Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
A Founding Member of the Alliance for Liberal Learning

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

We The People Stimulus Package

Please read Mortimer Adler's statement below and watch the video.

by Mortimer J. Adler

By "every citizen" I mean not only the persons who are of an age
to exercise the franchise that enables them to participate
actively in political life. I include also those individuals who
will become our future citizens--the young, who, when they come
of age, will take on the responsibilities that the high office
of citizenship puts on their shoulders.

Most Americans, I fear, do not know or appreciate the fact that
citizenship is the primary political office under a
constitutional government. In a republic, the citizens are the
ruling class. They are the permanent and principal rulers. All
other offices that are set up by the constitution are secondary.

The first and indispensable qualification for holding political
office in any of the branches of government is to be a citizen.
Officeholders, moreover, whether elected or selected, are
citizens in office for a period of time, but all citizens are
citizens for life. Officeholders, from the President down, are
transient and instrumental rulers, unlike citizens in general
who are permanent and principal rulers.

The distinction between the permanent status of citizenship and
the transient or temporary character of government officials is
obvious. But it may not be so obvious why I refer to citizens as
the principal and call government officials instrumental rulers.
To understand this point it is necessary to realize that the
government of the United States is not in Washington, not in the
White House, not in the Capitol, which houses the Congress, nor
in any or all the public office buildings in the District of

The government of the United States resides in us--we, the
people. What resides in Washington is the administration of our
government. We recognize this, at least verbally, when we say,
after a Presidential election, that we have changed one
administration for another. That change leaves the government of
the United States unchanged, because its principal rulers are
also its permanent rulers, whereas its instrumental rulers, its
administrative officials--are transient and temporary.

Administrative officials, from the President down, are the
instruments by which we, the people, govern ourselves. They
serve us in our capacity as self-governing citizens of the
Republic. Lincoln never tired of saying that he conceived his
role to be that of a servant of the people who elected him. The
word "servant" in this connection does not carry any invidious
connotations of inferiority or menial status. Rather, it
signifies the performance of an important function, one carrying
great responsibility, a responsibility officials are called upon
to discharge while they are serving a term in public office.

I am sorry to say that most Americans think of themselves as the
subjects of government and regard the administrators in public
office as their rulers, instead of thinking of themselves as the
ruling class and public officials as their servants--the
instrumentalities for carrying out their will.

It is of the utmost importance to persuade the citizens of the
United States, both young and old, that they have misconceived
their role in the political life of this country. If they can be
persuaded to overcome this misconception, and come to view
themselves in the right light, they will understand that their
high responsibility as citizens carries with it the obligation
to understand the ideas and ideals of our constitutional

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