The Fourth of July is a national holiday that, to me, stands far above all of the others. It represents the greatest political achievement in world history. More than that, the birth of the United States of America represents a towering and unprecedented philosophical achievement: although a full, explicit, systematic declaration of that achievement was not made until the 20th century. America, born of the Enlightenment, is the first nation founded on the principle that man the individual has a fundamental, natural right to his own life, and that government’s responsibility is to protect that right…that the people act by right, while the government acts by permission.
I quote from Michael S. Berliner’s June 26, 2008 post at Principles in Practice
“ ‘Independence Day’ is a critically important title. It signifies the fundamental meaning of this nation, not just of the holiday. The American Revolution remains unique in human history: a revolution--and a nation--founded on a moral principle, the principle of individual rights…
“The Declaration of Independence was a declaration against servitude, not just servitude to the Crown but servitude to anyone…
“Political independence is not a primary. It rests on a more fundamental type of independence: the independence of the human mind. It is the ability of a human being to think for himself and guide his own life that makes political independence possible and necessary…
“To the Founding Fathers, there was no authority higher than the individual mind, not King George, not God, not society. Reason, wrote Ethan Allen, is ‘the only oracle of man,’ and Thomas Jefferson advised us to ‘fix reason firmly in her seat and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God.’ That is the meaning of independence: trust in your own judgment, in reason; do not sacrifice your mind to the state, the church, the race, the nation, or your neighbors.
“Independence is the foundation of America. Independence is what should be celebrated on Independence Day. That is the legacy our Founding Fathers left us.”
Americans are more and more ignoring and moving away from the glorious principle of which Mr. Berliner speaks, “the independence of the human mind.” This is what gives Independence Day a bittersweet quality for me. Our freedom erodes steadily as its only real guardian, intellectual independence, gradually gives way to a growing entitlement mindset. Just surrender one more bit of our individual self-determination and personal responsibility in exchange for the free lunch of the illusion of government-guaranteed security, and our “national” problems can be solved…in healthcare, in education, in finance, in housing, in energy.
As a result, America is moving towards a time when the government acts by right, but the people act by permission. Or, as America’s Philosopher, Ayn Rand, puts it:
“We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.”
But our drift toward statism is not inevitable. There is no such thing as historical determinism. Ideas move human history. The ideas that created America still exist, waiting to be rediscovered. That rediscovery is beginning to emerge. This time, however, those ideas come armed with a full philosophical and moral defense and justification. That armament is Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand.
So the bittersweet feeling that, for me, accompanies Independence Day should not be mistaken for pessimism or cynicism. If I thought that the fight to save America long term was futile, I would not have started this blog, or speak up at every opportunity for my beliefs in conversation, online forums, or any other medium open to me. And I am not alone, as the two linked articles in this piece show.
So I will continue to do my part as a patriotic American citizen by exercising “the independence of the human mind”…my own. This has and will continue to include the radical, but quintessentially American, Jeffersonian urging to “Question with boldness… every fact, every opinion.” I will continue at the task of "Changing the Wind.”
Have a great and happy Independence Day.