Home of the Free? Land of the Brave?
What is the place we call “America?”
Is it a piece of cloth, a patriotic song, some words written on a piece of parchment? No, not really.
Is it Mom, apple pie and a baseball game? Probably not.
Is it a place where millions of people try moving to from around the world? It used to be.
America is something far more than any of that. We are supposed to be the nation founded on three simple principles: “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.” Do you recognize those words? Those words are immortal. They come from our Declaration of Independence, when a bunch of otherwise mild-mannered citizens stood as one and told their former king to stuff his scepter where the sun doesn’t shine. (Well, since most of them were gentlemen, they probably used nicer language).
Yet, one has to wonder what Jefferson, Franklin, Washington and Madison would think if they time-travelled to the 21st Century. Is this still the same nation animated by the spirit of “Live Free or Die?” Not judging from the reaction most people have had to the COVID 19 virus. Most of us have rolled over, content to hide in our homes at the behest of petty tyrants: men and women who tell us we cannot see our family members, our friends, or even tend to our gardens. Not unlike the British Redcoats of the 18th century, we’ve been treated to the men and women of the police telling us “Protesting is not an essential activity.” There is a bigger difference between 1760’s Boston and 2019 Boston, besides our generation’s lack of a Crispus Attucks; a patriot ready to stand his ground in order to defend his freedom.
Our nation’s first flag declared, “Don’t Tread On Me.” That was then. Now so many of us seem to have adopted the motto, “Ok, Stomp All Over Me If You Promise to Keep Me Safe.” I’m pretty sure Washington would have the same reaction to that as he had to Horatio Gates, after Gates fled the Battle of Camden out of cowardice. Sort of a “Duuuuude, what is up with THAT? Get out of my space, before I run you through with my sword!”
Have you ever read the Preamble to our Constitution? It lays out what those ordinary men who kicked a mighty empire’s ass back across the Atlantic thought the proper role of government to be. In case it’s been a while, here’s a hint. Nowhere does it say the government needs to keep you safe. Nowhere does it say one of the responsibilities of government is to keep you from getting sick. In fact, up until a couple of months ago, the nation pretty much understood the responsibility for keeping you healthy rested with YOU. We’ve been through numerous other epidemics in the last century, a century marked by the most brazen expansion of governmental authority in modern history. Yet even through the Spanish Flu, the Bird Flu, Ebola, SARS and MERS, nobody ever thought stripping Americans of their most basic civil rights, their inalienable rights, and placing them under virtual house arrest.
But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this turn of events. It’s been a slow decline over the last 45 years. First we allowed ourselves to be frightened into approving a secret court – something every Founding Father would have blanched over. Later, we stood idly by as our nation’s leaders saw fit to engage in foreign wars that didn’t directly involve the United States. Then came 9/11, and the wheels started coming off the cart even faster. Despite our throaty rumbles of “Terrorists Won’t Change My Life,” we let terrorists scare us into stripping in front of uniformed strangers before getting on an airplane, allow law enforcement to bug houses of worship and launch our two longest wars in history (among a host of other dubious practices), all in the name of “safety.” Think about it: there’s an entire generation of Americans who have no idea what “freedom of association” really means in practice; they’ve grown up with the idea that you need to get a permit to hold a rally.
So, here we are. It’s time to ask yourself a question and answer it truthfully: are you animated by the Spirit of ’76? Would you stand against impossible odds, knowing you would likely die, as past heroes at Bunker Hill and the Alamo did?
Or would you rather hide in your house, waiting for the day the government tells you it’s ok to come out and play?
What Is An American?
One of the unique things about being a citizen of the United States is that unlike other nationalities, we often have these discussions about what being an American actually entails. We’ve been engaged in just such a discussion for the past four or five years now, and many people have landed on many different definitions.
Are we defined by our borders, the territory we control as a nation? Are we defined by our ethnicity or ethnicities? By our economic circumstances, both as individuals and as a nation? For many, these definitions, or a combination of these definitions, is what defines “Americanism.” These may be aspects of American life, but they are not what defines us as a people. As we saw this past weekend in Virginia, clinging to those notions is more divisive than unifying. They cannot define a nation as diverse as ours, one where wealthy and poor from every ethnicity on the planet call home.
Likewise, political leaders who foster these views cannot be unifying. They can only divide the nation along religious, ethnic and class lines. Both our last President and our current one have willingly used the imagery and language of grievance, attempting to force the nation as a whole to view the world through the distorted lenses of one subset of Americans or another.
The reality is the United States is not confined by our borders, defined by our economic clout or existent by our military power. You might have heard the United States identified as an ideal, and that is what our nation is. The glue that binds us are not the temporary trappings of wealth and power. The power that has allowed our nation to grow, to prosper, despite welcoming every ethnicity, every religion, and every race on the Earth was given to us by the men who created this country:
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.
I think that for many of us, these words have lost their meaning. After all, we’ve all heard them countless times. I can scarcely think of anyone who can’t recite them word for word.
Yet, we cannot deny the power they hold. It is those words, more than anything else, that drew our ancestors to this country. Those words are the birthright of every American and it is those words that are our unifying force.
