.
To tie all of this in with the image chosen to head the article, Shaquille O’Neal is an excellent example of personal responsibility. It took significant determination and thousands of hours of practice and personal effort to develop his skills. Outside of the basketball court, he has starred in family-friendly movies attempting to promote positive messages and has volunteered as a trained law enforcement agent to help his community. He could not have played basketball without a team or made the movies by himself, and any untrained efforts at law enforcement would likely have been disastrous… but ultimately, I believe the credit for his actions is his alone, and he has attempted to demonstrate his character by encouraging others.
Where all of this falls apart is nationalism. While I have deep issues with the progressive viewpoint and will often challenge it, I believe there are elements of truth contained in it. Nationalism, on the other hand, thrives not on personal responsibility but rather on blame.
Under the nationalist structure, people are expected to hold virtually unlimited liberty to promote state-sanctioned viewpoints, while those who hold opposing positions are relegated to the role of “other” and are thus to be held at fault for all of society’s failings. This is enormously freeing for the individual (provided they cheer the correct positions) but is fundamentally flawed, as it ignores cause and effect.
“It’s all their fault” has always been a dangerous and thoughtless philosophical shortcut, common among shallow people on both the conservative and liberal sides, but with nationalism (whether promoted by the progressive Bernie Sanders followers or the populist Trumpists) it is elevated to an end of itself. It shifts all credit to one group, all blame to another, and ignores reality in favor of the emotional rush of perceived group success.
As a traditional American conservative, I will push back against the non-nationalist progressives and I hope any middle ground we reach will be mostly in favor of personal freedom, as was intended by our founders. (For more on that, see The People Are Sovereign essay series.) “Conservative”, in this case, is being interpreted as attempting to conserve the philosophical concepts which were discussed and agreed upon at our founding. But while I might push back against the non-nationalist progressives, I must even more aggressively reject the simplistic and irrational views of nationalists of all stripes. While political discussion is needed to represent all views, no common ground can be found while people are rejecting not just philosophical interpretations but objective reality.