Philosophy, faith, and the Fourth of July
by Jeff Jacoby
THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE announced to the world the birth of a new nation and every birth "excites our interest," President Calvin Coolidge said on the Declaration's 150th anniversary. But that is not why July 4, 1776, "has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history."
Since ancient times there had been many revolutions, after all; new nations had broken away from old empires before. What makes America's founding extraordinary, observed the 30th president -- the last, incidentally, who wrote his own speeches -- is that it was the first to be based not on blood or soil but on a set of philosophical ideas about "the nature of mankind and therefore of government." Other nations have their deepest roots in ethnicity, tribal loyalty, or military conquest. America, uniquely, was dedicated to a proposition -- to the fundamental, self-evident truth "that all men are created equal" and the political ideas that flow from that truth.
The doctrine that human beings are by nature equal is one that Americans of the Founders' era had learned from both philosophy and religion.
In 1690, in his influential Second Treatise of Government, the English philosopher John Locke had written that the "state all men are naturally in" is one of "perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions … as they see fit," as well as one "of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal … without subordination or subjection." Even older, and no less influential, was the biblical teaching that because all human beings are made in the image of God, all are born with the same God-given right to equality and freedom.
So when delegates to the Continental Congress declared unanimously in 1776 "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," their words accurately reflected what Americans had believed for generations. They invoked "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God" in the Declaration's opening line not as a throat-clearing flourish, but because those laws and that God validated the independence they were about to assert. "Coming from these sources, having as it did this background," remarked Coolidge, "it is no wonder that Samuel Adams could say, 'The people seem to recognize this resolution as though it were a decree promulgated from heaven.'"
If Nature and Nature's God intended human beings to be free and equal, then the only legitimate government must be self-government. For if none of us is naturally subordinate or superior to anyone else, no one has the right to rule us without first obtaining our approval. Political power, Locke had written, stems "only from compact and agreement, and the mutual consent of those who make up the community."
The Declaration of Independence emphasized the point. Not only are all persons endowed by nature with the unalienable rights of equality and freedom, it avowed, but "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
No lawful government without consent and self-rule: It was an extraordinary doctrine for its time. It had never been the springboard from which a new nation was launched. Yet to pursue this "theory of democracy," as Coolidge called it, "whole congregations with their pastors" had pulled up stakes in Europe and migrated to America.
Steeped in the imagery of the Hebrew Bible, the colonists believed that God had led them, as He had led ancient Israel, from a land of bondage to a blessed Promised Land. Thomas Jefferson suggested in 1776 that the seal of the United States should depict the "Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a Cloud by Day, and a Pillar of Fire by night." In that wilderness, Americans knew, God did not simply impose his rule on Israel. First the Hebrews had to give their consent: "And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do." Only then was there the revelation at Sinai, the Ten Commandments, and the Law. If God Himself would not govern without the consent of the governed, surely King George had no right to do so!
July 4th marks more than American independence. It commemorates the great political ideals, rooted in faith and philosophy, that vindicated that independence -- and thereby transformed the world.
Of Great Empires and Little Minds
He rose to speak in the midst of a colonial war that would prove more than a colonial war but a whole Novus Ordo Seclorum, as it still says on the dollar bill, or A New Order for the Ages.
Eloquent rhetorician, thoughtful student of history and insightful analyst of events in his own time, Edmund Burke had decided ideas about what made nations great and what undermined them. The member of parliament for Bristol understood very well what was at stake in the coming conflict over the nature of the British empire: the empire itself.
Author, orator, thinker, and loyal but not blind servant of the Crown, he would not, could not, keep silent. Any more than a faithful sentry would fail to sound the alarm at approaching catastrophe. His every thought and impulse, fortified by his experience as a statesman and its hard-won lessons, told him His Majesty's ministers were embarked on a disastrous course. Their colonial policy was not only wrong in principle but, perhaps worse in the eyes of a statesmen, sure to fail in practice.
A great statesman has qualities beyond calculation. He has vision, and the will to fulfill it. Edmund Burke fully envisioned the ruin his colleagues were inviting by their persistence in adopting punitive measures rather than conciliatory policies toward British America, which might yet be saved for his Sovereign.