One of the things I like to do, when faced with a passage whose meaning is difficult to comprehend, is to reword it in a way that is easier to understand. Bear with me as I do so here.
We: Who were the Founders referring to by “we?” The document this passage is taken from – the Declaration of Independence – was an open letter to the King of England and Houses of Parliament, on the behalf of the citizens of the new nation they were creating. “We” is nothing less than every American citizen.
hold these truths: to hold a belief is to accept it without question; a truth is an incontestable fact.
to be self-evident: something that needs no outside proof of its existence.
that all men are created equal: everyone, everywhere is no different than anyone else – and we are born into this condition. Whether you have the privileges and wealth of a Wall Street billionaire or are left scrounging for subsistence in the Somali sun, every person that will ever see this world is the same.
that they are endowed by their Creator: While the majority of the Founders believed in the Christian god, it’s important to note that not all of them did. George Washington and John Adams were deists, as were notable non-signatories of the Declaration, including Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen. It should also be noted that New York and New Jersey already had sizable Jewish populations by the middle of the 18th century (indeed, Dutch Jews were among the first settlers in New Amsterdam and Newark). Even among the devout Christians, there were religious differences – Charles Carroll of Maryland was a practicing Catholic, for instance. But the one thing all of them agreed on was a belief in a higher power, or Creator.
with certain unalienable: something which can neither be granted nor taken away by human authority.
Rights: Jefferson, John Adams and Franklin all were well versed in the philosophy of John Locke. While Locke’s ideas regarding natural rights were already well-established in philosophical circles by the mid-18th century, the Founders were doing something truly revolutionary here: they were claiming that by our existence, human beings have entitlements that no government can interfere with.
What follows is a listing of what those entitlements are.
that among these are: Whoops! make that a partial listing. Jefferson is saying there are other, unspecified rights, and he’s selected only the ones pertinent to why the Colonists are creating a new nation.
Life: Yes, you have a right to live. Sounds almost silly, until you watch this.
Liberty: for the 18th century thinker, Liberty was well defined by David Hume – “By liberty, then, we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will; this is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may.” I’ve read many other definitions of liberty, but this one – despite it’s age – still seems the best.
pursuit of Happiness: While nobody can guarantee that you will find peace and joy in the world, you’re entitled to try and find whatever it is that lets you achieve it.
One 36 word sentence carries quite a bit of import, I would say. If we were to reword the entire thing, it would come out something like this:
American citizens agree that the following is a statement of fact:
All people are born the same, and the Creator that grants us our existence does, by that existence, grant us certain privileges and entitlements that no person, government or entity can take away. Some of these entitlements are our lives, our freedom of movement and thought, and our attempt to derive peace and joy from our existence.
It isn’t as flowery or memorable as the original, I know. But this statement is what separates America from every other nation. It is what defines us a people, and as a country. America has not always lived up to the ideals laid out in this statement, but it is the fact we continue to strive towards it – rather than abandon it – that has characterized our place in history.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once said he dreamed of the day when his children wouldn’t be judged by their ethnicity, but by who they were as people. It was Dr. King’s way of restating our guiding principle, the American principle of natural rights. We haven’t gotten there yet, as the events in Charlottesville showed. Call me a sap, a sentimental fool or a man blinded by his beliefs, but I still think the vast majority of the people who call the United States home believe in our founding principle, but are being led astray by fear of an unknown and rapidly changing future.
Thank you for your time today, and may God bless America.
*The video I linked to above can also be watched here. You’ll need about 20 minutes to watch the whole thing. It’s painful and at times angering, but I suggest you do.
Save Us from Ourselves!
The gun grabbers are out in force.
Yes, there was another shooting on a school campus. Yes, the gun used was legally obtained. Yes, it shows that for all the attempts to date to restrict gun ownership, bad guys can still get their hands on firearms.
Rather than admit the folly of their attempts to prevent Americans from owning a weapon, the gun grabbers are doubling down on their attempts to take weapons away. They’re doing this, despite admissions that none of their proposals would have prevented the most recent tragedies. Once again, though, they are making an emotional appeal: “Guns are evil” they cry. “Why do gun owners need these guns?” they ask.
Once again, the left wing is out to deny Americans a God-given, Constitutionally guaranteed right, all in the name of saving us from ourselves. The arguments they’re using are no different than the ones they’ve trotted out to try and deny us the ability to purchase a 32 ounce soda, a juicy prime rib or a McDonald’s Happy Meal. The offending item is bad for you, ergo, it should be banned!
Here’s the thing we seem to have forgotten in liberal land: the government shouldn’t be the instrument that restricts anyone’s right to ownership of anything. The Constitution was written with three goals in mind: First, to ensure the federal government could pay the bills. Second, to provide a way for the states to work out their differences. Finally, and perhaps most important, to ensure the individual liberties that all Americans enjoy. It’s this final point that has been slowly eroded, in the name of “responsible governance”. That’s code for protecting us from ourselves.
