Thoughts on "Is America Falling Apart?" by Anthony Burgess
Anthony Burgess wrote "Is America Falling Apart?" to highlight the faults of America with the hope that America would change rather than disintegrate. The central theme of his essay was that America was too individualistic and would benefit from giving up some of that individualism in order to be a healthier society. "Where private ownership prevails, public amenities decay or are prevented from coming into being" (Burgess 287). His view of American individualism and how America needs to change is warped by his limited experience of large metropolitan areas and believing those experiences gave him an understanding of America.
One's perspective on many of the main American issues of debate changes depending on the geographic location in which one comes to an understanding of them. Burgess would have had a different perspective if he had avoided New York City and Los Angeles in order to experience America through suburbia or some of the thousands of rural towns in between the coasts. Public transportation, which Burgess complained about the lack of, is not even an option in the vast expanses in rural America. Other issues would have also taken a different shape. The issues that are important and how to deal with them changes depending on the area through which one experiences America.
Burgess properly identified the distrust of Americans to the corporate state, yet he failed to acknowledge that this distrust of the government was what made America great (288). This mistrust can be expressed in negative forms of individualism, which Burgess observed. It can also be expressed in positive forms, which Burgess failed to see; individualism by itself is not inherently evil. Rugged individualism that is necessary for life in rural America is much different than metropolitan individualism.
Burgess proposed more socialism as the solution for America (291). The dilemma is that when the government becomes involved in any area of life, freedoms are taken away. A recent example is a "freedom crisis" in Prince George County, Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C. The state attorney, a judge, and school officials believe that it is necessary for students to get vaccinated in order to attend school. They are forcing every student to get vaccinated or the parents will be sent to jail (Md.). This is the inevitable result of people allowing the government to make decisions for them. Freedoms are always relinquished when programs are implemented for the "greater good."
The crisis in Prince George County is an example which illustrates the danger of the conclusion Burgess came to as a result of his misunderstanding of America. The fear of Americans was realized: Government interference took away freedoms. This justifies the deeply-rooted anti-government sentiment that can be traced all the way back to the founding of this nation when the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, were written to protect the citizens from the government (United). This anti-government sentiment takes root all the way back to the early colonists: "The great majority left Europe to worship God in the way they believed to be correct" (Library).
The debate over how much freedom people should have in regards to the individual versus the "greater good" will continue through the ages as long as people join together to form communities. In asking what individual freedoms are indispensable, Burgess argued that more freedoms were dispensable than had already been relinquished. In so doing, he attempted to take away the pillar that made America the nation he so admired and enjoyed. Only with great trepidation do the American people give away any "right" to the government for the "greater good". If Burgess had accepted the great flaws that are chained to limited government along with noticing the great potential of the same limited government, then he would have been able to see clearly the greatness that freedom brings. Clinging at all costs to the idea of limited government and using that freedom to make a better world is what made America great. Implementing Burgess' ideas, which were developed from a narrow American perspective, causes it to fall apart.
Burgess, Anthony. "Is America Falling Apart?" The Norton Reader. 11th edn. Ed. Linda Peterson & John C. Brereton. New York: Norton, 2004. 286-291.
Library of Congress. America as a Religious Refuge: The Seventeenth Century. 14 Feb. 2007. 25 Nov. 2007. .
"Md. Officials: Vaccinate Your Kids or Face Jail." Around the Watercooler. ABC News. 20 Nov. 2007 .
United States National Archives and Records Administration. The Bill of Rights. 25 Nov. 2007. .