Wednesday, 4 July 2007

July 4th: Something for us all to celebrate

It's the Fourth of July (here in NZ at least, though not yet in the US). Time to begin celebrating American Independence Day - something for which there's something for everyone to celebrate, and not just Americans. Cox and Forkum link to the US National Archives who have an excellent Declaration of Independence site. From their introduction:
Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is at once the nation's most cherished symbol of liberty and Jefferson's most enduring monument. Here, in exalted and unforgettable phrases, Jefferson expressed the convictions in the minds and hearts of the American people. The political philosophy of the Declaration was not new; its ideals of individual liberty had already been expressed by John Locke and the Continental philosophers. What Jefferson did was to summarize this philosophy in "self-evident truths" and set forth a list of grievances against the King in order to justify before the world the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country. We invite you to read a transcription of the complete text of the Declaration.
Michael Berliner hopes that this year "the speeches will contain fewer bromides and more attention to exactly what is being celebrated. The Fourth of July is Independence Day, but America's leaders and intellectuals have been trying to move us further and further away from the meaning of Independence Day, away from the philosophy that created [America'." Understanding the meaning of Independence Day explains why this day is something for non-Americans to celebrate too.

"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. Jefferson at Philadelphia, and Washington at Valley Forge, pledged their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor." For what? Not for mere separation from England, not—like most rebels—for the "freedom" to set up their own tyranny. In fact, Britain's tyranny over the colonists was mild compared to what most current governments do to their citizens.

Jefferson and Washington fought a war for the principle of independence, meaning the moral right of an individual to live his own life as he sees fit. Independence was proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence as the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." What are these rights? The right to life means that every individual has a right to his own independent life, that one's life belongs to oneself, not to others to use as they see fit.

The United States of America was the first and still the only country on earth to be founded upon the specific idea that human life and human liberty are sacred. It was for this reason that the United States were known as The Nation of the Enlightenment - a country founded at the time when reason and individualism were culturally at their height, and in whose name the country was founded. Continues Berliner:

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.
Despite its occasional breaches in upholding the principle of human rights and human liberty consistently, it is for nonetheless for this that we all celebrate (or should celebrate) Independence Day. To found a nation upon the notion that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are sacred - to constrain government to act only in defence of those rights - was not just a unique event in human history, it worked like all hell; it worked because protecting those rights gave individuals the moral space, the freedom, within which to act and to flourish. It was not just that this made America and the world freer and more prosperous, it was not just that this protection for liberty gave a platform to criticise and remedy the breaches of the principle; it is it is the illustration that a country founded upon reason, individualism and freedom works. That liberty is moral. That liberty is right.

Human liberty is the most sacred thing in the universe, and today is the pre-eminent day in which to celebrate it. To America's founders, I salute you!

July 4th: When Freedom's Anthem is Heard Around the World
Yes, it's July 4!
July 4th: Celebrating Revolution
Still Celebrating the Fourth


  1. I look forward to seing nz's own independance day (although I must admit,even if our queen receivd her position through the accident of birth, is probably a better leader than Clark and her acomplices).

  2. It could also be pointed out that because the Americans fought their war of independence, we - the other former colonies of Britain - didn't have too. However, as Anon seems to note above, there is no "independence day" in the New Zealand psyche. The Kiwi mind is still very much colonised, to the point where we compare the leadership qualities of an absentee head of state to the current head of government...

  3. My congratulations and very best wishes to all my friends in the USA, in particular Chicago and Clearwater.

    We still remember the efforts of your Marines in the Pacific who saved NZ from the Japs.


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