Should the Founders come to visit us today, undoubtedly they would be shocked. Shocked by the sheer number of regulations and laws to which we have willingly subjected ourselves. Shocked that the American character is no longer identified by self-reliance and responsibility. They would doubtless be amazed by their descendants willingness to cede rights for which they fought and died to the federal government.
This is the sad state to which we’ve arrived. This latest tragedy is a perfect example. The gunman’s own parents continuously abdicated their responsibility, not only to their son, but to their fellow citizens. Why? Both parents were well aware of their son’s propensity to violence and his mental health issues. Yet, his mother kept those weapons in the house and his father had the temerity to suggest that the government failed – by not having stricter gun laws, by not institutionalizing his son. One has to ask, if the father had been more than a sperm donor, would the son have been so screwed up? If the mother had said, “gee, my son has some serious issues – maybe I should store my weapons elsewhere” would he have had access? But nobody seems to be asking those questions. A little responsibility would go further towards preventing not only this tragedy, but the vast majority of these incidents.
Nope, it’s far easier to say we have to “do something.” We have to take away your guns, because some people are irresponsible. Your rights are abridged because I need a political soundbite, even though I know that even outright confiscation of private weapons won’t stop the madness.
The Grand Fury
A quick thought about how the cars we drive are a reflection of who we are as a nation. Once, the United States was a nation of risk-takers. Today, we’re more concerned with personal safety and about as risk-averse as a society can be.
A pretty good example can be found in what we drive. The first car I remember my parents owning was a 1968 Plymouth Fury III, very similar to the one pictured above. (Heck, it’s even the same color). There really wasn’t anything safe about that car. Well, it did have rear disc brakes, but that’s about it. No seat belts, no crumple zones. Not even safety glass. And you know what? My parents weren’t overly worried about safety, either. I have fond memories of my Dad tearing down a highway at 75 mph with my sister and I jumping up and down on the backseat. About the only time my folks would even mention the concept of safety was if we attempted to crawl from the back to the front. Safety meant that you were driving 3 tons of steel with 383 cubic inches of V8 engine, churning out 330 horsepower.
Now, the Fury III wasn’t anything special in it’s day. It was a pretty run-of-the-mill family car, not unlike a modern Camry. But stop to think of all the features in the the typical family sedan today. How many of you would buy a Camry stripped of its seat belts, air bags, bucket seats, headrests, and so forth? I doubt there are many – even if the government allowed it, despite the fact removing them would knock several thousand dollars off the price of the car. And how many of you would allow your kids the freedom to jump around on the backseat in such a car?
The analogy is this: once the idea of government mandating safety, at a personal financial cost, was such an outlier that it didn’t happen. Today, we’ve become so accustomed to the nanny state telling us how to act – expecting it to protect us from ourselves – that we’ve lost that risk-taking, freewheeling attitude. And we’re not better off for it.
Liberty and Fairness
“The natural distribution is neither just nor unjust; nor is it unjust that persons are born into society at some particular position. These are simply natural facts. What is just and unjust is the way that institutions deal with these facts.” ― John Rawls, A Theory of Justice
Recent events in my own life have forced me to re-examine some of my most deeply held convictions. During the time I’ve been absent from this blog (wait – you didn’t notice???), four events in particular gave rise to self-reflection:
- Crohn’s Disease, with which I’ve done battle for 22 years, once again reared up and forced me to the sidelines
- My eldest son, who was born with a developmental disability, is now caught up in the nightmare that is the state mental health system
- I’ve rented a room to a family that is emblematic of all that is wrong with the way government abuses good people
- Another of my tenants passed away during the night
You’re probably wondering why I would spend the time to ponder what one prominent politician describes as “esoteric debates” when life brings such immediacy. You’re probably wondering further why I would take the time to write about that internal debate. The answer is that such internal debates are neither esoteric nor a thriftlessness exercise. It is by determining if our views are malleable to the events in our lives that we discover if our core values are the result of dogma or the sound exercise of judgement.
The overarching theme of President Obama’s tenure is that of “fairness.” Only, in Mr. Obama’s world, the fairness is defined by outcome; one in which those aggrieved receive what they deem to be their just share. This doctrine is exemplified in the policy objectives of his administration. Be it the underlying argument for Obamacare (that the only fair medical system is one in which everyone has health insurance), economic policy, the tacit embrace of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the management of foreign policy (attempting the equal embrace of islamist and democratic ideologies abroad) or dozens of other initiatives pursued, Mr. Obama is clear in how he defines “fair.” Further, his actions (including his insistence on defending the possibly unconstitutional and certainly intrusive domestic spying program) demonstrate a certainty that governmental institutions are the best method of obtaining this measure of fairness while denigrating the roles of other, traditional venues.
Unlike many of the President’s critics, I do not think he is an uncaring ogre bent on instituting a draconian new way of life on the American people. Although we disagree on most issues, I certainly applaud his efforts to afford all people equal protections under the law. I think it is indicative of his nature, in that he actually cares about the quality of life afforded ordinary Americans. I think most of my fellow countrymen have that same feeling and that underlying belief in his nature is the ultimate reason he won re-election – even though most of us remain opposed to his specific action plan.
