Uncommon Sense

May 27, 2014

The Tragedy of the Loss of the Common Good

The American Experiment in self-governance is being undermined. The attacks are subtle but observable as a shift of political focus from the collective good to individual rights. This trend in this country to “individualize” everything, is evident in gun rights and in higher education among other areas.

The framers of the Constitution stated their focus thusly: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The phrases “common defense” and “general welfare” and “our Posterity” were collectivist as was most of their focus in the rest of the Constitution. How could it be otherwise? We were establishing how we would govern ourselves without kings or other dictators.

Some of the framers went on to establish the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The awkward phrasing of this new article of the Constitution has given modern people no end of pause but not the legal system. For about 200 years, the courts interpreted this “right” as one that pertained to militias being employed to provide for the “common defense” and not as the right of an individual to possess firearms. This was written thus as the framers had no intention of having a standing army as that was, in their opinion, the first step toward tyranny. No, individual citizens must come together to form militias and they must provide their own firearms more often than not, so there could be no restriction on these militia-related activities. The scant discussion recorded over the debates of this amendment mention nothing but militias: no hunting arms, no personal protection firearms, just militia. In fact this was so self-evident that there was little debate about the Second Amendment at all. This situation was true up to and through the Civil War but thereafter we moved down the road to having a standing army, making the entire Second Amendment in its original meaning moot.

In 1977, the National Rifle Association was taken over by Second Amendment fundamentalists who developed a plan to change the meaning of the Second Amendment, so that it’s final phrase referred to an individual right to keep and bear arms, rather than a collective right for the common defense. In 2008, the Supreme Court overturned those two centuries of settled law in the Heller decision. The author of the majority opinion was Antonin Scalia, a self-proclaimed “originalist intent” jurist in that he believes that the Constitution should only be interpreted as to what the framers and their generation intended in 1789!

Currently, the Second Amendment to the Constitution is interpreted as an individual right and not a collective one, resulting in unrestricted gun ownership and almost unrestricted gun use.

In higher education and public education in general, education came to be looked at as something to promote the general welfare. Study after study showed that the more educated the populace, the better off the country as a whole. But in the 1970s and ‘80s, some began to view higher education more as a private good benefitting individual students than as a public good helping the nation prosper by creating better educated citizens. This is clearer nowhere else than the requirement that all children be compelled to go to school at the state’s expense. Whether you had children or not you paid taxes to educate all U.S. children “for the common good” not just to educate your own children (the complete antithesis of “pay as you go”). Prior to that time, public universities enjoyed almost total support from government, and tuition at some of the country’s best universities was free or nearly free. (I remember my “fees” at San Francisco State College in the late 1960s were about $75 per semester and those were described as paper processing fees, not tuition. A later study showed that the State of California got back $11-13 for every dollar they spent on my education there.) But Republican governors like Ronald Reagan argued that states should not subsidize frivolous educations, while economists like Milton Friedman advocated against the entire notion of free education (he didn’t think the government should have national parks either), claiming that students seeking a “private advantage” should pay for it themselves. So, tuition in California’s state universities and colleges: free in 1960 for a California resident, costs in excess of $12,000 not counting room and board today. And, of course, those free-loading individual students cannot discharge educational loan debt in bankruptcy. The rabid individualists made sure of that.

Having gotten their way in higher eduction, they have turned on public education in general and are rapidly privatizing our public schools . . . using public funds!

These are but two of the anti-common good efforts in our current society. None seem to be “American” in their outlook, all seem to be steeped in Social Darwinism which is surprising because no conservatives, the tips of the plutocrat’s spears in these efforts, think positively of Darwinian evolution. This is not a surprising contradiction from a group which loves to wrap itself in patriotism and the flag but is doing its utmost to unravel the American Experiment in self-governance. Their message: you are on your own; there is no collective good.


  1. “as a shift of political focus from the collective good to individual rights. This trend in this country to “individualize” everything, …”

    You couldn’t be more right about this Steve with some people. An example of this is this nut ball who recently wrote a letter to the editor in my local newspaper claiming that Thomas Jefferson, Herbert Spencer and Jesus would oppose a “click it or ticket” seat belt law here in Texas because it restricts his freedom not to buckle up.


    Comment by lbwoodgate — May 27, 2014 @ 9:10 am | Reply

    • I am inclined to humor such individualists but they must disconnect themselves from the collective to do so. So, if one has a motorcycle accident and is not wearing his helmet, they have “volunteered” to not have their insurance cover their behavior. Why should we have to pay for their individual freedom? Let them sign away the requirement to wear a helmet, but the document would also state that any insurance claims (accident, general health insurance, anything based upon good behavior) would then be void.

      The price of liberty is not just eternal vigilance. If one of these morons kills themselves on the road, then “public services” will scrape him up and take him to the morgue for free as long as his taxes are current. If he is in arrears, then a bill for scraping his ass up will be presented to his heirs/estate.

      What think you, oh wise one?

      On Tue, May 27, 2014 at 9:10 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — May 27, 2014 @ 9:52 am | Reply

      • “What think you, oh wise one? “,/i>

        We’re probably still as a society going to have to deal with these idiots regardless of whether they sign their right to sane actions away or not. But it is an interesting proposal.


        Comment by lbwoodgate — May 27, 2014 @ 9:56 am | Reply

        • Morons of the world, unite! Drop your chains to the collective and become a true individual. Oh, don’t use the roads if your taxes aren’t paid, you don’t want to end up in debtors prison!

          I don’t truly understand the opposition to collective behavior, but what the U.S. has done in opposition to it in our foreign policy is truly mind boggling. (I am currently working on a post re Milton Friedman and South American dictators.

          On Tue, May 27, 2014 at 9:56 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



          Comment by Steve Ruis — May 27, 2014 @ 10:00 am | Reply

    • I had to re-read that, twice.


      Comment by john zande — May 27, 2014 @ 11:19 am | Reply

      • Did you catch my comments at the bottom of the page?


        Comment by lbwoodgate — May 27, 2014 @ 11:24 am | Reply

        • I didn’t even bother following the link. My quota for nonsense today is almost up. But just checking, the link doesn’t work. Did they take it down?


          Comment by john zande — May 27, 2014 @ 11:26 am | Reply

          • I found it. He’s right! Jesus didn’t need no stinking seatbelt!

            On Tue, May 27, 2014 at 11:27 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



            Comment by Steve Ruis — May 27, 2014 @ 11:28 am | Reply

            • “He’s right! Jesus didn’t need no stinking seatbelt! “

              Ha! Just because the son of God walked to get from one place to another (sans the one time ass transport) doesn’t mean the Romans who dashed around in chariots shouldn’t be told to buckle up. 🙂


              Comment by lbwoodgate — May 27, 2014 @ 11:36 am | Reply

      • For some reason the link has disappeared so use this – http://www.dentonrc.com/opinion/letters-headlines/20140527-letters-to-the-editor-may-27.ece


        Comment by lbwoodgate — May 27, 2014 @ 11:25 am | Reply

        • “How do you not comprehend this?”

          I feel your pain, Larry… Although, sadly, its a question that will never, ever be answered.


          Comment by john zande — May 27, 2014 @ 11:30 am | Reply

  2. Were you at SF State under the infamous SI Hayakawa?


    Comment by gfbrandenburg — May 27, 2014 @ 2:02 pm | Reply

    • Yep! I was there from Fall 1966 to Spring 1969.

      On Tue, May 27, 2014 at 2:02 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — May 27, 2014 @ 9:28 pm | Reply

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