“And the real problem is us.”

Oklahoma Senator Dr. Tom Coburn (R), addressing his fellow members of the President’s Deficit Commission, as they wrapped up deliberations Wednesday:

As a physician, I’m trained to find the real problem… What’s the real problem – not the symptoms, but what do the symptoms and signs lead me to is what is the real disease. And he real disease is we’ve abandoned the concepts of our founders. We’ve created reliance instead of depending on self-reliance; we’ve created government programs that are unaffordable; we’ve abandoned limited government; we’ve abandoned the enumerated powers. And now we’re in trouble. And nobody’s looking at what the real problem is. And the real problem is us.

Coburn seems like one of the real decent people in Washington. I think what he says here, in understated terms, about the fragility of the Republic is really important to grasp. Every government, under every conceivable form of government, is a transitory form of order: imperfect both in its form and in its practice. But a society can hold together under an imperfectly established and implemented government, as long as the level of corruption and systemic disorder does not rise above a critical mass.

When the members of a republic begin turning on each other by voting themselves "rights" to their neighbors’ property, it seems to me that the point of critical mass has already begun to be reached in that level of systemic disorder, and that any such society will necessarily begin, as Coburn puts it, to “rot from within.”

I don’t subscribe to the idea that our society’s most serious disorders are fiscal in either origin or solution, but I don’t doubt for a minute that the current model of fiscal order is an immoral one, which discourages and even squelches the practice of virtues, from industriousness to honor to charity, supplanting them at every turn with vices ranging from sloth to envy to greed. We need to establish a public order that encourages and rewards virtue, lest we leave our children a society poised on the brink of a new era of class warfare. That process has to begin by grappling with Leviathan, and resisting its creeping absolutism and pretensions of supremacy over communities large and small.