This Fourth of July seems different from all the others in recent memory.
I don’t remember any previous Fourth when so many of us felt that that the republican values on which the nation was founded were quite so seriously imperiled.
Our very Constitution is under attack from various members of the elite. Two different philosophies seem to be battling for the republic. The Founders, grounded in the classics and eighteenth century moderation, believed in independence, taking care of yourself, and self-control. We now have vast government programs and bureaucracies aimed at undermining these very virtues.
Without the virtues, the republic as we know it cannot last. Paul Kengor of Grove City College makes this point in a wounderful Fourth of July meditation:
The founders of this remarkable republic often thought and wrote about the practice of virtue generally and self-control specifically, two things long lost in this modern American culture of self. Thomas Jefferson couldn’t avoid a reference to one of the cardinal virtues-prudence-in our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, which, incidentally, ought to be a must-read for every American every Fourth of July (it’s only 1,800 words). Our first president and ultimate Founding Father, George Washington, knew the necessity of governing one’s self before a nation’s people were capable of self-governance. As Washington stated in his classic Farewell Address, “‘Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”
A forgotten philosopher who had an important influence on the American Founders was the Frenchman, Charles Montesquieu, whose work included the seminal book, The Spirit of the Laws (1748). Montesquieu considered various forms of government. In a tyrannical system, people are prompted not by freedom of choice or any expression of public virtue but, instead, by the sheer coercive power of the state, whether by decree of an individual despot or an unaccountable rogue regime. That’s no way for human beings to live. There’s life under such a system, yes, but not much liberty or pursuit of happiness; even life itself is threatened.
Montesquieu concluded that the best form of government is a self-governing one, and yet it is also the most difficult to maintain because it demands a virtuous populace.
Our forefathers, fortified by wide reading and the practice of virtue, did something unique in the history of mankind. Mark Steyn writes:
They demanded “independence” not from foreign rulers of another ethnicity but from their own compatriots with whom they had a disagreement about the nature of government. Long before the Revolutionary War, small New England townships governed themselves to a degree no old England towns did. “Independence” is not about the replacement of a king in London with a president in Washington but about the republican virtues of a self-reliant citizenry free to exploit its own potential.
Please, no snickering. The self-reliant citizen? In the damning formulation of contemporary American vernacular, he’s history – as in over and done with, fuhgeddabouttim. What’s left of that founding vision on this less than Glorious Fourth of July 2011 in the Brokest Nation in History? “You go talk to your constituents,” President Obama taunted Republicans on Wednesday, “and ask them, are they willing to compromise their kids’ safety so that some corporate-jet owner continues to get a tax break?”
In the Republic of Brokistan, that’s the choice, is it? Give me safe kids or give me corporate jets! No corporate aviation without safe kiddification. …
Speaking of corporate jets, did the president fly commercial to Denver? Oh, but that’s different! He’s in “public service.” A couple of weeks before he flew Air Force One to Denver, he flew Air Force One to Williamsburg, Va. From the White House (well, via Andrews Air Force Base). That’s 150 miles, a 30-minute flight. He took a 747, a wide-bodied jet designed to carry 500 people to the other side of the planet, for a puddle-jump across the Potomac….
Aside from the Sultan of Brunei and one or two similar potentates, no other head of state goes around like this. In a self-governing republic, it ought to be unbecoming. But in the Brokest Nation in History it’s ridiculous.
The showy and possessive use of the taxpayer jet is, in my opinion, something larger than it at first appears: It signals the death of Cincinnatus, the citizen public servant who returns to private life when his job is done. Who thinks you’ll ever see the Obamas boarding a commercial flight even after he leaves the White House? We have created a new elite, rooted in government “service” for which we all pay.
But that’s the point. Big Government on America’s unprecedented money-no-object scale will always be profoundly wasteful (as on that Williamsburg flight), stupid (as at the TSA), and arbitrary (as in those waivers). But it’s not republican in any sense the Founders would recognize. If (like Obama) you’re a lifetime member of the government class, you can survive it. For the rest, it ought to be a source of shame to today’s Americans that this will be the first generation in U.S. history to bequeath its children the certainty of poorer, meaner lives – if not a broader decay into a fetid swamp divided between a well-connected Latin American-style elite enjoying their waivers and a vast downwardly mobile morass.
Nothing is certain in history. Let us hope that this wonderful republic remains a beacon for the world and home of the brave for another two centuries. It will not be easy, but let’s hope that we’ll have many Fourth of July celebrations to come.