Like many Americans, my family celebrated this Memorial Day by flying a flag, getting together, relaxing, recreating, and doing some gardening and yardwork. Kathleen and I watched the Memorial Day Concert on the National Mall on PBS. It reminded us of the incredible sacrifices that many in our armed forces have made and continue to make for our country. The stories of some of these soldiers and their families are humbling.
But I have a confession to make. I used to be far more enthusiastic about these sentiments than I am today. I’ve really never been patriotic for America the place, though it is beautiful and there is nowhere else I’d rather be. Or even America the people, though we are the most generous and accomplished in history. I am however a patriot – for America the ideal. And that ideal is not in good shape.
America is unique in all of human history. It is the only example of a brand spanking new country formed upon the ideal that the rights of the individual supersede the rights of the collective. The U.S. Constitution is the most successful attempt to codify this philosophy.
It worked pretty darn well. America, in the broad scope of human history, quickly rose to be the singular dominant economic, political, and social force in the world. The story of America is the story of the elevation of mankind from its age-old and ubiquitous “lives of quiet desperation” (Henry David Thoreau) to head-spinning achievements that have extended life itself and set millions and millions over the entire globe free from squalor and oppression. This did not happen by chance. Mankind was lifted through the unleashing of the potential that beats in the heart of every individual; and done so on an unprecedented scale. It brought, and continues to bring to our land, people from all over the world who know in their bones that this is all they can really ask of life.
Alas, most Americans underappreciate this. They’ve been taught, systematically, that the collective is paramount. They may still have the American spirit of “don’t tread on me,” which is the innate sense that government should not interfere in an individual’s daily life. But they’ve also been sold the lie that their worth and value to the world is as a member of one demographic group or another. They’ve come to believe that it is their duty to pay personal tax. This is the philosophy behind such bankrupt concepts as social justice, group rights, and identity politics. It is the foundation of ideologies such as communism and socialism, social constructs that have brought staggering levels of human suffering in the forms of Hitler’s National Socialism, Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s Peoples’ Republic of China, and countless others.
Collectivist philosophy has given birth to policies and laws here in the U.S that damage individual liberty and economic well-being. It is why we have collectively ransacked wealth from future generations for goodies that the current generation has desired. The scale of this generational theft is so large that nobody really knows how much has been stolen. We’re told by politicians and pundits that it is the nearly $19 trillion national debt. But that calculation, mind-numbingly large as it is, leaves a whole bunch of stuff out, such as mandatory spending, unfunded liabilities, and the devaluation of the dollar. The estimates I’ve seen place the true toll at anywhere from $70 to $200 trillion, purportedly representing more wealth than has been created on earth over the entire history of civilization. It’s a moral transgression of appalling grandeur.
The narcotic habits of deficit spending and Robin Hooding resources to some people at the expense of others are diametrically opposed to the spirit of the Constitution. Statist leaders from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama have argued that this is not only okay, but desirable. They claim that progress demands changes. They fail to admit, recognize, or clearly consider some basic truths of human nature.
The first ten Amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, are not accidental or somehow suited only for that place and time. They are timeless and universal because they were considered with clarity about human nature. They recognized that it was the weak, those with small or no voices, those whose opinions were not held by the majority, who needed protection from the strong. It’s why we were not founded as a democracy. Even if 300 million people do not want to hear your opinion, in Constitutional America they can’t legally stop you from expressing it.
James Madison wrote: “If men were Angels, no government would be necessary.” He and the other Founding Fathers recognized that people in power generally want more power. That power comes at the expense of the individual. The innate flaws of mankind both require government and demand that it be tethered so that its power does not flow out of its banks. The Constitution more or less struck this balance for over a century.
But since then, floodwaters rose as power grew more and more centralized. Truly mammoth enterprises concentrated economic power in the hands of a few: the Rockefellers, Carnegies, and Morgans of the late nineteenth century. Their successors inevitably fell into the habit of stacking the rules in their favor. Landmark legislation, inspired by progressive philosophers from Europe, has been passed ever since. These include the passing of the individual income tax and the creation of the I.R.S., the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank (both established under President Woodrow Wilson), the creation of Social Security (under F.D.R.), the conversion of the dollar from the gold standard to a fiat currency and places the creation of money in the hands of the Fed (under F.D.R. and finalized under President Nixon), and the Affordable Care Act (under President Obama, for whom the law is known as Obamacare) are all significant steps down the gangplank to collectivism. They all circumvented the intent, if not the letter, of the U.S. Constitution.
Our servicemen and women who serve their fellow countrymen risk their lives and put their families through sometimes unimaginable ordeals. Some pay the ultimate sacrifice. They are increasingly being used as pawns by powerful interests to whom they never swore fealty. Their sacrifices often do not serve the interests of freedom and protection of fellow Americans but rather the interests of the powerful. This has been arguably true since World War Two. President Eisenhower warned that this would happen. He seems to have been right. It breaks my heart that a proud legacy is being so tarnished.
Collectivist thought is not an enemy you can fight by force of arms. It is a spiritual battle. I do not believe this battle is lost, but we’re alarmingly close. The protections given by the Constitution are meaningless in the hands of a people who do not share the values upon which it was founded. That’s why it has failed time and again over the past century. Absent a resurgence of those values, the ideal of America will die.
If that happens, peoples of the world, ask this in your moments of need: Who ya gonna call?
Better be Ghostbusters, because it won’t be America. She’ll be in the same boat you’re in.