Meet civic challenge
Editor: We’ve been warned that ignorant people cannot be a free people. Benjamin Franklin, when asked in the summer of 1787 what kind of government we would have, answered, “A republic — if you can keep it.” He meant that in a republic it is the citizens who, by their actions or inactions, their wisdom or ignorance, determine its fate.
Why is that so crucial for us to know today? For one, it is that we as free people — citizens — would not like our well-being to depend on a ruler who does all the thinking and makes all the decisions for us. Citizens do not want to be subjects. Yet if citizens, in ignorance or apathy, give up the power that they have to guide their country, they relinquish the right that they have to someone who wants to do it for them — taking that power from them.
The late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis believed that the most important job in our American democracy is that of citizen. Retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter observed only four years ago that “the greatest threat to America’s republican form of government won’t come from foreign invasion or a military coup — but from the pervasive civic ignorance” of America today.
As we face a critical presidential election let us bear in mind the wisdom of Franklin, Brandeis and Souter. Though democracy can be messy, and ours has been threatened by a candidate claiming, “I alone can fix it,” we must rise to the occasion and hold on to our precious legacy — assuming responsibility for the public good. Franklin understood that our fate ultimately would be in our hands. He knew that it was a daunting challenge and a rare privilege. Let’s meet the challenge and keep the republic.
Nov. 6, 2016