As it stands today, for the masses the great ideological arguments of ourtimes are not fought with books and pamphlets but with memes. Some even contribute Trump’s victory in 2016 to his superior memes, and so on occasion it is important to breakdown and analyze this new class of weapon for 21st century information warfare especially when the memes themselves package flawed/false ideas like in the meme featured below. It declares that Americans used to have “rights and responsibilities” which is 50% untrue.
Many Right-wingers, Conservatives, and Republicans lament the loss of a greater America that can never be recovered. They see a generation of “special snowflakes” taking the majority while accepting no responsibility for their destinies, passing all problems and solutions off to the government like the serfs of what will become the “AmericanSSR”.
So that is probably why they chose a cowboy as the image to support the text. That profession embraces danger i.e. personal responsibility to drive the cattle across lawless miles of rugged country without any help, especially from the government. The cowboy is not the problem though it is the “everyone has a right but nobody has a responsibility”, which makes no sense. American citizens have always had guaranteed rights but have never had and defined constitutional responsibilities.
The American Constitution (as the foundation of a system based on Liberalism) lists many things that the government cannot do to the citizenry but says nothing in terms of what the citizens themselves must do for the state. This is key to this whole idea of Liberty that the Founding Fathers fought for – to not be forced into action by a heavy-handed state.
Liberty is “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behaviour, or political views”. The key word in this statement is “from” as the Bill-of-Rights and other Amendments are restrictions on what the government can do to you and not things that you must do. Giving people responsibilities to society and making them beholden to it is the exact opposite of Liberty and one of the reasons why non-Liberal systems of the past seem to have to problem with giving the masses assignments.
Americans have the right to freedom from certain governmental actions but nowhere are any duties issued to us. If you look throughout the Constitution words like “duty, obligated, responsible” (in their various forms) do no apply to the citizenry. Although voting is an obligation in some locations in America it is not. The draft has been eliminated so military service is a choice not an obligation and was never intended by the Founding Fathers to be used outside of wartime. We could assume that the responsibilities of American citizens are to obey the law and pay taxes but these things can only be inferred by us and not stated in the nation’s founding documents. Furthermore, they do not sound very appealing as the core function of American citizens in society – to pay taxes and obey, which are some of the key reasons there was an a rebellion in the colonies in the first place.
So the question is, if we have a Liberal system that really only gives people rights, and does not give them any responsibility, why should we expect people to act in contradiction to this fact? Perhaps the current hipster/millennial generation of pansies is irresponsible because the system does not, and cannot, demand anything from them? With the erosion of Christianity there is no reason nor obligation to do anything for anyone besides yourself, so why should we assume that people will go against “the system”?
If we want to look at a society that did give the population responsibilities then, ironically we need to get rid of Republican memes and open up the 1936 Soviet (aka “Stalin”) Constitution. In it there are many examples where obligations were given to the Russian Working Class. For example…
ARTICLE 12. In the U.S.S.R. work is a duty and a matter of honour for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the principle: “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”
ARTICLE 131. It is the duty of every citizen of the U.S.S.R. to safeguard and strengthen public, socialist property as the sacred and inviolable foundation of the Soviet system, as the source of the wealth and might of the country, as the source of the prosperous and cultured life of all the working people.
ARTICLE 132. Universal military service is law.
Military service in the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army is an honourable duty of the citizens of the U.S.S.R.
So based on these snippets we see that the Soviet man is expected to work, fight and defend/protect the nation and its property at his own discretion. This isn’t to say that this is better (or worse) than the American Constitution in an abstract sense. America’s Constitution suits it just fine and has worked fantastically, but it, unlike the Stalin Constitution does not (and as a Liberal document cannot) assign responsibilities for the masses.
When we live in a society founded on the idea of the government not forcing people into various duties (other than punishing violations of the law) why should we expect people to be responsible? This meme is an utter failure as a society based on Liberty cannot demand responsibility from its populace full stop.
But this raises the question, if we are now in many countries across the world slowly moving towards an Illiberal Democracy then what exactly should the responsibilities of the citizenry be?