I also think that more than a difference in political philosophy, we have divergent views on reality and possibility that slice to the core of our differences. The President is what might best be termed a government interventionist. Government Interventionism infects both the modern liberal and conservative movements. It is characterized by a belief that not only can the government positively effect outcomes, but that it should. While conservatives and liberals often have different goals in mind, they agree with the principle of a results-based system. As anyone who follows me on Facebook or Twitter is well aware, I have never subscribed to this view of governance.
My introspection of the past weeks has called me to wonder if, perhaps, this approach is best. One of the criticisms of Libertarians is that we are a callous bunch, uncaring about how life’s travails affect our fellow men. Those who know me personally know this isn’t the case. Of the root causes for my self-reflective journey, two involved people that I know cursorily. Yet, they are people who strike me as somehow getting less from life than their character would indicate they deserve.
Allow me to begin with the woman who died in her room last Wednesday. Although I knew her only a few months, what I did know belied her situation. She worked full-time (a rarity in today’s economy) and was well-respected by both her coworkers and employer, she had a large and close-knit family and she was outgoing, gregarious even. Yet, she died alone in rented room, the victim of a long battle with a chronic illness; in her case, diabetes. From what I could see, it was not a pleasant or painless death. She must have known she was in desperate trouble – I found her collapsed at the foot of her bed, in a position indicating she struggled to get to her door, with her phone fallen from her outstretched hand and smashed into bits. If we live in a results based society, why did she die in this manner? What could society have done differently that would have ensured that at the very least, one of her family would have been with her in her time of greatest need? At her funeral on Saturday, meeting her family and friends and seeing the outpouring of grief that overcame them all, I wondered why a woman so beloved by so many, who had done all society asked of her, should have been subjected to such a terrible death?
The week prior to her passing, I rented a room to a family of four. One room, four people, sharing a kitchen and bath with three other tenants. These are decent people, again doing all society says they should do. Both parents work and the mother attends nursing school; the children are incredibly well behaved (I wish mine had been so well behaved!). But they are victims of governmental bureaucracy as much as anything. The father openly admits to making mistakes when he was younger, which resulted in a felony conviction two decades ago. Since then, he’s done the things we tell him he should do: work to support his family, avoid the drama of street life, return to school and complete his GED. He would like to continue his education, but supports his wife as she works towards getting her degree. This is a family, in short, that is playing by all the rules our society dictates – yet they are reduced to living four to a single room, because it is all they can afford. The welfare system, the one that liberals tell us prevents this type of thing from happening and conservatives insist is too generous, is unavailable to them unless the father abandons his family. It is his decades old prior conviction that denies them access to it. Somehow, this result doesn’t seem fair to me.
Along the same lines, my personal struggle with chronic illness – in particular, a 22 year battle with Crohn’s Disease – has become much more difficult over the past two years. Over that time, I’ve had to shutter a business, spent nearly 8 months (cumulative) hospitalized and watched my family’s wealth get drained until we were destitute. I’ve rebounded some financially, but am in no way near the same fiscal position I was in 2011. Most of those around me think it unfair that my life has taken such a drastic turn, or that my reality is I’m likely wheelchair bound within the next two years and probably blind in less time than that. Certainly I wish there were a better prognosis.
Finally, there is my oldest son, Dennis. Some of my long-time readers are aware that he is what society euphemistically calls “developmentally disabled.” His reality is that he will never comprehend things the way you or I do. His IQ is 54; intellectually his development is equivalent to a second grader, emotionally he is at roughly the same stage as most 13- or 14-year olds. So while physically he’s a strapping 25 year old young man, his mind has yet to catch up to his body. Odds are that the two will never be in sync. This is the crux of his current problem. Because of his condition, he finds it difficult to express his feelings, except to occasionally blow up the way most 14 year old boys will. About 6 weeks ago, he found himself in a situation where he was being teased (not an uncommon situation, unfortunately) and lost his temper. The police were called; they followed protocol and brought him to the emergency room for observation. Which is where the nightmare began. Rather than checking his medical records, the hospital diagnosed Dennis as a violent schizophrenic and packed him off to the closest mental hospital. The doctor (I use the term in deference to his degree, not his competence) there confirmed the diagnosis, again ignoring his medical condition. A competency hearing was held, in which the doctor amplified his diagnosis to include the term “homicidal.” And so my son sits in a mental hospital, not understanding what’s happening or why as we fight to have him moved to another facility and have a new diagnosis issued that accounts for his disability. I’m not sure who would consider this outcome “fair.” If the President thought the justice system was ultimately unfair to the family of Trayvon Martin, I can’t see how he could consider this fair.
In reflecting on these incidents, each with an outcome which seems disproportionate in outcome to circumstance, I wondered if the results would be different were the fairness doctrine imposed by society replaced by libertarian values. Chances are that in three cases, the results would be the same but the perception would be different.
- In a Libertarian society, we would acknowledge that the young lady who died chose to live her final days alone. While there still would be sadness accompanying her death, it wouldn’t be considered unfair that she had neither friends nor family with her in her final hours.
- For the family renting the single room, society wouldn’t consider it unfair that a hard working mother and father would resort to housing their family in these conditions. In a Libertarian society, they would be celebrated as examples of how to face adversity.
