After the Election: Restoring Public Courage

Chuck Colson | BreakPoint | Tuesday, November 04, 2008

After the Election: Restoring Public Courage


November 4, 2008

By the end of the day, we’ll know who our next President and Congress will be. My message today is directed at whoever wins. I want to echo the prophetic address Soviet dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn gave 30 years ago at Harvard. On that sunny June day, Solzhenitsyn warned that the West was losing its moral foundation.

“The Western world has lost its civic courage,” Solzhenitsyn said. And, to the outrage of his audience, Solzhenitsyn added: “Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite.” People and governments, he said, need the courage to do the right thing.

Our Founders would have cheered him on. They understood America to be a noble experiment in ordered liberty and self-government. But, as they warned, that experiment could succeed only if individuals exercised restraint in governing their own behavior.

As theologian Michael Novak puts it, if people are virtuous and responsible, America has 300 million policemen on duty. But if we lack virtue, we won’t be able to hire enough policemen. Chaos follows, as we’ve often seen.

Thirty years later, Solzhenitsyn’s prophecy has come true. The national conscience has shattered, eroded by relativism and postmodern deconstruction. The prevailing view today is not, “What can I do for my country?” but, “What’s in it for me?” This undermines the self responsibility necessary for free governments to function. And it’s at the root of the nearly unprecedented financial crisis we are now experiencing.

America is virtually bankrupt. Our spending binge has created soaring personal, corporate, and government debt, causing our economic meltdown. Forget about political finger-pointing; the blame is with all of us. Someday credit cards have to be paid, mortgages come due, government programs have to be curbed.

Politicians seem unable to face this reality. If politicians continue to pander to special interests with earmarks and entitlements and refuse to seek the common good, who is going to rescue us from ourselves?

Congressman Frank Wolf proposes we create a bi-partisan commission called SAFE to examine all entitlements in a way politicians dare not do—identify what we can afford and slash what we cannot. The commission would submit its proposals to Congress for an up-or-down vote. (The only changes permitted would be those that leave the long-term budget impact unchanged.)

I agree with Wolf. The time has come. If Congress can’t be responsible, we ought to take the matter out of their hands.

We can succeed only if we are willing to accept the Solzhenitsyn challenge; if we are willing to cultivate the Christian virtues of prudence, temperance, and courage; if we are willing to sacrifice our self-interest for the greater good.

Whoever wins the election today is going to be faced with huge challenges—and we all have to do our part. When you see your congressman at home over the holidays, tell him you don’t want any more earmarks—no gifts, no candy, no sweet talk. You just want to see some honest-to-goodness civic courage from our leaders.

If we have civic courage, our leaders can lead. Otherwise, no one—no matter the size of his mandate—can pull us through these tough times.


Chuck Colson’s daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

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