ON THE NATURE OF
WINFIELD H. ROSE, Ph.D.
PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE
MURRAY STATE UNIVERSITY
MURRAY, KENTUCKY 42071
ON THE NATURE OF
Winfield H. Rose
In 1991 Murray State University adopted a statement of educational goals known as the Characteristics of the Murray State University Graduate. Goal # 7 states that a person receiving a degree from this institution should "understand the nature of responsible citizenship and pursue an active role in a democratic society." This is a most laudable goal, one we as a society have long neglected, to our detriment. But what is responsible citizenship and how does one "pursue an active role in a democratic society"? My purpose here is to shed some light on these subjects.
To begin, the good citizen knows and understands what a democracy is. The term "democracy" is derived from two Greek words, demos and kratia. The first means "people," the second "power." The classical Greeks used the term to describe the government of ancient Athens and to them it meant "rule by the people." Our contemporary definition is the same. Since Athens was a small city-state, they could practice direct democracy but in our large country, however, we have a representative democracy (that is, a republic) in which legislators and executives (and sometimes judges) are chosen in periodic elections to represent and serve the people. The American system of government also is a constitutional democracy, meaning that it is defined and limited by a framework of fundamental, written law which is superior to ordinary statutory law; this is called constitutionalism.
To move beyond this, we must next inquire into the principles which undergird democracy. What makes it work? The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has suggested the following six "Principles of a Free Society" (www.isi.org/principles.asp):
If we accept these six principles as foundation stones for a free society, then our next step is to determine the behaviors which implement responsible citizenship and the pursuit of an active role in a democratic society. David Payne, Executive Director of the Kansas Family Research Institute, submits the following:
Pray for your elected officials. While one of the cornerstones of American politics is the separation of church and state, and rightfully so, that does not require the separation of religious faith and politics, and persons of religious faith definitely should pray for our country and its leaders.
The good citizen always has easy
to a copy of the United States Constitution and the Declaration of
means having them in his home or office. But easy access is not
These documents should be read, studied, learned, understood, and
The same can be said for The
Papers by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay and Madison's Notes on
Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787.
The good citizen knows and values his country’s past, its history, its traditions, its heroes, its monuments, and its sacred places. The good citizen knows that many people, going all the way back to the founding of the first permanent English colony at Jamestown in 1607, have made many sacrifices to found, build, preserve, and protect our country, and he teaches these things to his children.
The good citizen is conscious of the environment. The good citizen does not waste natural resources. The good citizen recycles empty cans and cartons as much as possible and never places trash anywhere except in appropriate receptacles. The good citizen also keeps his automobile in good running order so that it pollutes the atmosphere as little as possible.
The good citizen recognizes that other people can be just as sincere in their views as he is in his. He, therefore, respects them and their views. He is tolerant and polite at all times and knows how to disagree without being disagreeable.
The good citizen bases his judgments on relevant rather than irrelevant factors. He evaluates issues only on their merits and people only on the basis of their character anddeeds.
Whether he is researching, writing, testifying, teaching, debating, or simply speaking, the good citizen is interested in "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," and nothing else, at all times. The good citizen also knows that this truth will not necessarily be self-evident: you likely will have to search it out and it may not be an easy task but it will be worth the effort. You must have your facts straight to have credibility and to make correct decisions.
In voting, the good citizen recognizes that more is at stake than his personal preferences and well being. A broader and more fundamental issue is involved, and that issue is what is in the long-term best interests of our country, our state, and our community. We have a society which we enjoy and, hopefully, treasure but it must be passed on to future generations. If we must choose between our own personal, short-term benefit and the long-term interest of the future, we should choose the future. That is what the veterans of our armed forces have done countless times, and we should do no less.
The good citizen always is willing to advocate and defend the truth and what is right. Truth and right do not necessarily always stand on their own two feet, so to speak. They need good people to speak and act in their defense. Theodore Roosevelt said, "Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords."
The good citizen always tries to leave his community, and therefore his state,his nation, and the world a better place for his having been here. When you die, will anyone be able to say anything good about you and your life? The good citizen can answer that question with an unequivocal "yes."
To the Chief Executive:
The Honorable (name)
President of the United States / Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky
The White House / The Governor’s Mansion
Washington, DC 20500 / Frankfort, KY 40601
Dear President / Governor (name):
To a member of the House of Representatives:
The Honorable (name)
United States House of Representatives / Kentucky House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515 / Frankfort, KY 40601
Dear Representative (name):
To a member of the Senate:
The Honorable (name)
United States Senate / Kentucky State Senate
Washington, DC 20510 / Frankfort, KY 40601
Dear Senator (name):
(1) You desire credibility, so do not begin with the words "As a citizen and taxpayer, I demand . . . " or say anything else that would result in your letter not being taken seriously. Also, be sure you have your facts straight.
(2) Your purpose for writing should be stated in the first paragraph of your letter. If your letter is about a specific piece of legislation, identify it as House Bill # ____ or Senate Bill #____.
(3) Be neat, courteous, respectful, to the point, and include key information, using examples to support your position. Use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
(4) Address only one issue in each letter and, if possible, limit its length to one page.
(5) Do not demand the adoption of your position but simply request that it be given serious consideration, and then express thanks.
(6) Don’t make a nuisance of yourself. People who write three or four letters, week after week, are not taken seriously.
(7) The next time the Governor, Representative, or Senator is in your area, reinforce your letter with a personal contact. They come to town for speaking engagements, forums, receptions, holiday celebrations, and so forth, and these visits will be announced in newspapers and on the radio beforehand. Make the effort to meet them and share your views with them at that time as well. They will be glad to see you.
(1) Be a U.S. citizen.
White House main switchboard: (202) 456-1414
Comment line: (202) 456-1111
FAX: (202) 456-2461
Official internet website: www.whitehouse.gov
(E-mail via internet website)
If you do not know the names of your Senators and Representative, you may contact Project Vote Smart, 129 NW 4th Street, Corvallis, OR 97330, (541) 754-2746. Their Voter's Research Hotline toll-free number is 1-800-622-SMART for questions or assistance. You may also access their internet website at www.vote-smart.org/ and get the names of your Senators and Representative by entering your zip code. This source also will enable you to acquire information pertaining to their voting record, performance evaluations by various interest groups, issue positions, and campaign finances, as well as a short biography.
You may also contact
The Center for Public Integrity
1634 Eye Street NW, Suite 902
Washington, DC 20006
Internet website: www.publicintegrity.org
If you live in Kentucky's first Congressional district:
Hon. Ed Whitfield
U. S. House of Representatives
236 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Washington telephone: (202) 225-3115
Washington FAX: (202) 225-3547
Paducah telephone: (270) 442-6901
Paducah FAX: (270) 442-6805
Internet website: www.house.gov/whitfield/
Hon. Jim Bunning
United States Senate
380 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-0605
Washington telephone: (202) 224-4343
Washington FAX: (202) 224-0046
Internet website: www.senate.gov/~bunning/
Hon. Mitch McConnell
United States Senate
120 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Washington telephone: (202) 224-2541
Washington FAX: (202) 224-2499
Paducah telephone: (270) 442-4554
Paducah FAX: (270) 443-3102
Internet website: www.senate.gov/~mcconnell/
About Kentucky state government:
We alone regard a man who takes no interest in public affairs,
not as harmless, but a useless character.
The views expressed here are the author's. They do not presume to speak for anyone else, either individual or corporate.