- As for my health, nobody would consider it unfair that I’m sick and fated to becoming sicker. Unfortunate? Unlucky? Sure, those sentiments would be common. But the choices my family made in previous years were our own and left us in the financial position we find ourselves. I knew my health was precarious before launching my last business; it was our choice to take that route as opposed to my taking a job in what is a poor economy. Using Libertarian values, we took a calculated risk that proved unwise. But in the interventionist society we live in, we demonstrated incredible recklessness and need to be saved from ourselves.
Libertarians believe that fairness in opportunity is far more important than fairness of outcome. After all, if everyone is free to pursue their life’s goals – if they are truly at liberty – then the outcomes are inherently fair. Differences in outcome will have more to do with natural ability and desire than anything a government can do. While the odds are that the above situations would not be dramatically different than in a Libertarian society, there is one important way in which one of those situations would be better. The people above would be less constrained by a restrictive society. The family in one room may well be much better off, since Libertarians tend to look at most drug laws as counter-productive – meaning no felony record for the father. He would certainly have better employment opportunities without that black mark.
As for my son, a Libertarian society would probably mean all the difference in the world for him right now. Without the modern police state in which presumed innocence is nothing more than a tired cliche, it’s doubtful he would be where he is now.
So, yes, I’ve reflected and pondered. You’ve read my conclusions. You may not agree with them, but I end this period of introspection confident in my core belief that the equitable outcomes can only be guaranteed by the one truly fair system ever known to humankind. That is, that by believing in the individual and providing them with the liberty to achieve to their individual potential, a government does its best service to the governed.
A Patriotism Optional Nation
“In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.” -Mark Twain
This is going to be a long post, so I’ll beg forgiveness now. But what needs to be said is far too important to attempt to keep this brief, or under 750 words – for if it were that simple, then it wouldn’t need to be said.
Our nation is at a crossroads of our history. Down one path lay the glory and honor bestowed on us by the men whose names we learn to cherish as children: Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln. Down the other lay one paved in darkness and guarded by men we’ve learned to revile: Stalin, Hitler, Napolean, Caesar. We haven’t arrived at this juncture by accident, but it wasn’t pre-ordained, either. We came to this point willingly and of our own accord.
How did we arrive here? Because when times call for the greatest fortitude, people clamor for illusory safety and willingly allow government to abscond with what we once described as inalienable liberties. While our nation followed this course during the 18th and 19th centuries, we never forgot – or allowed our elected representatives – to forget the meaning of the word “inalienable.” Even the most egregious violations of the Bill of Rights and examples of executive overreach were quickly repealed. Or failing that, the third leg of our government – the courts – would invalidate the law in question. During the Civil War, the government violated the Third Amendment (prohibiting quartering soldiers in private homes), the Eighth Amendment (prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment), and Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution (the nation’s first military draft was enacted by executive order, not an act of Congress). By the war’s end, troops were no longer quartered in private homes, the Army commanders who had inflicted the most horrible deprivations the mind can create were themselves jailed and the Supreme Court invalidated the draft.
By the time the Great Depression had plunged the world into chaos, the citizenry was panicked. Governments around the world responded by instituting varying levels of socialism. In nations with a history of repressive governments, the repression reached new levels of inhumanity. Germany, Russia, Italy, Japan and China all gave rise to governments that (as a matter of policy) established mass executions and detentions while squelching all opposition. Spain erupted into a civil war between two equally brutal and repressive regimes.
In the US we instituted the “New Deal,” a series of programs that increased the government’s role in the economic and business life of the nation to unprecedented levels. This intrusion into previously private affairs didn’t infringe on the basic freedoms enshrined in our Constitution, the Bill of Rights or the Declaration of Independence. But it did set an important milestone in the affairs of the nation. It marked the firs time the nation willingly exchanged freedom of action for the illusion of security. (Let’s face facts: the national economy in 1939 was only marginally better than in 1929).
However, with the outbreak of World War II, Americans accepted not only having their inalienable rights curtailed, but in several case outright removed. Japanese-Americans by the tens of thousands were jailed, their citizenship nullified by executive order, in violation of the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments. First Amendment protections were stripped away, as a compliant press and population acquiesced to censorship on a grandiose scale. Defendants were not allowed to exercise their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in “national security” trials. J.Edgar Hoover’s FBI routinely searched homes and businesses for saboteurs – without warrants, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
After the war ended, these Constitutional violations ended. But 44 months of war and deprivation, after 12 years of government intrusion during the Great Depression, had inoculated the American public from the idea that government needed to be guarded against. An entire generation had now grown up knowing only a federal bureaucracy that claimed it could solve the problems of mankind.
“If tyranny and oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy” -James Madison
Thanks to the relentless indoctrination our nation has endured for almost 80 years, both from popular culture and the way we teach (or more accurately, fail to teach) history and civics, the United States of America is no longer the home of the brave. This is not to say that there are not courageous individuals among us. Obviously there are, or else things like this wouldn’t happen. But our society no longer expects bravery as the norm, which is why we celebrate those willing to run into collapsing towers.
