Rebirth of Reason


Machan's Musings - Why Bother Celebrating the Fourth?
by Tibor R. Machan

The Fourth of July is my all-time favorite holiday — it is supposed to celebrate the Declaration of Independence and its revolutionary idea that it’s not governments, states, monarchs, kings, tsars, and the like who possess sovereignty. Rather we, individual human beings, are the sovereign ones. That idea was revolutionary then and, let me assure you, it is revolutionary now.

The bulk of the world, including most Americans, pretty much rejects it, either explicitly (as with those within the academic circles of political philosophy and science, as well as much of the journalistic community) or implicitly (as with those in the general public who, in pursuit of their own goals, clamor relentlessly for government to rule their fellow human beings).

Our courts, especially the U.S. Supreme Court, give very little credence to the Declaration’s political ideas. This is evident from how readily they scoffed most recently at the notion that individuals have a right to the pursuit of happiness (which clearly implies obtaining and using marijuana for medical purposes), or that they have the right to their lives and liberties (which also clearly implies they may produce and obtain property in peaceful ways and not be subject to federal or state regulation and interference for the sake of various critters). The courts have stood up in defense of innumerable government powers that have nothing at all to do with the single just power of government, namely, that which it needs to secure our basic rights.

Legislatures, too, care not a bit for human liberty, as they are now totally habituated to lord it over us with whatever project their members deem to be worthy of everyone’s support. City, county, state and federal projects get funding galore from resources that ought to be left for individuals and their voluntary associations to allocate as they choose. Instead, every branch and level of government dips into our pockets with total impunity — including by the most blatant abuse of the Fifth Amendment’s "takings" clause that, in fact, empowers them all only to take property for public use (meaning courthouses, military bases or police stations, all of which are means for securing our basic rights). Nowadays our representatives see no limit whatsoever to their alleged power to take, take, and take some more.

So what then are all these people celebrating, when the very institutions created to secure our rights are hellbent — and have been so for decades — on violating these same rights in every nook and cranny of our lives? Where is the joy and respect for and the actual content and meaning of the revolutionary document that’s supposedly celebrated on the Fourth of July?

There may be one bit of silver lining around all these ominous clouds of creeping tyranny. That is that around the rest of the globe more and more people are clamoring for their liberty and individual sovereignty, even without fully grasping their implications. The Soviets were sent packing; it looks like some of the Latin American and even African countries are finally abandoning the bad habit of tolerating dictators; relatively free markets are emerging in China and the former Soviet satellites, and the world is gradually becoming a global economy where millions and millions are beginning to get a chance to compete and prosper (even as their intellectuals and politicians want to contain the trend).

Americans, however, more often than is good for anyone, are regressing. They are becoming like so many of the Europeans, especially the French, begging for government protection of their vested interests, be these of the economic, environmental, scientific or educational variety. As in the pre-revolutionary eras, when only members of certain favored classes had the legal protection to try to flourish in life — usually at others’ expense — these champions of protectionism (protect my job, my favorite bird, my favorite sport, my preferred scientific project, you name it) give not a hoot about everyone’s equal rights, based on everyone’s equal humanity.

No, these folks follow not the ideas and ideals of John Locke and the American Founders, but those of Thomas Hobbes and the rest of the "war of all against all" champions. They are hoping, in their incoherent ways, to win over governments to their causes, getting the bureaucrats and cops to do their bidding while completely neglecting the idea that both these professionals are supposed to serve all members of the public, equally, with the protection of the peace.

Maybe what we need is to abolish this holiday altogether, and drop the pretense that most people care about anything besides the fanfare, fireworks, and barbecues. Let’s just admit that freedom had a short and uneasy career on this continent and was mostly sacrificed on the altar of power, of the power of some over the sovereignty of others. And even the others didn’t seem to mind enough to protest. Then, perhaps, some will begin to think about what has been lost and take certain necessary steps to recover it all, whatever that would be.
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