As you pray over the food this Thanksgiving, the connection between prosperity, especially the bounty of the harvest, and society are worth noting.
Since the Industrial Revolution, no nation that elects its leaders has suffered widespread starvation. That makes perfect sense; where voters are sovereign, feeding the population is naturally the first order of business.
It is also the single best argument – better than a million debates or essays – that democracy is the best form of government.
It also speaks to a more significant idea upon which we seldom reflect: The purpose of a society is to protect and nurture one another. Most times that is done best through the mechanisms of individual action and initiative. The food on your table is there because of the genius of people like Cyrus McCormick and Norman Borlaug and the hard work of American farmers, food processors, truck drivers, grocery store workers, etc.
Sometimes, though, governments are necessary to ensure that the collected preferences of voters are realized. In the case of food supply and distribution, obviously, voters in almost all times and places have emphasized everyone getting fed.
Let’s examine the contrary example for a moment. The one instance of the famine in the Western world since the Industrial Revolution occurred in what was (and parts of which still remain) the last colony in the West – Ireland. There, in 1845, a fungus attacked the potato crop, on which much of the native Irish depended for sustenance. Unfortunately, the foreign occupiers of Ireland had seized the best land and were using it to grow crops for export, not domestic consumption.
Because the Irish were ruled by a hostile English monarchy and government rather than by themselves, more than a million people (about one in every eight persons in Ireland) starved to death during the years of the famine even though enough food was grown on the island to feed everyone. Another 2 million (including the McKennas from the north of Ireland and the Smiths from County Offaly) left their native land for places like Australia, England, and the United States in the following years.
The Pilgrims, who may or may not have held the first Thanksgiving in what would become the United States, understood the connection between self-governance and prosperity. Upon landing at Cape Cod in November 1620, the first thing they did was to settle amongst themselves questions about how the colony would be ruled. The Mayflower Compact was the first document created on this continent that assigned civic rights and responsibilities and made it clear that the people would make the laws.
It includes in relevant part: “We, whose names are underwritten … do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another; covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
“In witness whereof, we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November … 1620.”
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution carry echoes of the Mayflower Compact. Even at this late date in the Republic, self-governance (“combine ourselves together into a civil body politic”), limits on government (“just and equal laws”), and the mutual promise of obedience to the law are the bases of our government and those governments who have followed our lead.
So, as you thank God today and every day for all of the things and people in your life, take a moment to be thankful that you live in the United States and take a moment to resolve to make this democracy as sturdy as possible for the next generation and the ones after that.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
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