Here is a thought to ponder:

Paradoxically enough, the release of initiative and enterprise made possible by popular self-government ultimately generates disintegrating forces from within. Again and again after freedom has brought opportunity and some degree of plenty, the competent become selfish, luxury-loving and complacent, the incompetent and the unfortunate grow envious and covetous, and all three groups turn aside from the hard road of freedom to worship the Golden Calf of economic security. The historical cycle seems to be:  From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to apathy; from apathy to dependency; and from dependency back to bondage once more.

It is a quotation from a speech by Henning Webb Prentis, Jr., delivered to the National Conference Board on March 18, 1943, and was most likely the speaker’s original work.  However, the second half of the paragraph has been variously attributed to Alexander Tytler, Benjamin Disraeli, Arnold Toynbee, and R. G. LeTourneau, among others.  Loren Collins has written an interesting report on his research into the mystery of this quote and its cousin, which is often found together with the Prentis quote:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.

No matter who, the author was both insightful and prescient.  Prentis, writing in the 1940s, believed the United States was closing in on the apathy stage.  Apathy?  Give me a break.  That’s soooo 20th century.  We blew past that years ago.  In a later speech delievered in 1946, Prentis adds two stages:  complacency (between selfishness and apathy) and fear (between apathy and dependence).  Thank you, Mr. Prentis; you have now defined us.  The United States populace, as a whole, organizes its whole life around fear.  Fear of economic downturn.  Fear of losing a job.  Fear that the water won’t be safe to drink.  Fear that children will be poisoned by Chinese lead.  Fear that the savings will be insufficient for retirement.  Fear that McDonalds might be unhealthy.  Fear that a big financial firm might pay a bonus.  An endless and pedantic list.  Fear is now wielded with extreme effectiveness to justify the most outlandish governmental regulations, intrusions into private transactions, and restrictions on economic activity that would have been unthinkable even 50 years ago.

Fear has enabled politicians to gleefully triple the national debt (CBO estimate, March 2009) as a sacrifice to the god of perpetual economic security and stability.  But this god is deceitful.  He is simply tempting us into Mr. Prestis’ final, fatal, inevitable stage.  The only possible way to thwart it is to expunge the poison of fear and purposefully redirect our faith away from government and toward the one who truly deserves it, the God who by his providence has allowed liberty to flourish for 230 years.

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