If former Amherst County Supervisor Rufus Scott is still around, he is probably in his 80s and crankier than hell watching all the insanity that is transforming his great nation into culture of complainers and dependents.
Thirty years ago almost to the week, when I was still a young man chasing dreams and time was still a friend, I had the occasion, as a reporter in Virginia, to interview an Amherst County Supervisor named Rufus Scott.
Scott was one of those throwbacks of a man not enamored by modernity or the popular trends of his day. Scott had been a pilot in World War II, an engineer and professional manager for a time, but gradually he found his way back to the land and spent many days in overalls and boots working his own land. He was probably in his 50s when I traveled to his farm in December 1982 to explore his world and his thought.
He was an impressive guy for a number of reasons. He looked and spoke like a rural Clark Gable of the Gone with the Wind era. Full of self confidence and always outspoken, he was a man comfortable in his world but deeply concerned with the trends he saw unfolding in those days.
I had decided to profile him in the Lynchburg paper where I worked after watching him defy the prevailing winds on the Board of Supervisors and speak his mind with old fashioned common sense. I suppose he was a conservative by today’s standards, but labels did not confine his thought. As he put it, he disappointed conservatives who opposed thoughtful local government expenditure even as he resisted liberals who sought to legislate as if money fell to the ground like Autumn leaves .
Scott was a Jeffersonian, a phrase still understood 30 years ago when politicians paid lip service to notions of limited government. He resisted the use of federal dollars, even those that would have flowed to his own farm, and demanded accountability for local dollars spend to enhance growth and prosperity. A dollar taken from a tax payer was treated with serious respect, as if that dollar had been earned by the sweat of another’s brow.
Trying to tame the appetites of government was the dominant issue around which the Reagan revolution revolved and Scott was clearly an independent thinker who gravitated toward the Reagan movement. There was in Scott’s philosophy of government an understanding of three basic principles, all held deeply and passionately.
1. Men are not angels. Consequently, their appetites, if whetted and unleashed from the constraints of tradition, will spiral out of control. For that reason, it was absolutely essential that we not lose the language of individual moral responsibility.
2. His love of the land was both spiritual and practical. Human beings, to live truly free, must have the capacity for self reliance. They must be able to protect themselves and their family, raise at least some of their own food, and feel an obligation to their neighbors that was not mandated by governmental edict.
3. Generosity should spring from the heart. Need should be met, but personal pride should also be cultivated and nurtured. In the world of Rufus Scott, dignity was there for every person to grasp — provided they were committed to work and to contribute to the community as a free and independent citizen.
As we stood by his pick-up truck in a foot of snow, more falling angelic like fromt the sky, he said bluntly that human beings were shaped and formed in nature. Without a healthy connection to tradition and nature, he suggested, human beings gradually lose their way. Children raised without pride and a sense of self reliance are far more likely to become adults who are dependent on others for their own well being. Love of man and nature were rooted in a spiritual place that Scott did not seek to define, but somehow acknowledged in his long silences as he lifted his eyes to the surrounding mountains and the gray winter sky.
Today, of course, we live in an increasingly urban world. The amount of land destroyed in Virginia to make way for malls and developments has rendered my old stomping grounds virtually unrecognizable in barely a generation. Similar trends can be found in many other areas of the country — in Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee, places I know or have visited during the past couple of decades.
The Rufus Scotts in the world, vastly outnumbered, have not been able to turn back the developers, the expanding state or the maddening addiction to technology. We live closer together and work and travel like animals on tread mills, but our interest in one another and in our communities is increasingly a vehicle of self promotion — every one must be a star, apparently, even if it comes at the cost of our dignity and humanity.
I would suggest, nevertheless, that there is a connection between the destructive, rapacious, money centered developer and the Obama approach to government: the unencumbered appetite for more. The problem is that more is less. More shopping means less open land and fewer trees. More government shrinks rather than expands the economic possibilities for all. The expanding state is puts all of us in enormous debt and forces more and more of us to turn to government for those things we ought to provide to ourselves. As for the self reliant man and women, they are disappearing breed.
If Rufus Scott is still around, he is probably in his 80s and crankier than hell watching all the insanity that is transforming his great nation into culture of complainers and dependents. One thing I do feel certain of — there are fewer and fewer people like him haunting the halls of government these days, and that is bad news for our nation.