So it was only to be expected that he would speak out, however futile the effort might prove, in favor of "Conciliation With America" on the 22nd of March, 1774. It would not prove the first time his counsel and foresight would be vindicated by sad events. For in the years ahead he would prove as incisive a critic of the French Revolution as he would a defender of the American one.
If an editor had to choose a single phrase to sum up Burke's extensive oration on the wisdom of conciliating America -- an oration that used to be studied in courses on rhetoric, back when rhetoric was still being studied -- it would be Burke's pointed warning that "a great empire and little minds go ill together.''
Even by his time, the American character had already been formed. And it was not one that could be bullied by an imperial establishment an ocean away from the New World and, as it turned out, from reality. Anybody who thought Americans were likely to yield to superior force, even the force of the greatest empire in the world in its day, didn't know Americans. Or the beliefs that had shaped us. And that we would hold fast to. Come what may. And it came: one defeat and retreat after another, out of which somehow emerged victory, independence and a new order for the ages. By some mysterious process -- Providence? -- our beliefs would be vindicated.
Those beliefs would be given their most concise and enduring expression in the Declaration of Independence of July the 4th, 1776:
"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."
Those words would have to be redeemed in blood and fire before they would become among the best known and most influential in the course of human events. They would become the creed of a revolution that goes on across the world even today. That revolution succeeded not only because of the vision and courage of American's founding generation, but because of the blind willfulness of those who thought they could bully us into obedience.
They didn't know us. Edmund Burke did. His assessment of the American character proved remarkably accurate, and may it ever remain so:
"In this character of the Americans, a love of freedom is the predominating feature which marks and distinguishes the whole. ... Sir, from these six capital sources -- of descent, of form of government, of religion in the Northern Provinces, of manners in the Southern, of education, of the remoteness of situation from the first mover of government -- from all these causes a fierce spirit of liberty has grown up. It has grown with the growth of the people in your Colonies, and increased with the increase of their wealth; a spirit that unhappily meeting with an exercise of power in England which, however lawful, is not reconcilable to any ideas of liberty, much less with theirs, has kindled this flame that is ready to consume us."
The British could not say they weren't warned, and by their leading statesman at that. To those of his colleagues who believed their Force Acts would render us pliant subjects, Edmund Burke responded:
"The temper and character which prevail in our Colonies are, I am afraid, unalterable by any human art. We cannot, I fear, falsify the pedigree of this fierce people, and persuade them that they are not sprung from a nation in whose veins the blood of freedom circulates. The language in which they would hear you tell them this tale would detect the imposition; your speech would betray you. An Englishman is the unfittest person on earth to argue another Englishman into slavery."
It was not only the American spirit that the rulers of that great empire failed to apprehend when they adopted a tyrannical course in the colonies, but their own. They could not see that what they might have preserved through vision, they would lose by folly. Or as Edmund Burke warned his colleagues, "a great empire and little minds go ill together."
Now it is we who find ourselves with a great empire, or at least with all the responsibilities of one, however loath we are to acknowledge it. For we never sought an American empire. With all our being, we reject any such idea, respecting others' freedom as we love our own. But over the many hard years, as one threat after another materialized, we've been obliged to accept imperial responsibilities in response. Not out of imperious ambition but in self-defense.
Despite the happy myth of an America isolated from the all the world's troubles and intrigues, it was never so. We tend to forget that even our Revolution was part of a world war, fought with the critical aid of an international alliance with a still royal France. Whether through the long twilight struggle called the Cold War or now, deep in a war on terror that indecisive leaders refuse even to call by that name, the burden of empire has been thrust upon us. Shall we be up to bearing it? Or will we again see that a great empire and little minds go ill together?
This much is clear: Nothing so girds the spirit and informs the mind like memory. Which is why, on bright days like this one, we recall all the dark tides of history we have overcome, and are strengthened. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.
