The Old Ways Are Best!

December 24, 2011

When I was a young man, every small town had one or two shoe repair shops, or cobblers as they were known.  Those days are now gone.  My small town in Vermont doesn’t have one, though Chittenden County, along with the City of Burlington, does boast three or four by my count.  As we increasingly become a throw-away society, fewer and fewer repair shops for appliances, shoes and electronics can be found.

Repair shops were often owned by men that were tinkerers, and offered jobs for men that had that talent.  Before the modern era, back into the earliest days of the colonies, blacksmiths filled the position in communities as “fixers of broken things”…   Not only did the blacksmith repair objects that were broken, he created nails, bits  and hinges…  materials that could be used to build homes, harness and agricultural equipment.   Smiths were  valued members of the  community as were the cobblers and repairmen of my youth.

But, alas, times have changed.  I occasionally remark to those around me “the old ways are best,” as much to cement my position as the local conservative curmudgeon contrarian (CCC) as it is to remind them that there are qualities in the American character that we simply cannot afford to lose, qualities that have separated us as a people from other peoples  before and since the revolution that separated us from the Kings of England.

Nowhere were the virtues of  the American people more exquisitely rendered than in Toqueville’s Democracy in America. If  you are interested in what America was, and what I believe America must retain if it is to remain  “That shining city on a Hill”, you must read this book.

According to Toqueville, Americans were doers. He was astonished at the number of community organizations created to fix the problems of the  towns  he visited in his travels across the then nascent states, and all without the aid of government. This  in distinct contrast to France, where government was deemed the best solution to a community’s problems.  This is perhaps, I believe, one of the most telling of his observations.

As government intrudes more and more into our lives, becomes more responsible for the rearing and education of our children, care of the indigent and infirm,  and soon a greater control over the health care that we receive, we give up that control and responsibility for our community to others.   Liberty requires personal responsibility.  And when we give up that responsibility to a government distant or near, we give up our liberty as well, and liberty, my friends,  is hard won and easily squandered.

The cobblers, blacksmiths and radio repairmen may be slowly passing away.  And though I may  bemoan their passing, I do not yearn for a “simpler time”.  To do so would be to yearn for that which has never been, for the complexities of life have been with us always.  They have simply been different from generation to generation.  But the myths, the collective consciousness that sustain us, the ideas of freedom and liberty must remain with us, and we must maintain our commitment to them, our responsibility to them,  or our experiment in self-government must surely fail; these, are something we simply cannot afford to throw away.

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