John Cooper, a good friend and regular contributor here, posted under the previous essay a link to a brilliant article by André Glucksmann, entitled, From the H-Bomb to the Human Bomb: Modern terrorism seeks to combine the annihilating power of Hiroshima with the nihilistic gospel of Auschwitz.
I urge you all to read the article, and then to respond to John’s observation that the gist of the article is that philosophy moves nations, followed by his question, ‘What is the American philosophy’?
It seems to me that ‘the American philosophy’, if examined in the most elementary terms, was originally defined in all of our founding documents, refined over the ensuing century and a half, and then pretty much abandoned in the mid-twentieth century, which explains why this nation is now adrift without anchor, and out of view of safe harbor.
Philosopher and once close associate of Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden, observed that ‘The United States was the first country in the history of the world to be consciously created out of an idea — and the idea was liberty.’
Our republic was founded by decent, visionary men whose goal was to establish a country whose people harbored a genuine, undying reverence for the God-given gifts of life and individual liberty.Yet sometimes the simplest gifts are the most beautiful …. and the most difficult to retain. You see, they are so easily taken for granted. In an effort to establish that vision, our Founders also drew up a blueprint for minimal government, whose role would be the same: to respect and defend life and individual liberty. Nothing more, and nothing less. Both within our borders and without.
Of course, over the past two-plus centuries, there have been many glaring exceptions to the life/liberty reverence -- both in our government’s relation to us, and in its interference in other nations’ affairs. But, as a rule, America has continued to stand for those two noble concepts -- here, and wherever else they have been threatened, and where we felt called to intervene in their defense. Greece under Truman, and Grenada under Reagan are just two of dozens of recent examples that come to mind.
There are -- always have been, and forever will be -- people, and belief systems, in this world in which neither human life nor individual liberty are considered of significant worth. And it is with those people, and belief systems, that the fundamental vision of this nation has been at odds for more than two centuries. Communism and radical Islam are the two most provocative enemies that we have known in that regard in my lifetime. But there will always be forces at work which seek to destroy life and liberty for the sake of power/ideology/’religious doctrine’. Those forces go by different names, but under the façade lurks the same dark and devious heart that seeks to declare some men of less value than others.
Something that has troubled me for a long time now is the increasing movement in this country toward diminishing the value of both (life and liberty). And in continuing to allow that erosion of vision to happen, we are losing our once-unique and noble identity. (There are those who say the demeaning of life and liberty has always been a definitive part of this culture …. it was merely more covert in the past. I do not agree.)
What concerns me is that we, as a nation, are falling away from serving as an example that other nations can emulate. There are many reasons for the decay -- the gradual, but continual, removal of God from our public consciousness, parental permissiveness, the influence of television/entertainment, the welfare/entitlement state, the leftist curricula in public and higher education, etc. But the most unfortunate outcome of that time when the less than noble finally outnumber the noble in this country will be that there will be no nation willing to stand as an example, or step in when stepping in to preserve life or liberty is necessary -- and whether the stepping in is popular with the majority of mankind or not. Because the sad fact is that the majority of mankind, if given the choice, tends to choose the path of least resistance. It’s the nature of the beast. But up until now -- and with few exceptions -- it has not been the nature of this republic.
Our Revolution served as the cornerstone for our republic form of government, based on that unyielding belief in the sanctity of human life and individual liberty. The civilization which grew out of the faith, and bloodshed, and courage, and resolve, and vision that was embodied in that Revolution was once the most moral, prosperous, ‘civilized’ nation on earth. We were once pretty much of one mind as regards the importance of individual liberty in maintaining that national morality and prosperity. And therein lay our strength – our unified national resolve: liberty at any cost.
It now appears that liberty -- or at least a significant portion of each individual’s -- may be bartered on a whim. Why then all the bloodshed two hundred-plus years ago? No whim was that. How did this republic mold its once unique and unsurpassed national character? By meekly handing over just a little bit more of our freedom each time an enemy blustered – so that the government (that dragon that our Founders so carefully sought -- through bloody battle, and careful deliberation -- to keep constrained) could protect us from others who would steal those same liberties? Was there ever a dichotomy of a more perilous sort?
Two hundred-plus years, accompanied by material wealth and affluence and (late arriving on the scene, but loaded for bear) concomitant leftist cradle-to-grave indoctrination by the public education system and the mainstream media has brought us to this sorrowful place we’re at. A populace that values creature comforts more than freedom. That prefers to rely on media/literary/political experts to do their thinking for them, rather than putting their own brain cells into personal intuitive/creative/analytical drive. Fertile ground for an insidious, liberty-thieving indoctrination/propaganda machine if there ever were any.
Lack of ‘vigilance’ (in the form of knowledge of one’s roots and commitment to their protection and nurturing), accompanied by lack of courage, has probably enslaved more people -- either through violent overthrow or gradual encroachment -- over the history of mankind than any other fatal combination.
I was born after World War II, but I (and I believe most others who stop by here) have learned second-hand what those who experienced the horrors of that war witnessed firsthand. It is we post-war Americans who haven’t taken the time to examine our roots, and the offshoots that grew out from them over the past two-plus centuries, who have no mental image to conjure up, whenever our government speaks nobly of abrogating our liberties for the sake of preserving them.
Man has an unfortunate penchant to look the other way after a major world cataclysm has occurred. We emerged victorious from World War II, and we, at least subliminally, told ourselves that human evil had been defeated, or at least contained – unwilling to allow ourselves to remember that evil is eternal, that we cannot ‘rest on our laurels’ or stop looking over our shoulders.
