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Chicago and Camelot

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Unlike E.J. Dionne, I neither admire nor find inspiration in JFK’s famous line “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” (“Kennedy’s inaugural address presents a challenge still,” Jan. 20).  The late Milton and Rose Friedman explained best why that statement is detestable:

“Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. The paternalistic ‘what your country can do for you’ implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man’s belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny.  The organismic, ‘what you can do for your ‘country’ implies the government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary.”

Free men and women abhor the very thought of being either wards or servants of the state, and are not charmed out of this attitude by soaring slogans.

Donald J. Boudreaux

UPDATE: I love Steve Landsburg’s translation of Kennedy’s famous line: “Ask not what I can do for you – ask what you can do for me.”