Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Memorial Day Tribute

Throughout history, armies have fought for territorial boundaries, kings, monarchs, dictators, imperialistic ambitions, the “honor” of some sundry rulers, the tribe, some theocrat's assertion of God’s will, the nation, our country, and so on.

America’s military is unique. It fights for a set of ideas…the most radical set of ideas in man’s history. America is the first and only country founded explicitly and philosophically on the principle that an individual’s life is his to live, by unalienable right. America is the first and only country founded on the explicit principle that the government exists as servant for and by permission of the people, with the solemn duty to protect those rights; or, as Ronald Reagan put it in his first inaugural address:

In other words,individual rights come before government—rights being understood as guarantees to freedom of action to pursue personal advancement, not automatic claims on economic rewards that others must be forced to provide against their will. Then, "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men." That is America. Even the British Empire from which America won independence, then the freest society the world had ever known, was based on the premise that rights are privileges granted by the Crown. Englishmen were subjects, not truly free.

Sadly, the knowledge of what this country stands for is steadily slipping away…and along with it, our rights. Fortunately, we’re still free to speak out. So the best way to honor our military personnel, for those of us who still retain that knowledge, is to remind our fellow Americans in any small way that we can about America’s unique, noble, and radical Founding ideals.

We can still prevent “the other way around”. But we must rediscover the knowledge of, and think about, what it means to be an American. So, let us reflect on what really made this country possible.

This Memorial Day weekend, we will hear a lot about the “sacrifices” made by those who served and died defending America.

It is said that this nation, our freedom, and our way of life are a gift bestowed upon us by the grace of the “sacrifices” of the Founding Fathers and the fighters of the Revolutionary War. But, was it? Is it even possible that so magnificent an achievement – the United States of America – could be the product of sacrifice? As the closing words of this country’s Founding philosophical document – the Declaration of Independence – attest, the Founding Fathers risked everything to make their ideals a reality:

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.

Some point to those words, and bestow on the signatories of that document the “honor” of having sacrificed for us, the "future generations." Nothing can be further from the truth. Sacrifice--properly understood--is the giving up, rather than the achievement, of values. America was achieved.

What is any human being’s highest attribute and value? It is his mind and his independent judgment. To use one’s mind – to think – is an exclusively personal, individualistic, self-motivated, self-chosen, selfish effort. All else in a person's life is a consequence of the use, or lack of use, of his mind – for better or for worse. One’s convictions about what one believes is right, one’s passionate concern for ideas, is the product of the independent use of one’s mind. The man who places nothing above the judgment of his own mind, even at the risk of his own physical well-being, is not engaging in self-sacrifice. To fight for one’s own fundamental beliefs is the noblest, most egoistic endeavor one can strive for.

The Founders were thinkers and fighters. They were egoists, in the noblest sense, which is the only valid sense. They believed in a world, not as it was, but as it could be and should be. They took action – pledging their “sacred honor” at great risk to their personal wealth and physical well-being – to that end. They would accept no substitute. They would take no middle road. They would not compromise. They would succeed or perish.

Such was the extraordinary character of the Founders of this nation.

To call the achievement of the Founders a sacrifice is to say that they did not deem the ideals set forth in the Declaration as worthy of their fighting for; that the idea that the individual’s life belongs to him and not to any collective and not to any ruler was less of a value to them than what they pledged in defense of it; that they did what they did anyway without personal conviction or passion; that the Declaration of Independence is a fraud. To say that America was born out of sacrifice is a grave injustice and, in fact, a logical impossibility.

World history produced a steady parade of human sacrifices, and the overwhelming result was a steady stream of bloody tyrannies. The Founders stood up not merely to the British Crown, but to the whole brutal sacrificial history of mankind to turn the most radical set of political ideas ever conceived into history’s greatest nation. It is no accident that the United States of America was born at the apex of the philosophical movement that introduced the concept of the Rights of Man to his own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, the Enlightenment.

