Summary of The Death of Common Sense

“The Death of Common Sense” detailed glaring concerns with the governing of our society. Initially Howard discusses the law, and how it controls almost every activity of common interest. After a law is made, it is no longer questioned, even if common sense tells us the law no longer makes sense. He then goes into process and procedure, which have taken over. The end product is no longer the most important part, but the process to get there, and making sure everything is done correctly and fairly for all. Howard also discusses the multitude of new found “rights” that we now have as Americans. These rights now provide people with many things, but at the expense of everyone else. He concludes with concepts that may help get us out of the hole we have dug. There was a time when America worked on general principles that reflected the law’s goals. Our obsession with preordained rules, endless checklists, and redundant processes needs to stop.

There can never be complete objectivity. Even though the laws and processes attempt to make everything objective, as humans we instill our values into any decision we make. We should be allowed to make such decisions. The overabundance of process and laws are in place because we assume that all people are bad. We have created a system that should prevent people from taking advantage, but just the opposite has happened. Our process and regulations create the opportunity for “bad” people to still take advantage, and they are more able to cover their tracks. These loopholes exist because it is almost impossible to review all the processes that already exist, and overlap is inevitable. We understand these loopholes occur, and because they are there decisions are delayed as every eventuality is taken into account, no matter how absurd.

Howard states that rights are not the language of democracy. Compromise is what democracy is about. Legal rights have taken away our ability to compromise. Some people feel that their “legal right” trumps the greater good. With so many rights to take into consideration, things have come to a standstill. People are afraid to make changes because somebodies rights will somehow be infringed upon.

Howard seems to be making the conclusion that we have moved from a society that utilizes Natural Law to one of Social Contract. As defined by Foltz and Mitcham (2005), Social Contract Theory states that human beings have no social order, and obedience to the state has to be justified. The laws, rights, process and polices that have come to take over our society to control the actions of humans. They have seeped into most ordinary human activities. Can we get back to a state where Natural Law will prevail? Porter (2010) feels that Natural law adequately theorized provides the needed basis of legitimation for the gritty but exalted business of making and enforcing the positive, man-made law we humans live by. Getting back to a state of Natural Law will take responsibility and the ability to make choices.

I felt Howard made many valid points and observations about our current society and government. The idea that common sense no longer has a place in governing seems absurd, but when you review laws, policies and rights that are in place, it is not a stretch at all. While some might feel his examples were the extreme cases, I think there are plenty more where they came from. He made a good point in the Afterword about giving people the freedom to take responsibility. While I think this is good in concept, people need to actually be willing to take the responsibility. There is much work to be done on every level of society, and from individuals to government.