This transformation of the American from rugged individual to fearful member of the collective gave rise to egregious abuses of power over the last six decades. Some we still remember: McCarthyism, Watergate, Iran-Contra. Others have slipped the collective conscience and disappeared in to mists of time. The common thread between all, though, is an underlying belief that government should have more power than the people it serves – all in the name of safety. It’s how we’ve wound up with massive programs. It’s how lawmakers and executives of both major parties can say with a straight face programs like PRISM are necessary to keep Americans safe.
This brings us to the 21st century, a century that began with the downing of the World Trade Center. The American populace screamed for vengeance, yelled for justice – but more importantly, demanded the government make them safe. And the government responded to those demands; not with a measured voice reassuring the populace that the terrorists would be caught and punished. Instead, two major wars were launched by executive fiat. Yes, the Congress technically voted to invade those foreign countries, but the vote was actually to cede the power vested in them by the Constitution to the Executive branch. Seemingly overnight, we were a nation at war.
“We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.” -Edward R. Murrow
In the same way the United States has ceased being collectively valorous, we have sullied the definition of patriotism. Being a patriot requires more than waving a flag on Independence Day, singing “God Bless America” during a baseball game; it is more than putting a lapel pin on your suit jacket or cheering returning soldiers. These are nothing more than outward displays of nationalism. Regardless of a nation’s ideals, such actions are performed by supposed patriots of every nation. Britons stand when a band strikes up “God Save the Queen,” Saudi’s bow when the King’s limo passes by.
On the other hand, the patriot understands and defends the ideals which separate his nation from all others. The original American patriots pledged “our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Many gave their lives, more sacrificed their fortunes. None, however, were forced to give up their honor. Rather, their honor was restored by fighting for the ideals in the document they signed in 1776. In our modern era, the rights they enshrined as being inalienable, rights that laid the foundation for our nation, are being eroded by the misnamed Patriot Act, by secret courts and warrants, by an executive branch that sees little value in life or liberty. Where are the modern patriots?
The reality is patriotism is a vanishing character from our nation. More than half of our citizens are perfectly happy to be spied on by their government, not caring this can only occur as an abrogation of the Fourth Amendment. Over the past week, I continuously hear statements like “If the government wants to watch me watch porn, I don’t care.” Nobody much cares if the Nazi’s can’t march in Washington, so long as they can watch Honey Boo-Boo. After all, freedom of speech isn’t for people who might have offensive views but only those with whom we can commiserate. Abridging the Second Amendment, redefining it if necessary, is fine. The public doesn’t care, so long as it can be made to feel safer. Seventh and Eighth Amendment protections for suspected terrorists need not apply – especially if the hapless citizen accused of terrorism is overseas. Why bother with a trial, when a missile tipped robot can eliminate the problem? If a bunch of kids in Brooklyn get stopped and frisked by the NYPD for the awful crime of walking around, who cares about their rights to due process? The cops might find a gun on one of them.
All of this is now acceptable to an American people conditioned towards cowardice. Our forefathers abandoned personal safety and financial security in the pursuit of liberty. They did this at the founding of the nation and as they expanded the national boundaries westward. They did this as they boarded creaky ships to cross the Atlantic in the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries. These people were patriots. They did not fear their government, they stood for their rights and took it to task when government dared infringe upon them.
“When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty.”― Thomas Jefferson
Despite the platitudes from the elected, our modern government is no longer “of the people, by the people and for the people.” The modern American constantly lives in fear of what the government may do to them, rather than holding government to account for its actions. They often don’t even realize how afraid of government they’ve become. They live in fear of being audited by the IRS, of having their driving privileges revoked, of having their property seized by “eminent domain.” They live in fear that their employer will lose a government contract, of being denied a government loan, of being denied admission to college.
So, my question to you is: what are you willing to give up for liberty, those of you who call yourselves patriots? Are you willing to sacrifice your life? Your house? Your bank account? Your Social Security check? How about the big screen television or cell phone? Because our reality is that very few are willing to sacrifice anything. It’s why we’ve become a nation of nationalists, not patriots. We cower when we should fight. If you want to know why you are no longer safe in your cities, America, look no further than the rot that infects your citizenry’s soul. Your complacency as the nation’s values were stolen is the reason our foreign enemies are emboldened.
“Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to the eyes of men. Silently and perceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or weak; and last some crisis shows what we have become. ” ― Brooke Foss Westcott
America is now the nation of cowards. As such, we’ve become the patriotism optional society.
May God help us all.
Why I’m a Libertarian
When I announce my political affiliation, the usual responses range from subdued chuckle to loud guffaw. “Oh no,” people say. “You’re not one of those crazies, are you? An anarchist, ready to abolish the government?”
Well, I am a Libertarian and have been for a quite a long time. And the reason is pretty simple: if I’m crazy, then so were men like Thomas Jefferson, Samuel and John Adams, Patrick Henry, George Washington, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin. All, excepting Madison, signed the Declaration of Independence. You might have noticed that these men, the original Libertarians, while unafraid to fight for liberty – to give their lives in the cause of liberty, if needed – were hardly anarchists. In fact, when their first attempt at organized government yielded something much closer to anarchy than we even want to dream of today, they organized the first Constitutional Convention.
