Here’s an Independence Day ramble, in honor of the day. First, what’s up with this anti-“Fourth of July” phrasing from the wingnuts? C’mon, people, there’s nothing wrong with saying “Fourth of July”. We’re saying we own this day. (It is interesting that we don’t say “the 25th of December” for Christmas, but then, Christmas hasn’t always fallen on the 25th, eh, what?)
Growing up when I did, in the shadow of Chomsky and other “useful idiots”, steered by the press, movies and television, my teachers, books and music, my sense of patriotism and love of country is precisely the reverse of many in the preceding generation.
I grew up mistrusting it and having no sense of what made the USA great, only that we had killed the Indians and enslaved the blacks. We weren’t “all that”. European countries were so much better. (Well, I went Europe as a kid and loved it, but it sure seemed primitive, so I wasn’t so sure about that.) Patriotism was the same as jingoism. Even at eight, I resisted saying the Pledge of Allegiance and regarded as suspect those who waved the flag or were in the military. I laughed at the thought of voting Republican and regarded Reagan as scarier than the Soviet Union.
Then, I started studying history independently. I never cared for history in school, it seeming to be a long litany of people treating each other badly. Reading Durant is probably what got me thinking, that and reading the L.A. Times. The Times, with its relentless lying–and I think that’s a fair assessment of when bias takes priority over data and allows omissions and “errors” all in the same direction–is probably what made me question The Narrative.
In essence, The Narrative is what informed me, and I was actually more critical than most. I knew, for example, that the rate of draft dodging in Vietnam was comparable to that of WWII. Even so, my parents were not particularly political, and the various shenanigans of national agencies were becoming public at the time, so it was easy to look at that and believe The Narrative, with its “mistrust Authority” theme, even if the underlying theme of “don’t mistrust our Authority” should’ve been obvious.
But the more I studied–and continue to study–world history, the more I see what some refer to as American Exceptionalism. It’s not that we don’t have our sins, really, it’s that our sins are typical.
- Genocide of the Native American? Sounds (and is) horrible. It was a forgone conclusion long before we were a nation. From what I can tell, it’s a foregone conclusion whenever an agricultural society meets up with a nomadic society.
- Slavery? Every single civilization in the history of the world has a history of slavery. In fact, Keith Chandler theorizes in Beyond Civilization that it’s a requirement for civilization.
- Imperialism? By God, we are the most faint-hearted imperialists in the history of the world’s superpowers.
- Militaristic? That’s a laugh. We’re merchants. We have to be roused to attack. Granted, we can be rused to attack (the Spanish-American War and WWI come to mind, and perhaps Vietnam as well). As Iraq shows, we’re the kindest invaders in history as well, with an unprecedented concern for those we’re invading.
Any empire you care to name, is guilty of all the same sins to a far worse degree, and probably never felt guilty about any of it.
Meanwhile, the U.S.A. created a vision of freedom like no other. And in its shining moments the realization of that vision is available to everyone who is willing to work for it. (In some moments, perhaps not so shining, it’s available to those who are willing to do something outrageous for the press as well, or those with ambulance-chasers on speed dial.) And our greatness doesn’t stop at our own borders: The infectious ideas of freedom push back, however sporadically, tyranny all over the world.
I’ve noted many times that the Founding Fathers would be considered as radical today as they were in the 18th century. And sometimes that depresses me. People are so willing to give up their freedoms to a new royalty, to give up on that most basic of premises:
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.
As it shouldn’t need to be said, “all men are created equal” did not mean that all men were the same, but only that all were equal under the law. That there was no divine right of one man to rule over another. The law should treat all equally.
What a concept. Like “the right of the people to keep to bear arms shall not be infringed”, it’s some plain English that that don’t people believe any more.
If they ever did. Just like I won’t dwell on my country’s sins on this date, I won’t fault the Founders for failing to change a world population that believed in royalty for the past 5,000 years to suddenly respecting the inherent equality of citizens.
Self-evident. Self-evident! What an audacious phrase to put there.
I like to think that that most people probably do accept the right to life. (Oops. For born people, anyway.)
Liberty? Oh, no. We don’t really believe in that. As Jefferson lamented, the State acquires power and loathes to give it up. But in our day, if not in his, it does so by creating hostility and suspicion of our fellow citizens. “Trust us,” it says, “because you can’t trust them.”
And despite its miserable failures, many corruptions, and clearly stated counter-intentions, they succeed in convincing us (as a whole). There’s an interesting thread over at Althouse about how children don’t play outside any more and how this is the fault (at least in no small part) to the exaggerated tales of kidnapping and violence that permeate the media. How many of those people would admit that their views of the second amendment (and the other nine amendments!) were similarly colored?
No, liberty is too dangerous a thing for the common man to have.
And that most tread upon of the three–the one that really should have been “property”, and God help that poor, deceased right–the pursuit of happiness. I remember the good ol’ days when it was right wing Christians who were taking away your right to, uh, miscegenate (ok, I don’t remember that, but it happened) and liberals were the good guys, protecting your right to, you know, do whatever with whomever.
Now of course, they’re the clucking hens of “pursuit of happiness so long as it doesn’t leave any trace whatsoever on the planet”. Cars, lightbulbs, food, reproduction–not sex, they’re still pro-sex, as long as you don’t actually use it for its biological purposes of perpetuating the human race–where you live, how you travel, how much you fart, it’s all subject to governmental scrutiny.
And free speech? I grew up on tales of the ACLU (a bunch of liberal Jews, as Cedarford would have to note) protecting Nazis’ right to have a parade. Now they spend all their time on “freedom from” instead of “freedom to”.
But here’s the great thing about this country and this day: We have those rights to lose, and we can fight to keep them. And all it’s going to take is eternal vigilance and proper education.
God bless America. Let freedom ring.