Personal responsibility is the slogan of Movement Conservatism, different from Republicanism. No doubt personal responsibility is the hallmark of a well-formed personality, but that begs the question as to whether the personality is well formed. How many people would you describe as having well-formed personalities? Besides the diagnosable and clinical conditions many people operate with, we have life experiences that have deeply affected people and give them those little quirks that cause us to back off a bit from a full-throated endorsement of their personality.
But all that aside, my observation has been that how much personal responsibility you are expected to take on has a lot to do with your role in society. The student is expected to take personal responsibility for his learning, but who took personal responsibility for putting a less than adequate teacher in his classroom? The student is supposed to take personal responsibility for doing his homework, but who took personal responsibility when his aunt could not get health insurance and he had to sit in ER with her all night? And who took personal responsibility for the fact that his teachers had not got a raise in three years despite escalating prices? The buck always seems to stop just before it gets to the door of the person with more power.
Don’t get me wrong, there are occasions when we expect people to perform at their best even when others have let them down, as when a unit of soldiers must fend off the enemy with less than enough ammunition but must do so despite that in order to protect their comrades, supply lines, etc. In that case, we ask them to sacrifice their lives. Tennyson’s famous poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, celebrates just that sort of personal responsibility. And it was seeing the plight of those neglected veterans on the streets of London that spurred him to remind his countrymen of their personal responsibility to those veterans. Where is our Tennyson?