While my plans to attend the annual pro-life rally Saturday were thwarted by a hopelessly sprained ankle, my temporary immobility was much cheered when I picked up a copy of Uncommon Sense: A Common Citizen's Guide to Rebuilding America. A friend had been nagging me to read the book for several weeks, but my list of 'MUST READ BOOKS' had become so overwhelming that I decided the list should be ignored in favor of randomness. That day, however, all of the other 'MUST READ' books were upstairs, while I, my ankle, and Uncommon Sense remained down.
Although fascinated by politics, I confess that most current events/political affairs books bore me. Whether left-wing or right, they tend to be redundant and simplistic, and written as one long, horrific SHOUT at the reader. I expected this book to more or less another angry Tea Party rant. Now don't get me wrong, I am a believer in the Tea Party movement and have spoken at Tea Party events. It's just that the books are so very dreadful. However, I found Uncommon Sense to be delightfully, er, uncommon.
While author Stephen D. Palmer does reflect Tea Party values such as limited government, he rejects the idea that our current crisis is of a purely political nature, requiring purely political solutions. Rather, he peels back the layers of modern American culture to get to the core causes of an over-reaching yet ineffective government and decaying society. In so doing, Palmer reveals that the problem isn't those guys in Washington, it's us: We the People.
According to Palmer, We the People have become Those Who Have Forgotten. Through a neglect of the classics and truly liberal education, we have forgotten who we are and how we got here. Even among those newly enamored of our Constitution, few have actually read it, and even less have studied it. Palmer states that education should not be merely job or technical training about what or when to think, but “it is grappling with the core issues of our existence...which teaches you how to think.” Like his mentor Oliver DeMille (A Thomas Jefferson Education,) one of the solutions Palmer advocates is a liberal education with an emphasis on reading the classics, so that we can draw from “history, literature, poetry, economics and political science to find innovative solutions to new problems.”
A reworking of education is only one aspect of Palmer's solution. At the core, he is advocating that change begins with each one of us on an individual basis. We are merely noisy hypocrites if we complain about the federal budget deficit and national debt, but incur massive credit card debt in support of conspicuous consumption within our home economies. The blame for our problems falls on those of us who complain about taxes while accepting government benefits, complain about immorality amongst our leaders while viewing pornography in private, and complain about illegal immigration while violating the rule of law ourselves on a daily basis. Most of all, we can blame “the millions of common citizens who aren't educated enough to elect virtuous, courageous, and wise leaders. “
In an especially compelling chapter, Palmer argues that there are three areas into which you can put your 'faith:' government, corporations, or God. I have long thought that those who are willing to surrender liberty and capital to government are worshiping at the altar of a false god; one that can never live up to their expectations. Palmer confirms the fallibility of government, (and in a delightful metaphor compares it to a snake,) but also warns against trusting the 'corporate Daddy' as an equally dangerous venture, especially when our economic system is not truly equal, but one that favors select businesses over all others. If our faith is placed in the one and only reliable entity, we can order our government and business in a way that allows us the freedom to live out the role of good citizens.
In the twenty-one essays that comprise Uncommon Sense, Stephen Palmer presents a highly thoughtful perspective on the current state of affairs, and touches on topics ranging from abortion to economics. He employs frequent use of analogy to make his point, and although his analysis is inherently cerebral he effectively translates difficult concepts into easily understandable terms for the layperson. Not content to merely complain about the status quo, Palmer urges us to educate ourselves and, with our faith appropriately placed in God, engage in our community. But in the final chapter/essay, he leaves us with this warning: “Debating political philosophy is far less important than cherishing and serving all people as children of God.” Ultimately, the solution lies neither in government nor debate about government, but in our voluntarily living the role of proper citizens. Uncommon, but good sense.