Only the most extraordinary men of the most ferocious personal strength and courage could have so uncompromisingly upheld, against overwhelming odds and hostility and personal risk, so passionate a belief in their own independently held convictions so as to have established the American Founding. The American Revolution was history’s brightest demonstration of the rationally selfish pursuit of a noble goal by any group of people, ever. It was a monumental human testament to the dedication these men had to their cause – the refusal to live any longer under any social condition except full, genuinne freedom, and to "pledge eternal hostility against every form of tyranny."

The highest tribute I can pay to those Americans who died in the line of military duty, on this Memorial Day, is not that they selflessly sacrificed for their country. Self-sacrifice is not a virtue in my value system. It is an insult, because that would mean that their country and what it stands for was irrelevant to them; that they had no personal, selfish interest in it; that they were not passionate about their service; that they were indifferent toward America's enemies; that it made no difference to them whether they returned to live in freedom or to live in slavery.

This, of course, is not the case.

Freedom is thoroughly egoistic, because it leaves individuals alone to pursue their own goals, values, and happiness. It follows that to fight for freedom is thoroughly egoistic. If American soldiers fight for freedom, then the highest tribute I can pay to those who perished in that cause is to say that they were cut from the mold of the Founding Fathers; that they did not set out to die for their country but rather that they set out to fight for the only values under which they desired to live—that radical set of ideals that is the United States of America.

In honor of those who perished fighting for the American cause, and to all of America’s service men and women past and present:

Thank you for your service in defense of American ideals, for your desire to live in freedom, and for your fierce determination to accept no substitute.

Happy Memorial Day!

Related Reading:

On This Veterans Day, Remember the Productive Americans Who Support the Greatest Military in History


Steve Jackson said...

While I consider myself moderately patriotic, I'll make a few comments.

1. The US military has not been committed to exclusively defending the borders of the USA. It has engaged in foreign wars which it shouldn't have been involved in, such as WWI and WW2.

2. Take the Spanish-American war. The freedom of the USA was threatened by Spain, which could barely hold on to what was left of its empire? Cuba being Spanish was a threat to our freedom?

3. Even the revolutionary war (which was in a way a conservative reaction) was not even necessary. If it hadn't happened we'd be like Canada, Australia and NZ now. And at the time the colonies were the freest most prosperous people on earth. You could make the case that the war for independence was a bad idea.

4. Currently the US military is fighting to establish Islam. We have overthrown (or close to have overthrown) secular (by mid east standards) governments such as Iraq and Libya and created a breeding ground for militant Islam. The Islamic invasion of Europe which we are seeing now should in part be blamed on the US military (or its leaders in Washington). If the US gets its way, Assad will be replaced by a Sunni state.

5. The US military helped to created two Islamic states in Europe: Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzogovina.

6. The military has been something of a social experiment: racial integration, sexual integration, transgenderism, etc. Can you imagine men and women living on a submarine together under the water for months? The head of the Army is an unapologetic homosexual.

Yes, our soldiers fought for what they thought was the best interests of the US, but someone was pulling the strings.

Michael A. LaFerrara said...


There’s no question that America’s military has not always been used to protect America’s interests, especially since WW II. But the Revolutionary War liberated us from an empire that, while the world’s freest, was nonetheless based on the principle that freedom is only by permission of the state—in Britain’s case, the Crown. That is not real freedom. Real freedom is a right, not a privilege. The Revolution was about establishing the world’s first truly free nation; that is to say, one based on the idea that inalienable individual rights come before government, which is created with the sole purpose to protect those rights, and in which the state operates with the permission of the people rather than the other way around. Americans ceased being subjects living at the pleasure of the state and became fully free citizens. If real freedom is the goal, the Revolution was unequivocally necessary.

The radical idea that the state is subordinate to the people, who are sovereign individuals—the Declaration of Independence—is the philosophic blueprint for freedom fighters everywhere. Without America's revolutionary (certainly not conservative) Founding principles, who knows what the world would look like today.