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Monday, July 04, 2005

Independence Day

Happy America's Birthday, as it's often called. Happy July 4th. Happy Independence Day.

Don't stint on the fireworks - we have a right to celebrate. But don't forget that what we're celebrating is not just the nation of today, but independence, i.e. the right of self-determination gained by armed struggle for those thirteen states by force of arms. The tree of liberty may have sprouted from and is still being watered now by the blood of patriots (See the Cotillion for a celebration of milbloggers) , but the tree of liberty looked to most the world then like a pretty anemic sapling. Self-determination was all we got.

We didn't get a nice development package, a solid system of government (we made up two Constitutions all by ourselves), a unified populace, a culturally or ethnically homogenous populace, agreement on religion, agreement on voting or agreement on anything else. We didn't inherit a solid independent economy - the British crown had deliberately limited certain types of trade and industry in its colonies. One of the desperate needs of the new, amorphous nation was to develop industry within its borders. All we got was the right to attempt to develop our nation on its own.

We didn't get philosophical unity, or political unity, because there was none. George Washington pretty much turned down the kingship, which is one reason he is known as the Father Of Our Country. If he had been willing to accept the crown, this would be a very different place! So all we got politically was the need to figure out how to work together.

We didn't automatically get the respect of the world. Most European nations believed that such an irrational and irrespectful experiment was not only destined to fail, but deserved to fail. France was willing to play pattycake with us in order to tweak Britain's nose, and over a couple of decades off went Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to France to explain how best that might be accomplished.

We didn't suddenly get human rights. As everyone knows, the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence were a long time in becoming realities for large groups of our citizenry. We didn't automatically become a virtuous people. We didn't automatically become wise. All we got was the chance to live up to these principles from the Declaration of Independence:
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.
Among the specific reasons given for revolution in the Declaration of Independence were:
You can see where I'm going with this, but I will postpone swinging the axe until a later post. The point of this post is that our entire system of government is based on getting a shot at self-determination and the population's reservation of the rights of self-determination to itself. That's all we fought for, it's all we agreed on, and it's all we were promised by the government we invented. It's all we have, and this great nation was born in the exercise of that right. Our very system of government is based on the idea that we should encourage dissent, debate and political independence in the population itself. The brawling, squawling rowdy voices of freedom may not be dignified and may not be always wise or virtuous, but the outcome of those voices has proven to be wiser and stronger than anything else. The result of those voices has beaten kings, tyrants, fascists, utopian dreams of blissful tyranny and the sterile elitist technocrats that George Orwell foresaw with such fear.

Let's be thankful for what we inherited, which was the right to decide for ourselves. Let's resolve never, never to give that away. And please, let's remember that there was never any guarantee of success or prosperity in all this, and that our inheritance of the insecurity of self-determination is the most precious possession that we must pass to the next generation. Once we forget to celebrate the independence in Independence Day, all our success and prosperity will follow self-determination into the grave.

When we sing about the land of the free and the home of the brave, it is an acknowledgement that gaining and keeping freedom requires bravery and self-sacrifice. It requires the long view. Most of all, it requires not trying to manipulate our system of government to assure a security to yourself or your family that can't be assured for all citizens. It requires a willingness to be free which equates to the willingness to be insecure. It requires demanding rights for individuals, but is absolutely inimical to demanding results for individuals.

If you aren't willing to be insecure in the land of freedom, then you aren't really American and you don't really believe in the American dream. All you can rightfully get as an absolute possession in this land of the free and the home of the brave is the assurance that government can't arbitrarily exercise its powers against you, the right to protest and agitate, the right to pursue your own way of life, and the right to preserve and exercise your freedom of conscience and action. That's known as freedom and that's the freedom we celebrate on Independence Day.

Note: A version of this post was also published at Blogger News Network.

Great post, MoM! Enjoy America's birthday, long may she wave!
You too, Esther!
Best post I read today...Fantastic...
Ah, thank you dear Crystal. It's nice to know that there are others who haven't forgotten the meaning of it all.
Fantastic post. It's easy to forget that the American experiment is ongoing. We can still fail, even now 229 years after it all began. That is why we must keep up the fight against tyranny. That sounds like a cliche in this cynical age, but there are real tyrants both outside and within our borders who are determined to see this experiment in liberty fail, and we must not let them win.
Annika, you wrote: "...there are real tyrants both outside and within our borders who are determined to see this experiment in liberty fail..."

That's so true. And the ones from within our borders come with a lot of different brand labels and from across the political spectrum. I have slowly come to the conclusion that there are a lot of people who just don't like the idea of freedom. They find it too risky or too anarchic. They don't trust it, and they don't trust the American people with it. Well, I am not prepared to trust the fate of the American experiment to those types.
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