The Private Sphere in 1957

Everywhere in America, individuals and private voluntary associations jealously reserve to themselves the rights of choice and action in those spheres of activity which most nearly affect the private person. The state touches these private concerns only upon suffrance, or not at all. Religious belief and affiliation are matters wholly of private choice; economic activity, by and large, is left to the will of individuals; social relationships are voluntary and private relationships; where one lives, and how is not determined by political authority. Quite as much as in England, an American’s home is his castle. A great many Americans live their lives through without ever conversing with a civil servant, or even saying more than good morning to a policeman. Americans have no official cards of identity, or internal passports, or system of national registration. Until 1941, America never experienced peacetime conscription into the armed forces. Nowhere in the world is the operation of government less conspicuous than in the United States. If an American citizen desires to abstain altogether from political activity, even to the extent of never voting, no one interferes with him; and for millions of Americans, their only direct contact with government is their annual submission of income-tax reports. Private life looms much larger than public life in the American commonwealth.

Even in those concerns which have been opened to local or state or federal political activity, the theory persists that political authority operates only as a convenience to private citizens. The public schools, for instance, are intended simply to facilitate the education of young people, not to enforce the educational doctrines of central authority: although nearly all the states require that children should be schooled in some fashion, everywhere parents are free to educate their children privately, or in denominational schools, if they prefer such methods to enrollment in public schools. The American assumption is that education is primarily the concern of the family and the individual, not of the political state; and this frame of mind extends to many more activities in which the state acts as servant, rather than as master.

~Russell Kirk, The American Cause (1957)

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