Saturday, July 04, 2009

Let Freedom Reign! Happy July 4th!

As most New Zealanders will have completely ignored, today (our time) is American Independence Day -- and tomorrow (our time) it's their time.   If you see what I mean.

New Zealanders might like to ignore it, but the events that Independence Day celebrate are as important to us down here as they to those up there.  July 4 isn’t just a day to celebrate American independence, but our own as well.

What do I mean?  Why does it matter to us down here at the bottom of the South Pacific that a bunch of gentlemen over two-hundred and thirty years ago pledged their "lives, fortunes and sacred honour" to constitute the first government in history dedicated to the task of protecting individual rights -- as expressed in Thomas Jefferson's magnificent Declaration of Independence, the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? 

Why should that matter to us?  As Michael Berliner explains, "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."  The principle of independence for which they fought is universal. 

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.  July 4th is that day when freedom's anthem is heard around the world!

Despite its occasional breaches in upholding the principle of human rights and human liberty consistently, it is nonetheless for this that we all celebrate (or should celebrate) Independence Day. That for the first time in human history a country was founded on the idea of human rights and human liberty; upon the notion that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are sacred; upon the intention to constrain government to act only in defence of those rights.

This was not just a unique event in human history, it also worked like all hell for nearly a century-and-a-half; 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 (which it did); it was not just that this protection for liberty gave a platform to criticise and remedy the breaches of the principle (which it did, most notoriously the regarding of some human beings as the property of others); it is also the profoundly important illustration that a country founded upon reason, individualism and freedom works. That liberty is moral. That liberty is right.

In that very important sense, The Declaration of Independence that Americans celebrate today was made on behalf of every human being on this earth.

Said Thomas Jefferson in the last letter he was to write, reflecting fifty years later on the Declaration of Independence and the July 4 celebrations that commemorate its signing:

May it be to the world, what I believe it will be (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
Amen. And let those thoughts be heard around the world! For as one commentator said on this day last year, July 4th is not just a National Day for Americans because the Declaration of Independence really is "freedom's anthem heard around the world":
Whenever you hear news of people fighting for democracy, pause and give thanks for the Declaration of Independence. I am thankful every day that by blind luck I was born in this country. I want the whole world to have the comforts and the opportunities that have so enriched my life. When they tear down a wall in Berlin, when an oppressed group is granted a right in Latin America, when a business is allowed to exist in China, a protest is allowed in a former Soviet satellite, a woman attends a school in Afghanistan or a purple forefinger is raised in Iraq, I think to myself, “the world may not know all the lyrics, but they are definitely singing our song.”

And he's right. America's creation was the great political achievement of the Enlightenment: the full political implementation of the concept of individual rights, with a government constrained to protect them. [What are individual rights, and why do they need the protection of government?  Ayn Rand explains.  What specifically was the nature of the government the American founding fathers tried to erect?  Ayn Rand explains that too.]

With the exception of just a few words, the words could hardly be bettered today (although some of us have tried):

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...

A wonderful, wonderful anthem to freedom that rings down through the years. If only the real meaning of those words could be heard and understood. As David Mayer says:
To really celebrate Independence Day, Americans must rededicate themselves to the principles of 1776, and particularly to the absolute importance of individual rights – not the pseudo-rights imagined by proponents of the welfare state, but the genuine rights (properly understood) of individuals to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We must also rededicate ourselves to the Declaration’s standard for the legitimacy of government – a government that is limited to the safeguarding of these rights, not to their destruction – and, with this, an acceptance of the principle that outside this sphere of legitimacy, individuals have the freedom (and the responsibility) of governing themselves.

If Americans are to use this day to re-dedicate themselves to the principles of 1776 as Mayer invites, then non-Americans might use it to take up Thomas Jefferson's challenge "to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded [us] to bind [ourselves], and to assume the blessings and security of self-government."

Human liberty is the most sacred thing in the universe, and today is the pre-eminent day in which to celebrate it, and to salute the authors of America's Declaration of Independence.