So, if that’s crazy, feel free to count me in.
To put it simply, Libertarians believe that government exists solely to protect individual freedom. But our views on where those freedoms derive are much different than that of the typical Republican or Democrat; in fact, they are diametrically opposed. Ask yourself this question: is government the final arbiter of what constitutes essential liberty? If you answered yes, then you hold the same world view as the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats.
Before you answer that the idea of a government not being responsible for deciding what freedoms we should enjoy is the definition of anarchy, consider the very document that founded our great country, the Declaration of Independence. It is more than a 236 year old piece of parchment that hangs in the National Archives. It is the very embodiment of what makes America, and Americans, unique among other nations and nationalities.
“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…”
Now consider the Preamble to the document that created the federal government, the Constitution for the United States of America. It is 11 years the junior to the Declaration, yet in it the nation’s founding principles are given their equal due – prior to prescribing the methods used to preserve Liberty.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, to establish justice, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
When you actually read the words, two things immediately become clear:
- The essence of Liberty, of Freedom, is not something that comes from any government. It comes from a Higher Authority.
- Government exists to protect those rights, not corrupt them.
Understanding the first point is essential to truly understanding the American concept of Liberty and freedom. The only way individual freedoms are absolute is if they come from an authority higher than that of either men or their institutions. Otherwise, individual freedoms are a caprice, something to be given or withheld as determined by the fancy of others. Governments, rather than working to protect those freedoms, become dishonest arbiters of disputes. Eventually, governments (and the people governing) no longer see themselves as members of the general society, bound by contract and convention to uphold liberty. They become oligarchs; a separate class that believes itself superior to the rest of society.
Does that last paragraph give you pause? It should, because we are witnesses to that very transformation. It is not a sudden transformation that occurred in the past two or three years, either – it’s been underway for most of my lifetime. Is it beginning to snowball, accelerating in pace and breadth? Certainly, and the quickening pace over the past few years makes anyone concerned about preserving liberty queasy.
Now, as to why I identify as a Libertarian and not a Democrat or Republican: the proponents of the two major parties are our modern oligarchs, who see themselves as more fit to determine which liberties are essential and which can be abridged by the government. There truly isn’t much of a difference between them, in that both see distinctions in liberties; the difference is only in which liberties they deem more essential. The things they spend their time arguing over are actually further limitations on those essential liberties and freedoms, disguised as concern for safety of the overall society. The reason they feel secure in their deliberations is that the Nation, once enamored of Liberty, is today concerned less with freedom than safety – or at least, the illusion of safety. The people fear deprivation of material desires than the loss of freedoms. They are convinced the loss of freedom for one party will not result in a curtailing of freedom for themselves – when the reality is that any loss of freedom for any American necessitates that all Americans lose some aspect of their Liberty.
Terrific examples come from exchanges I had this week with unabashedly partisan Democrats and Republicans. I fed the same quote to both, and their reactions were remarkably similar. The quote, from Ben Franklin, is “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither.” The Democrat’s response was that Franklin has been dead 200 years, and his ideals with him. The Republican’s response was that changing times require changing mores.
That’s the final point that our founding document makes, that most Americans either forgot or were never taught.
“—And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor.”
The nation’s founding principle is that the Liberty and the ideals of freedom supersede anything else. Liberty takes precedence over personal comfort, over wealth, over safety and even life itself, if necessary. The very ideal is worth fighting and dying for, as in the case of the American Revolution and the Civil War. What is more, if this principle is derived from an act of Divine Providence, then it does not disappear with the death of individuals nor the passage of time. It is an everlasting, eternal truth.
Because I am a free man and believe my freedom is not negotiable: That is why I am a Libertarian. Because I believe that the government is my servant, not my master: That is why I am a Libertarian. Because I believe that no man has the right to subject another to his will: That is why I am a Libertarian.
And if you believe these things, so are you.
On Libertarian Government
One thing that never fails to amaze me is the reaction I receive from people when I describe my politics as Libertarian. I think it shows how remarkably uninformed the American people are regarding their history, their civics and their individual roles in government. I find myself wondering what Abraham Lincoln (16th President, saved the Union, etc) would think about modern politics and the modern citizen. Lincoln’s primary goal during his term was not to end slavery. While slavery was an underpinning issue of the Civil War, the real reason it was fought was eloquently expressed during the Gettysburg Address:
“…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Stop to consider those words for a moment. Let them roll around in your mind and ponder their significance. Lincoln considered the preservation of the Union to be paramount; of greater importance than ending the great immoral stain left behind the Founding Fathers. This is the essence of Libertarianism and is counter to the views of most of my fellow citizens, who see Libertarians as being one step from being anarchists. But Libertarianism is actually more aligned with what the media refers to as the “center,” some amorphous grouping of Americans that believe that while government has a role in our lives, that role should be minimalized to the greatest extent possible. We believe in Liberty – not just the ideal of liberty, but the pursuit and practice of Liberty. What’s more, we believe that a government that is supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people cannot fulfill that role if it becomes bigger than the people. The people then become subsumed by the demands of government –the delicate balance envisioned in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers is upset. Rather than the a representative republic, the governmental form is turned into something else – a government oppressing the people, by the government and for the government.
