Hurricanes are usually occasions for the public to complain about a lack of preparation by their leaders. That would explain some of the dismay over the primary-season comments by Mitt Romney about disbanding federal disaster relief. But the bigger surprise this week has been the willingness of elected leaders to push back against citizens who didn’t — or wouldn’t — do enough to protect themselves. These targets included not only those YouTube daredevils who gloried in the risks, but ordinary people who insisted on going to work even as the winds picked up, or who failed to secure their homes and boats and cars.
For all the talk about what government owes its citizens, an equally compelling discourse focuses on an individual’s responsibilities to society. The notion of a social contract between leaders and their followers, explored by philosophers like John Locke who helped to inspire America’s revolution, concentrated as much on the duty of citizens as it did on their governments.