232 Years ago, today, a brilliant man wrote a world-changing document. He wrote about tyranny and the natural right of mankind to live in a state of freedom. In the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson,
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."The meaning of this statement is clear, and in my opinion, the greatest single expression of liberty that has ever been produced by mankind. It contains so much that is perfectly relevant today.
First is the idea that the rights of man are natural and intrinsic in humanity. This is an incredibly important idea! Jefferson was not saying that the government grants you rights, but that your rights are unalienable and a part of your sentient existence. You have the right to your own life and liberty, and the right to pursue the things that make you happy - in other words, your own individual values. By extension, this also means the right to property ownership, which is the tangible expression of a person's values and actions. In practical terms, these rights translate to freedom in all the senses most people immediately think of when they hear the term - as such, no person, and thus no government can deprive any other human of their life (murder), their liberty (imprisonment & slavery) or their right to pursue their own prosperity (property, speech, etc.).
Secondly, since these rights to life, liberty, and property are intrinsic to any creature with the capacity for sentient and intelligent thought and free-will, Government thus doesn't give any rights to us. No, quite the opposite, a government as an organization can only remove rights. So in the case of the Bill of Rights, the founders were not "granting" any rights, but enshrining a set of intrinsic rights that may not be altered and which government is not allowed to usurp. To watch these very same rights be ignored constantly by our modern politicians and treated as archaic and a joke by most of the citizenry is thus quite disturbing.
Thirdly and perhaps most interestingly - Jefferson notes that people are "more disposed to suffer" when the evil usurpation is still perceived as small, and so it takes a long, long time to get to a point where the majority of the people are concerned about their own government. This is something I've been quite appalled by recently. Having long studied history and the philosophy of liberty, the abuses are crystal clear in my opinion. Yet I have been told on countless occasions the dual and insidious myths that because we live in a "democracy" (which we don't), any of the government's actions are wanted and sanctioned by "the people", and if I want to change anything I can always contact my local representative. Democracy gives the false sense of legitimacy to tyranny, and I think this may be it's most significant downfall... When there is tyranny committed by a king, at least people know who to blame. Yet somehow, in a Democracy, things happen which have no cause - laws get passed that no one can remember asking for, but think, "well, the majority of people must want it, so I guess it's ok!" It doesn't occur to most people that the vast majority of our laws exist only to serve some special interest and had nothing what-so-ever to do with the "will of the people". It likewise doesn't occur to most that some things are not subject to the will of the people at all! Because we don't live in a democracy. We live in a representative republic, with a "guaranteed" set of rights which our government was originally instructed never to violate... Yet of course, which it has violated since John Adams' "Alien & Sedition Acts". Of course those are pretty tame compared to what we have going today.
But I think the point is, Jefferson & the rest of our founding fathers were right. People would rather be complacent, in general, than stand up for liberty. They had, what in hindsight is probably misguided, the notion that if only people remained educated - they would be better defenders of liberty, but that seems to be the opposite of what has happened. Academia is largely the greatest supporter of the state, and why should we be surprised? The state has long been paying their salaries with other people's money. Milton Friedman used to talk about this a lot, but the amount of taxes middle class & poor people pay which go directly into the hands of wealthy college students is one of the greatest injustices in our society and no one ever considers it. So we have state-cheerleaders in the press and in schools, and as prolific as "education" is in this country, you'd be hard-pressed to find even 10% of citizens who know how our government works, much less the history & philosophy on which it's based.
Jefferson's words in 1776 changed the world, and just a couple hundred years later, we've all but forgotten them. So as I do every year, I like to commemorate the 4th of July by reminding myself and others why we're here and what it's all about.
Last year I wrote:
"It reminds me that, unique to human history, on this day in 1776, an intellectual movement was started that set about to create a government not based on "divine will" or ancient tradition, and not led by the desires of one thug to control other people with violent force - but instead based on the idea of providing as much freedom as possible to all people equally."While noting that...
"The 4th of July also reminds me that as America has progressed, especially over the last century or so, we have steadily lost sight of the fact that it is liberty that has been responsible for our success as a nation. We've grown fat and lazy, and security and safety seems to mean more to us now than liberty. We are now afraid to offend, in some cases, we're not only afraid - it's now actually a crime in some contexts! Worst of all, instead of expecting a government that protects our rights as individuals, we've spent the last 100 years clamouring for a government that "gives" us stuff..."Sadly, in 2009 these statements are all the more applicable. It's impossible to underestimate the abuse of power that is taking place right now. So much, in fact, has happened in the past year that it's hard for me to even wrap my mind around it all!
We've seen the government do amazing things in domestic & foreign policy that are grotesquely unconstitutional and have expanded political power to an unprecedented degree. It's hard to keep up with it all. The financial crisis has not been used (as idiot Naomi Klein postulated) to radically increase freedom, it's been used as it always has to radically expand authoritarianism. And for what?
The recession is worse now than it was in 2008, it's end is nowhere in sight... Sound reasoning & good economics dictates that they've basically done everything to prolong and exacerbate the financial problems faced by Americans, and in the process they've bailed out banks, automobile manufacturers, destroyed investment contract law, appointed dozens of "Czars" to control everything from housing to the internet, the President is now using a completely and utterly uncritical press as his own personal mouthpiece and that's all on top of the massive wars and blundering foreign policy endeavors we've already been engaged in. Then, as if we weren't suffering enough, they've decided that now is the best time to impose trillions of dollars in new taxes to pay for some variety of socialist health care, and to further bloody American industry by imposing politically motivated "environmental" regulations like Cap & Trade to stem the tide of global warming... But what's that you say? The climate models predicting severe warming have utterly failed to predict the decade long period of global cooling we've experienced from 1999? Gosh... So much for being pro-science! The lust for power is so great that there is less than any regard for the consequences. For the first time, I imagine in America's history, politicians aren't just going to be pushing the costs of their schemes onto future generations of unwilling participants, but are actively taking productivity right now. There's no regard for reality at all anymore!
And all this is happening at a break-neck pace. So much vile legislation is being rammed through congress in 1,000+ page bills that no one reads and most senators seem to be voting on solely based on the title and what their bribers are recommending. There is nothing what-so-ever good that is happening right now in American government. And ironically, although I only want the nation to follow it's founding principles and obey it's own Constitution, the usurprers are now the ones saying "if you don't like it, you can just leave!"
So here I am celebrating the 4th of July anyway. Friends are over, hot dogs have been grilled, and the budget-reduced fireworks shows are to start. Fun is being had of course... But on a much deeper level, I'm more saddened this year than I was last year...
The words of Jefferson have been forgotten, the meaning of the holiday lost. Our government is broke, over-extended and clutching mightily at anyone who might have some remaining wealth to squeeze. The more they tighten their grip, the less wealth there will be however, and the more the USA will decline. It seems to me that this year marks a time to commemorate all that the United States once was and could have been, and to start more seriously contemplating the future. I am reasonably sure it won't be possible to roll back the encroaching tyranny or the powers of the state. It may only be possible to find a new home for freedom at this point. Though as much as I've been told that I'm the outmoded one who needs to just move, I have no idea where I might move to.
Cheers to you America, "land of liberty". You had a good run... Time for another beer.