If we really inhabit the land of the free, then the invading armies of tyranny have metaphorically pushed us back to the water’s edge. They have over-run our right to privacy, our right to due process, our right to free speech and even our right to life. They have most of the territory. We, the People, hold just a small piece of it – our freedom to think. It is a small proportion of the territory, but it is rich in resources if only we know how to extract them. We must regroup our forces on this small beachhead to counterattack, and eventually take back all of our freedoms – the very purpose of our nation. And if this land of the free is the home of the brave, we shall be up to the task.
The only thing each of us has in common with every other American, except our humanity, is our Constitution. Fortunately for us, it’s just about the best thing anyone has ever had to share with 300 million other people.
Just as the Hippocratic oath is intended to protect the rights of the individual as a physical entity, the Constitution protects the rights of the individual as a political entity. It says not to the doctor, but to the politician, “you may not do what you think is good for anyone or even many persons, at the expense of a person who is unwilling to be a party to it.”
And so the Constitution binds down political institutions, which are always inferior to the individuals that they are supposed to serve. In America, this, too, is not up for negotiation.
Since America is the one nation that has been blessed with a unique statement of the right to liberty and happiness, even in the face of its government’s transgressions of the Constitution, there remains the unyielding possibility that it may yet save itself from the actions of its elites that may have compromised those rights. That the founding statement of those rights is seared into the popular psyche automatically makes any appeal to those rights a popular appeal rather than an intellectual or elitist one.
To espouse Liberty and the pursuit of happiness as a natural right, rather than anything given by men or earthly institutions, is to say only that it is in the nature of a human being to express himself or herself in words and deeds. When unpacked in this way, it is clear that the assertion of the Declaration of Independence is indeed self-evident (which very few assertions are), as opposed to obvious (which very many assertions are): the assertion stands above any opinion or politics, and follows directly from the human experience, unmediated and uninterpreted.
Libertarians must hold themselves to a higher standard. They preach freedom, and its complement, tolerance, as the core of their worldview. They, then, are alone in making hypocrites of themselves when they aggress in their manners or words against those who have different ideas about how best, in practice, to make a freer society. Other political philosophies (socialism, religious conservatism etc.) make no claim that freedom of thought and action, and its compliment, tolerance, are at the core of the Good life.
As we were all having our “I’m right, you’re wrong” Democratic vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative, secular vs. religious arguments, the Powers that Be have managed to make themselves more powerful, and while we the People have been arguing among ourselves, we have lost most of the rights that we weren’t arguing about because we just took them for granted. It is as if we have suddenly looked up from an argument at the kitchen table over which sofa we should buy for the living room, only to find out that the house has been foreclosed on and we’re homeless.
How do we free what we see and what we know from our old, tired political paradigms, allegiances and partisanship, which have taken America off its rails, so that we might unite in defense of what really matters – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – against political and economic interests that continue to want to erode them?
We are at that point now: lovers of liberty and of the Founding principles of America need not teach our fellow Americans some particular political orthodoxy but, rather, must help them see what is being done to them, and let their humanity – including specifically their sense of justice and instinctive desire to keep what they already have – take care of the rest. Their reaction does not need to be managed.
The Founders were not ideological revolutionaries in the common sense of that term. They were, every step of the way, acting in the Anglo tradition of liberty, a tradition that the British elite in that time was failing to respect, as our American elite fails to respect it now. Their “revolution” was therefore a culturally-rooted resistance to a violation of the customs of that very same culture, but its outcomes were, as intended and as always, profoundly political.
Inasmuch as any infringement of liberty by power affects a significant number of people; inasmuch as a significant number of people care about those effects, and inasmuch as people offended by those effects, complain about them, share ideas about them, make an issue of them on which they spend any time or energy, and eventually even organize to do something about them – inasmuch as all those things are true, it is in the Culture that the People’s unease is first felt, and their actions against tyranny begin, and it is therefore in the Culture than any response to a trampling of rights must firstly arise.
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