To America's heroic founders, I salute you!

NB:  Some final July 4 snippets for you:

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12 Comments:

Blogger bulb said...

Thanks my July 4th; officialy starts in 1 hour and 28 minutes. Off to Mountains of North Carolina for a long weekend out of MS.

Best to Kiwis everywhere as ANZAC nationa seem closest to US in Spirit somehow: Young at times irreverent, willing to innovate to win (Just look at the last 30 years of America's Cup action!) but in the endstaunchly democratic coming out of an Anglo tradition.

While not always proud of what my country does and has become (certainly not over the last decade or so), I believe steadfastly in the principles upon which it was founded. May we all strive to be the better angels of our nature.

7/04/2009 03:35:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Indeed. At Takapuna Football club this morn there was an American flag flying next to an NZ one. Good to see & I said so.


- Sam P

7/04/2009 04:01:00 pm  
Anonymous Mark said...

Thank God for America, and it's shining example of freedom and liberty.

As I went to football today to pay at Crawford Green, Miramar, Wellington I was happy to see a US flag displayed from a house nearby.

Happy Birthday to the US and freedom.

7/04/2009 07:10:00 pm  
Blogger KG said...

What Mark and Sam P. said. I put a post up at our place and we'll always be staunch supporters of the U.S. and what she stands for, even if she has lost her way lately.
They'll get back on track, although it may be at the cost of some civil unrest.

7/04/2009 08:47:00 pm  
Blogger Madeleine said...

Happy Independence Day everyone! We just put up our post.

NZ, being the anti-US country it is, probably won't have much of a show but we all need to do our bit to celebrate freedom and what America has given the world.

7/04/2009 10:42:00 pm  
Blogger Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

As an American in New Mexico, USA, I want to thank you for this reminder of the significance of the words and actions of our Founders.

There are many who are waking up to the importance of being free and indenpendent individuals, citizens of a free and indepedent state, and thus I am off to a Spirit of '76 Tea Party real soon!

Greetings to all of you at the other end of the earth!

7/05/2009 04:30:00 am  
Blogger FB said...

Indeed, Americans have much to be happy for and proud of on this July 4th. But they have much progress to make.
According to the 2009 Happy Planet Index 2.0 recently published, Americans report a relatively high level of life satisfaction (7.9/10) and a fairly high average life expectancy (77.9 years of age.) They can be thankful for these numbers.
Even though Americans enjoy relatively high numbers for both life satisfaction and average life expectancy, why does the United States rate only 114 out of 143 countries on the Happy Planet Index with an overall rating of 30.7 on a 100 - well below less advantaged countries. The answer has to do with the heavy ecological footprint we leave. Unfortunately, Americans over-consume, waste resources, and do not respect ecological limits. As a 3rd Ager, I’m constantly asking myself what I can do to add to the level of well-being of others on this planet as well as to myself.
For more reflections on happiness and midlife coping strategies, see http//www.happiness-after-midlife.com

7/05/2009 07:08:00 am  
Blogger KG said...

"As a 3rd Ager, I’m constantly asking myself what I can do to add to the level of well-being of others on this planet as well as to myself."

Well, you could reduce your carcass to parity with ambient temperature--that's be a good start, and a fine example. :-)

7/05/2009 07:42:00 am  
Anonymous LGM said...

Well said KG!

LGM

7/05/2009 08:41:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Slaves need not apply.

7/05/2009 10:46:00 am  
Anonymous twr said...

You're right anonymous. Anyone reading this blog who kept a slave before it was made illegal should feel ashamed of themselves.

7/05/2009 10:53:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes twr, you are quite right. It is of course perfectly moral to go to war over "the rights of man" and yet keep slaves. Or in Jefferson's case even father and then later SELL as a slave your own child. All moral if it is just legal . . .

Such a sterling example America sets us.

2/28/2010 04:38:00 pm  

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