At any victory party after which evil has been contained, it must be the charge of at least a handful of the partygoers to be guarding the door. And, after the party is over, while the sun continues to shine, that handful’s calling must assume much more critical proportions, in order to begin (subtly at first, because man enjoys his party time, and after-reflection) to instill in the populace a renewed sense of vigilance. There must be a consistent reminder that cloudy days are not a thing of the past, and that some clouds conceal potential danger, serving as forewarnings of major destructive storms. Such clouds require serious, constant scrutiny by educated, world-wise eyes.
It is because we have been negligent in providing those eyes that the continued implementation of our American philosophy has deteriorated beyond recognition.
In the article mentioned in the first paragraph above, the author himself says of the human tendency to revert to the convenience of a short attention-span rather than remaining ever vigilant:
‘The worst of the storm has barely passed, and one is busy ‘moving on’—renovating dead-end roads, regilding the clocks of Cloud-Cuckoo-Land. We turn away from reality and its truths, which are neither easy to live with nor pleasant to talk about. Before long, repression is complete.’
Four of the most eloquent and concise, if lesser quoted, examples of our Founders’ vision are represented below. And the absolute necessity to ‘stand guard’ over that vision is implicit in every word:
(1) Thomas Paine in Common Sense on the need for eternal vigilance on many fronts:
Though I would carefully avoid giving unnecessary offence, yet I am inclined to believe, that all those who espouse the ‘doctrine of reconciliation’, may be included within the following descriptions: Interested men, who are not to be trusted; weak men, who cannot see; prejudiced men, who will not see; and a certain set of moderate men, who think better of the European world than it deserves; and this last class, by an ill-judged deliberation, will be the cause of more calamities to this continent, than all the other three.
(2) From Declaration of the Causes and Necessity
of Taking Up Arms (1775), reiterating the need for vigilance:
In our own native land, in defense of the freedom that is our birthright, and which we ever enjoyed till the late violation of it -- for the protection of our property, acquired solely by the honest industry of our fore-fathers and ourselves, against violence actually offered, we have taken up arms. We shall lay them down when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, and all danger of their being renewed shall be removed, and not before.
(3) Samuel Adams (from a speech delivered to the State House in Philadelphia in 1776):
Our Union is now complete; our Constitution composed, established, and approved. You are now the guardians of your own liberties …
You have now in the field armies sufficient to repel the whole force of your enemies and their base and mercenary auxiliaries … Your adversaries are composed of wretches who laugh at the rights of humanity, who turn religion into derision, and would, for higher wages, direct their swords against their leaders or their country … For my own part I ask no greater blessing than to share with you the common danger and common glory.
(4) Thomas Paine, again, in The Rights of Man:
While the Declaration of Rights was before the National Assembly some of its members remarked that if a declaration of rights were published it should be accompanied by a Declaration of Duties. The observation discovered a mind that reflected, and it only erred by not reflecting far enough. A Declaration of Rights is, by reciprocity, a Declaration of Duties also. Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess …
… nor can any country be called free whose government does not take its beginning from the principles they contain, and continue to preserve them pure.
It is in the last of these quotes, perhaps more than any other of our founding documents, that a real description of the source of our current national malaise – and deadly vulnerability -- lies. And the symptoms of that malaise are allowing our enemies, both external and internal, to bring our republic down.
Paine prudently observed above that, along with a declaration of, and belief in, the sanctity of individual rights, must also come a declaration of duties (responsibilities) … and that a free people must always ensure that their government consistently continues to preserve them [the individual rights it is created to protect] pure.
Now, perhaps more than at any time in the history of mankind, we -- not just Americans, but all freedom-loving people -- must practice the kind of vigilance that will both ensure the existence of freedom, and see to it that our own government does not successfully join forces with those who would bring us to our knees. That kind of vigilance is borne of a knowledge of history and the attendant understanding that there will always be a predator at the door – either domestic or foreign, but a predator nonetheless.
When a society becomes sufficiently enrapt of bread-and-circus activities, and sufficiently diverted from guarding the door, that society’s days are numbered.
My good friend, First_Salute, in his essay, We Only Have the Rights We Defend, as Long as We are Able reflects:
No system of government will preserve for us what is our own responsibility to defend. And for all the fury which might release upon catastrophic failures by our government officials to uphold the lawful laws, no recovery is possible without the people being well-informed of what is our responsibility and trust ... and duty to restore.
Speaking passionately about the fact that vigilance is an imperative in a free society, Edmund Burke cautioned, in Speech on Conciliation With America (1775) --- that the citizens of a free society must ‘augur misgovernment at a distance; and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in A World Split Apart, his
commencement address Delivered At Harvard University in 1978, warned:
A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage … Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life … Must one point out that from ancient times a decline in courage has been considered the first symptom of the end?
Clarence Thomas, addressing the in American Enterprise Institute in 2001, in a speech entitled Be Not Afraid warned:
I do believe that we are required to wade into those things that matter to our country and our culture, no matter what the disincentives are, and no matter the personal cost. There is not one among us who wants to be set upon, or obligated to do and say difficult things. Yet, there is not one of us who could in good conscience stand by and watch a loved one or a defenseless person --- or a vital national principle --- perish alone, undefended, when our intervention could make all the difference. This may well be too dramatic an example. But nevertheless, put most simply: if we think that something is dreadfully wrong, then someone has to do something.
Our Founders created the blueprint for a government focused on the sanctity of human life and liberty, where the people’s voice would forever outweigh government mandate. They also repeatedly warned us that preservation of such a noble society requires constant vigilance, and repeated action, with courage in passionate defense of liberty as the igniting spark.
Yet, despite the preciousness of our ancestral inheritance, our vigilance has devolved into ignorance and inattention, and our courage has transformed into apathy.
A rebirth … even an ascension … is needed. And we have fallen so far that the ascension must be tantamount to climbing onto a new evolutionary plane. We have no choice but to focus on higher realms. The alternative is unthinkable.