Obama's Misleading Vocabulary
Independence Day provides all Americans with an opportunity to celebrate the many freedoms that make our country both great and unique. Our Declaration of Independence was breathtaking in scope and written in precise, plain, unequivocal language. When read in townships across the Colonies, crowds listened in hushed silence and then broke out in applause when the reading was complete. Our Founding Fathers felt no need to dilute or cloak their intentions to form a government.
As you celebrate the 4th, it might be appropriate to contrast the straightforward language of our founders and other great American leaders with the weasel words now emerging from Washington, and all too frequently, from President Obama, who prefers euphemism-laden, convoluted, pixilated flummery.
A quick review of Obama's speeches reveals his most common euphemisms seem to show a pattern of deception, obfuscation and misdirection. In President Obama's lexicon, words have different meanings; to decipher the message and understand what the President is saying requires a special Washington Dictionary. Here are some samples from President Obama’s special dictionary:
* Investment is the president's word for government spending. When he says we need to invest more, he really means he wants to increase spending on some special project. Obama knows that the word “investment” is reassuring to most Americans and implies that at some point in time a good investment will return a decent profit. But, no return is envisioned with Obama's "investments". In fact, to Obama all government spending is an investment.
* Millionaires and Billionaires – Obama often talks about the need to increase taxes on the millionaires and billionaires. Of course, what he really means is higher taxes on any family making more than $250,000. Obama’s math skills must be sufficient to understand that there is a huge mathematical difference between 250,000 and a billion, but he chooses to ignore the difference to better stoke class resentment, all while hoping that average Americans are too stupid to understand.
* Working People is invoked to demonstrate commitment to average Americans. Of course, what Obama really means is that he supports the primacy of unions over other American workers. According to Obama’s definition, the vast majority of Americans, including small business owners, are not working people at all, regardless of how many thousands of hours they work. In Obama’s dictionary, only union members are working people and deserving of special preferences and consideration.
* Spending Reductions in the Tax Code means more tax increases. President Obama likes to wear the mantle of spending cuts, but lacks the courage to call a tax increase what it really is.
* Paying Their Fair Share is the president's phrase for wealth redistribution. What Obama really means is that entrepreneurs and other successful business owners are not paying high enough taxes, and that all of the money they earn should be "contributed" to the government for wealth redistribution to those that Obama considers worthy. Of course, Obama’s supporters, the bulk of whom do not seem to pay income tax, are, according to this definition, already paying a fair amount of tax (zero). It is the rest of America that is not paying their “fair share”. Obama offers no criteria to what is fair or not, so that is why he seems to think it is perfectly acceptable to require 20% of American to pay 78% of the taxes and then criticize them for not paying their "fair share".
* Green Jobs and Green Economy these are the jobs that President Obama believes are more important and more valuable than any others, even if creating a "green job" that pays $40,000 actually costs the taxpayers $300,000 to create. Moreover, if creating one magical "green job" results in the loss of 10 or more jobs that were dependent upon cheap, reliable power, that too is of no consequence. A green job has magical properties that do not conform to economic principles.
* Unprecedented. Perhaps Obama's favorite word, which he uses to describe most of his actions. This word has no meaning to Obama, but reflects his belief that he is so special that everything he does or says must be admired. Obama is so, fundamentally, unaware of American history that he thinks that the challenges and issues that he faces are unique. (Move over George Washington!)
Unfortunately, our President seems unaware that the dangers of repeated, euphemistic bastardization of the English language erodes his credibility. Increasingly, Americans know they cannot trust what Obama says.
And so, President Obama is likely to tell Americans: "In response to an unprecedented challenge we must provide more aid to working people by increasing investments in green jobs. We will implement savings in the tax code that will only impact millionaires and billionaires who are not currently paying their fair share".
And yet what Obama really means is: My policies have failed. The stimulus was a disaster, and the country is broke. We need more money to keep the Unions, and my special constituents who pay very little or no taxes, happy, so I need everyone else to pay more, otherwise I won't get re-elected.
Americans have a reputation for being straightforward and for plain speaking and are only slowly becoming aware of the vague, expansive, and misleading words in President Obama's unique dictionary. Our Founding Fathers said: "we hold these truths to be self-evident". With Obama, none of his words are self-evident.
There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)