Friday, July 22, 2016

Independence Day 2016

Note: I posted this on my Facebook page on July 4, 2016. I neglected to post it here, but I would like to give this message a greater permanence than a passing comment on social media. Here was my message:

I AM TAKING THIS MOMENT to remember and honor what too many have forgotten: the idea that makes America unique in the history of the world. That idea -- embedded in our founding documents and defended with the blood of countless patriots -- is individualism. It is the moral principle that the individual is an end in himself, and not a sacrificial pawn of kings, dictators, legislative bodies, "majorities," or collective Society itself. And as a moral end -- not a mere means to the ends of others -- the individual has inviolate rights to his own life, and to the liberty to peacefully pursue his own happiness. Our Declaration of Independence celebrated not just an independence of colonies from another faraway country, but something far more profound: the independence of the individual from the forcible interference of others, no matter how great their number or "need."

That was the revolutionary idea underlying the American Revolution. Never before in the history of the world had that principle been recognized by any other nation or group -- which is why the history of the world is one of chronic, blood-soaked barbarism of man against man. The American conception of individual rights created the original "safe space": a moral barrier around each individual, a barrier against the force, fraud, and coercion of his fellow man. It declared him to be sovereign within that safe space, as long as he, in turn, did not use force, fraud, or coercion against others.

This idea -- even grasped and implemented imperfectly -- led to the creation of the greatest, most prosperous, most progressive (and I mean that word in its literal sense) society and economy in the history of the world. It created more opportunities for more people, higher living standards, and -- yes -- greater happiness than any society anywhere, at any time. America became a beacon of freedom and hope that beckoned to millions around the world, millions who uprooted themselves, crossed vast oceans, and came here with nothing in their pockets -- just for the chance to "make something of themselves."

America was the home of the self-made individual. It was a place where anyone could literally make and remake himself, becoming whatever he wished, without interference. All because of the principle upon which the nation was established: that the individual was a moral end in himself.

Barbaric tribalism is the default position of humanity. It is what happens quite automatically when the sovereignty of individuals is not respected and enshrined into law. Gang warfare is what happens when the social barrier to mutual exploitation -- the principle of individual rights -- is obliterated.

If we are now seeing a horrific, headlong reversion to barbarism -- abroad and here -- it's because generations of "intellectuals," chafing against legal limitations on their power over unruly individuals, have declared all-out war on the philosophy of individualism at the heart of the American project. They have looked at the achievements of individuals and proclaimed "You didn't build that!" and that "It takes a village," instead. They have glorified dictatorial philosophies and praised the thugs that imposed them on their societies. They have enabled, ignored, and rationalized inhuman savagery against millions of individuals. They have obliterated the idea that the individual is a moral end, in order to reduce him to a helpless means to their ends.

On this Independence Day, as we have fun with our friends, eat our hot dogs, and enjoy our fireworks, can we please pause to remember (if we were ever taught it) the true nature of the "independence" bequeathed to us by our ancestors? Can we grasp, if only for a single fleeting, quiet moment, the moral principle that made America distinctive, and then great? Can we soberly re-dedicate ourselves to that principle, and -- following the example of those who spilt blood for it -- vow to weave it anew into the fabric of our society and laws?

If you lack the self-esteem to do that for yourself, then do it for your spouse, or your kids. Or in memory of those heroes before us, who gave their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor so that their ungrateful children could enjoy lives better than their own.