At Yellowstone last summer, we heard about keystone species, “a species that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance.” These species solve large ecological problems that would otherwise threaten the very existence of an ecosystem.
Consider the challenge of transmitting virtue. It was commonplace among the Founders of the United States to note that a free society requires a virtuous people. They accepted Edmund Burke’s observation: “Men qualify for freedom in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power is put somewhere on will and appetite, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.”
In an authoritarian state, social order of a sort is maintained by extensive controls from outside the individual. In a free society, virtue must be transmitted into the hearts of individuals—but not by the state. Consider this powerful observation of Professor Bruce C. Hafen:
[I]t remains fundamental to democratic theory that parents, through this institutional role of the family, control the heart of the value-transmission process. As that crucial process is dispersed pluralistically, the power of government is limited. It is characteristic of totalitarian societies, by contrast, to centralize the transmission of values. Our system thus fully expects parents to interact with their children in ways we would not tolerate from the state—namely, through the explicit inculcation of intensely personal convictions about life and its meaning. Read more