“How lucky it is for rulers,” Adolf Hitler once said, “that men cannot think.” The horrors that followed in Nazi Germany might have been easier to explain if Hitler had been right. But the problem is not so much that people cannot think but that they do not think. Or if they do think, as in the case of the German people, that thinking becomes muddled and easily led.

Hitler’s meteoric rise to power, with the support of the German people, is a case in point. On Jan. 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany in full accordance with the country’s legal and constitutional principles. When President Paul von Hindenburg died the following year, Hitler assumed the office of president, as well as that of chancellor, but he preferred to use the title Der Füehrer (the leader) to describe himself. This new move was approved in a general election in which Hitler garnered 88 percent of the votes cast.

It cannot be said that the German people were ignorant of Hitler’s agenda or his Nazi ideology. Nazi literature, including statements of the Nazi plans for the future, had papered the country for a decade before Hitler came to power. In fact, Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf,” which was his blueprint for totalitarianism, sold more than 200,000 copies between 1925 and 1932.

Clearly, the problem was not that the German people did not think but that their thinking was poisoned by the enveloping climate of ideas that they came to accept as important. At a certain point, the trivial became important, and obedience to the government in pursuit of security over freedom became predominant.

We see this same scenario being played out in America today where analytical thinking has given way to a steady diet of mindless entertainment and endless distractions. Rejecting community in favor of self-gratification and isolation, we have in essence become an atomistic society, a characteristic of an emerging totalitarian society.

Woefully ignorant of the freedoms given us by our forefathers and their subsequent erosion by our government of wolves, Americans rarely come together to strategize on how to maintain our freedoms. Indeed, most Americans do not even engage in meaningful discourse about pressing issues of national and international significance. And as studies show, Americans know much more about trivia (such as the names of the Simpsons and the Three Stooges) than they do the Bill of Rights.

Plain and simple, American educational institutions no longer teach children about their freedoms and how to exercise them. But it gets worse. America currently spends well in excess of $40 billion annually on public education. Yet the numbers are undeniable: in comparing the literacy level of adults in seventeen industrialized countries, America was number ten on the list. And 16- to 25-year-olds underperform their foreign counterparts as well. Moreover, they do so to a greater degree than do Americans over 40. And with the loss of literacy goes a critical ingredient in maintaining freedom — citizens who think analytically.

Thus, ignorant of the very basis of citizenship and overwhelmed by the informational glut of modernity, it is little wonder that many, ostrich-like, are allowing an out-of-control government to move forward unimpeded. Yet while most may feel snug and secure in their technological wombs, they are only temporarily keeping the wolf at bay. Hiding from reality is not the solution. In fact, non-participation by the citizenry only makes matters worse. “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote,” the drama critic George Jean Nathan once remarked. I would add that bad officials will run roughshod over citizens who are clueless.

Thus, for whom does the bell toll? It tolls for us. Everything America was founded upon is in some way being challenged. At stake is the very foundation of the American democratic system. And while it may be easy to fault a particular politician, event or the media — television, in particular — for the state of our nation, the blame, as the renowned CBS newscaster Edward R. Murrow once noted, rests with us.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.

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