Libertarians look at the proper role of government as being like a three-legged stool.
First, government acts as the final arbiter of disputes among people by imposing guidelines based on common morality, while not restricting anyone’s individual liberty. Wait, you say – morality implies religion, so are you implying that government applies a religious principle? No, not hardly. Morality can come from religious faith and certain moral codes are common to most religions (such as provisions against murder or theft). But a common morality is determined by a given society in general. So, while my particular religion considers certain actions to be immoral, general society does not. It is government’s role to say this is the general consensus. And in a well-informed society, impertinent changes to a society’s moral code as represented by the government’s actions are remediated by selecting new representatives. In this way, government does not establish rules of conduct for society and does not impose the will of any group or individual on any other.
Second, government is charged with ensuring the defense of society from those that would harm the society. Most people understand this to mean the defense of the society in cases of armed conflict. But more than that, it also refers to defending a society from internal destruction. Because this is such an awesome power the people cede to their government – the ability to force or coerce a course of action – the Founders took great care to ensure that the application of such force had multiple checks and balances, as represented by our three-headed government. I suspect they would be greatly troubled by the amount of power the Legislative branch has yielded to the Executive over the past 70 years.
Finally, government is responsible for ensuring that it remains the servant of the people and that the people are not the servants of the government. This is a difficult proposition, since it essentially means governments are required to be answerable to society in all cases. As enshrined in our 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.”
And so, we accept that in cases where government no longer abides by the first two principles, the third allows the society to overthrow the existing government and replace it with a new one.
For Libertarians, the problem with modern government is simple and two-fold: first, society has ceded too much power to government and allowed it to infringe on individual liberty, on any one person’s ability to be who and what they desire to be. Second, the Legislature has ceded too much of its power to the Executive. The result of this is that government is no longer responsive to society, but rather to powerful elements in society. And on those rare occasions when society demands a change in course by exercising its power on the Legislature, they find themselves stymied by a too-powerful Executive.
Tomorrow, we’ll delve into the practical implications that rose from America’s abandonment of Libertarian government –and how we’re still living with those implications today.
September 12th: the day after
Today is September 12, 2010. It is time for America to move forward and stop looking at the reflection of 9 years and a day ago.
This is not to suggest that Americans should ever forget the events that unfolded on that tragic day; far from it. But our nation has suffered other terrible days and we learned to overcome, to adapt and to move on to tomorrow. 9/11 should join that list of days. Not forgotten, but placed alongside the other brutal and bloody events that have shaped our history. Pearl Harbor in 1941. Gettysburg in 1863. Chosin in 1950. Khe Sanh in 1968.
What makes September 11, 2001 so painful for those of this generation is that happened on our watch. It seemingly came without warning. Nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens perished in what still seems to most of us to be an act of willful murder – without provocation and needlessly. Nobody had declared a war. Nobody had ever used a means of mass transportation as a deadly weapon. And it all unfolded before nearly everyone’s eyes on live TV.
The reality is, that while 9/11 is tragic and the loss of life horrific, it certainly wasn’t unexpected by anyone who was paying attention to the world around them. Like the attack on Pearl Harbor two generations before, the tensions between the US and the unannounced enemy had been escalating for decades. This was not the first terrorist attack on US citizens or property by Islamic radicals – that dubious honor belongs to the Iranian Embassy takeover in 1979. There were subsequent attacks in the intervening years: Beirut in 1983 and the USS Cole in 2000 among them. But since we’re still enthralled by those nine year old images, we refuse to move on to the next stage of the fight.
Our Nation seems stuck in neutral. Rather than addressing the reality of being at war and throwing all of our resources at the enemy, we’ve settled for half-measures that lead neither to victory nor defeat, but a sort of Twilight Zone-ish never ending battle. Afraid to confront an implacable enemy abroad, we’ve willingly stripped away our own liberties little by little. No one questions virtually disrobing before boarding a flight anymore. Where once the idea of government promoting a “See something, say something” campaign would have been resisted on invasion of privacy grounds, today we laud those poor saps for doing their “civic duty.” Rather than react like our grandparents after Pearl Harbor; rather than show the resolve required of great nations as after Gettysburg, rather than displaying the fighting spirit of our parents at Chosin, our generation has decided that American values are not worthy of a fight. Instead of demanding our leaders throw everything but the kitchen sink at those who would do the United States harm, we would rather strip away the Constitution, one layer at a time; much the same way an inexperienced cook peals away bad layers of an onion hoping to find a useful piece beneath. But like the novice chef, what we’re likely left with after all of that peeling is a pile of garbage.
It’s your choice, America. Sit around, flaccid and impotent. Or do the same as we demand of our volunteers for military service: defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. Until we accept that we must do the latter, we risk losing something far more important than a battle to the Islamists. Failure to stand and fight will result in the loss of our being Americans.