Day By Day

Monday, September 07, 2009

A Means Not a Master

In his speech to schoolchildren Obama consciously echoes the sentiment famously expressed by JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country". Obama's formulation is: "What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?"

Dr. Helen ["The Instawife"] notes that these are both expressions of statist privilege and cites Milton Friedman's response to Kennedy's original statement:
"The paternalistic 'what your country can do for you' implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man's belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, 'what you can do for your country' implies that government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary. To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them. He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common traditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors, and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped and served.
"A means..., an instrumentality" not "a master or god". Wonderful! Nobody says it better than Milton Friedman. Thanks to Dr. Helen for reminding me of that terrific quote.

Read her post here.