How do we view humankind? Are we merely a species of mammal to be managed and herded about on a general plan, regardless of a given individual's capacities? Or is each one of us a person of dignity and worth, whose right to manage his own affairs must be all but inviolable?

America's founders saw humans in the latter light. The right of the individual to defend himself was the foundation for a nation's right to defend its interests—not the other way around. A nation respected the individual's right; it did not confer the right. This respect extended not just to thought, religion, and self-defense, but to the whole conduct of a person's life, including his property and work.

The founders recognized that lawmakers and state functionaries have no more wisdom than the people do. Government is just other people, with—like us—single areas of expertise. We have authorized them to tax us and make a few rules for us. The people performing these functions know no more than we do about how our lives should be lived.

The immigrants who came to populate America hoped to escape governments—many of them operating under self-imposed religious mandates—that presumed, precisely, to know better than the people themselves how the people should live. Ordering the people around in their personal and communal lives is the hallmark of communist and fascist governments as well. But more than that, it has been characteristic of virtually all human governments throughout recorded history. If a people does not commit to the unique concepts of liberty and limited government expounded by America's founders, it will revert, over time, to the kind of overbearing, intrusive government that has been mostly inevitable throughout history.

America is in the throes of this transformation today. Our founders would have said that the promises of managerial government are false, and that communal salvation through government agency is actually a false god. They would have been right. They had a view of God and man that was different from what so many of us have today: a view that set man's relationship to his Creator above all else, and proposed to prevent government from interpolating itself between the two.

Americans learned to trust government, in the decades when it lived within its constitutional charter. But human government will always try to make itself a god to the people, if it is given more power. Government is never inherently benign; it can only be held in check. This is because it is run by flawed humans, who have been given power.

Americans are about to face the long-gestating consequences of forgetting that truth; even as I type, the nation awaits the federal government's deliberations over the "fiscal cliff," to find out what our prospects for work and prosperity will be in the New Year. That is a wrong state of affairs. Our latitude and opportunity as individuals to reap rewards from our ingenuity and labor—even just to provide for ourselves—should not be at the mercy of a political haggle over the government's monstrously oversized budget. Yet our network of regulations and taxes is now such that the government, by doing a thousand other things, can make it impossible for us to work, or make our work inadequate to the tasks of feeding, clothing, and housing ourselves.

Do we understand that this is wrong? Do we realize that our whole government apparatus, and our orthodox elite opinion, are based today on a corrupt and vicious understanding of what man is? Do we "get" the extent to which we have made a god of government, and sentenced ourselves to bow down to it and beg it for favors? Do we grasp that we can't get back to a more respectful view of human dignity without acknowledging God? Do we even have a clue that we have ceased viewing man through a prism that accords him rights and dignity?

We will find out in 2013. And if we call on Him, humbly and with repentance, God will be with us as we meet the fate that our citizens over the past century have voted for.