I’d like to share two points about the Fourth of July that I believe are important:
First, the people who signed the Declaration of Independence were not American citizens, as is commonly believed. The people who took up arms against the British government were not fighting a foreign power. The revolutionaries were British citizens. They took up arms against their own government. They were shooting the troops rather than supporting them.
Why did they do that? Because they believed that their government was engaged in terrible wrongdoing. That wrongdoing is specified within the Declaration. They believed that when people’s own government is engaged in wrongdoing and persists in that wrongdoing, it is up the citizenry to take a stand against it.
There are undoubtedly those who consider the rebels to have been traitors — people who refuse to support their own government, especially in time of crisis and war. British government officials certainly considered George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and others who joined the Revolution to be criminals and traitors.
Not me. I consider the signers of the Declaration to have been the real patriots. It’s not easy to take a public stand against the wrongdoing of one’s own government.
For one thing, the dissidents must put up with all the nasty things that the good, little citizens hurl at them — the citizens who have the mindset of “my government, never wrong, especially in crisis and war.”
For another, there is the threat of retaliation from the government itself. We often forget that if Washington, Jefferson, and the others had lost, they would have been hanged as common criminals and traitors by British government officials, to the applause of all the good, little citizens who sided with their government in the conflict.
In fact, the easiest thing in the world — the thing that takes no courage at all — is to take the side of the government in times of crisis and war. What takes courage is to stand against it during such times. My favorite example of such courage is the story of the White Rose, where German young people had the courage to stand against their own government in the middle of World War II — and paid for it with their lives at the hands of their own government — for “treason.”
Second, the “freedom” that Americans today celebrate is opposite to the freedom that our American ancestors celebrated when they celebrated Independence Day every year. The reason I put the word in quotations is because I personally don’t consider it to be genuine freedom, but the fact is that most Americans today do.
Today, Americans define freedom as the extent to which the government is taking care of them, providing for them, and keeping them safe and secure from the likes of drug lords, terrorists, illegal aliens, and communists.
Consider the welfare state: Government provides people with retirement (Social Security), health care (Medicare and Medicaid), education (public schooling and education grants), farm subsidies, community grants, and many other programs that entail the government’s use of force to take money from whom it belongs in order to give it to people to whom it does not belong.
Consider the warfare state: 700-1000 military bases in some 130 countries, invasions, wars of aggression, undeclared wars, bombings, occupations, sanctions, embargoes, kidnapping, rendition, assassination, kangaroo tribunals, and the like. In a word, empire.
Consider the drug war, whereby the government wields the power to incarcerate people for ingesting non-approved substances, a 4-decade war that continues to wreak death, destruction, and corruption.
Consider the regulated society, in which governments at all levels regulate the most minute aspects of people’s lives, especially within the context of the so-called war on terrorism.
Consider the Federal Reserve and paper money, which involve a never-ending inflationary debasement of the value of people’s money in order to finance ever-burgeoning welfare-warfare state spending and debt.
Consider the income tax and the IRS, which suck money out of the pockets of those who have earned it in order to give it to those who haven’t earned it.
All this is considered “freedom” by modern-day Americans.
Not so with our American ancestors. Consider that for more than 100 years, they chose to live without income taxation, an IRS, a Federal Reserve, paper money, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, public (i.e., government) schooling, and other such socialistic programs.
No drug war for our ancestors. They believed that genuine freedom encompassed the right to ingest whatever one wants.
Also, for most of the first century of our nation’s existence our ancestors lived without militarism, a huge standing army, wars of aggression (the Mexican War being a notable exception), occupations, foreign military bases, a military industrial complex, kidnappings, torture, and assassination. In a word, they chose a republic, as compared to an empire.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that our Americans ancestors also lived without immigration controls and gun control.
Why did they reject the things that present-day Americans celebrate as “freedom”? Because they believed that all the things that present-day Americans have brought into existence with their welfare state and warfare state were opposite to freedom. Since they wanted to be free, they chose not to adopt such programs when they founded the country.
Does the welfare-warfare state way of life constitute genuine freedom? Permit me to answer that question with the words of the great German thinker Johann von Goethe: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”