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Patriotism Has Changed

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Observing the festivities and media coverage of the July 4 celebrations, I wondered if Americans know what is being celebrated. The ideas and ideals that are expressed in the Declaration of Independence are far from most Americans’ minds. Further, the idea of patriotism in 1776 was much different than present-day conceptions.

The national government and various state governments are horrible caricatures of the sentiments held by Americans during the American Revolution. Too often Americans see freedom as merely the right to vote, without ever examining the moral issues involved. Americans see patriotism as blindly following government officials or the president in military adventures, spying on their neighbors, and so forth. Many have engaged themselves in the new religion called “statolatry.” People from various backgrounds rely on the state to enforce their ideas on others. In short, government has become a false idol.

To list all the examples of various violations of individual rights would require a book instead of a short article. However, a few glaring examples should cause concern.

Two years ago, the U.S. attorney general ordered the massacre in Waco, Texas. Later, she admitted that she misled the media and the American people on this mass murder of many — including young children — belonging to a religious group. The U.S. government has given mind-altering drugs to servicemen without their knowledge or consent. The activities of the Internal Revenue Service are well-known.

Seizure and forfeiture laws are an outrage to those who take rights seriously. Government officials can raid the homes of peaceful citizens and confiscate their assets with impunity. There is not even a pretense of a trial or hearing during these seizures. Government officials are ostensibly looking for drugs; the seized assets are often for their own use. These raids are many times based on nothing but false rumors and anonymous tips. The raids and seizures are clear violations of the Bill of Rights. What is most disturbing is that the federal courts and the Supreme Court have upheld the police-state tactics, even while acknowledging the innocence of the victims.

Many Americans are now proposing tighter and tighter gun-control laws. Many members of Congress and administration officials are very seriously considering a total ban on gun ownership. Anyone who actually believes that banning gun ownership through legislation would result in fewer crimes and murders is living in a fool’s paradise.

The great patriot Patrick Henry had this rejoinder for the gun grabbers:

The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able may have a gun. . . . Are we at last brought to such a humiliating and debasing degradation that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own self-defense?

Banning handguns or guns in general from a law-abiding population would leave them at the mercy of thugs. Thomas Jefferson stated, “No free man shall be debarred the use of firearms.”

Basic to all liberty is the right to honestly and peaceably acquire private property. If one has control over the results of his labor or good fortune, he is mainly a free person. Yet, various levels of government believe that they have control over individuals’ assets and property. The EPA has mandated severe restrictions on the use of private property. Individuals have been fined or jailed for cleaning up their residential or commercial property. The actions of the EPA are based on pseudo-science called environmentalism.

Why have Americans allowed their various levels of government to get out of hand? Most people are very fearful of government officials. Often we merely have to look in a mirror to find the root of our problems. Wrong-headed thinking leads to unacceptable results and immoral actions. The political morals and ideals in the U.S. have undergone a tremendous change since the American Revolution. The vast majority believe that whatever is legislated by Congress or state legislatures is automatically correct.

They have adopted the maxim that the voice of the people is the voice of God. Many are voting for public officials “to bring them the bacon.” They never consider where the largess comes from. In short, many Americans believe that they have a “right” to live at the expense of others through the political process. Others believe that they have a right to force their ideas upon others through the political process.

In discussion of rights, there is hardly any mention of the rights of the individual. It seems that rights only apply to groups. In discussions of freedom, the right to vote is considered paramount.

However, the Founding Fathers and the framers of the Constitution had very different opinions on democracy and voting. They knew that unrestricted majority rule without reference to individual rights would be ruinous to any civilization. For them, the main virtue of voting was to put men into office or remove them in a peaceful manner. The powers of those holding office were to be severely limited.

Thomas Jefferson, in his Notes on Virginia , stated: “One hundred and seventy-three despots would surely be as oppressive as one. . . . An elective despotism was not the government we fought for.” One can wryly remark “that is the government we have now.” James Madison, in Federalist No. 10 , noted the results of unrestricted majority rule:

Hence, it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and they have been violent in their deaths.

Those who believe that the right to vote is the real basis of freedom should always remember that Adolf Hitler was elected to power by constitutional means. It is not merely voting that provides for a free society, but a general recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of each human being. For a society to be free and prosper, there must be a general recognition of the rights of each individual to peacefully lead his life. With all the talk about minority rights, it should be brought out that the smallest minority is the individual.

Another reason why Americans have allowed their governments to become dangerous to liberty is blind, unquestioning adherence to public policy and to various “leaders.” In the past, Americans had learned to trust basic moral principles and had learned that men with any amount of power are to be regarded with suspicion. Jefferson, in his Kentucky Resolution, stated that government officials must be bound with the chains of the Constitution. Americans must learn to judge public officials by the standards of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

If Americans are ever to reclaim their lost liberties, they must learn that each human being has inherent and inalienable rights and is worthy of dignity and respect. They must learn the simple lesson that voting for public officials who promise benefits at the expense of others is morally wrong. In short, Americans must regain self-respect and must respect the rights of others by not taking what belongs to others. Otherwise, this civilization is doomed and will crumble as surely as the Roman Empire did.

This article originally appeared in The Monroeville Journal . Reprinted by permission.

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    Mr. Egolf is a schoolteacher in Monroeville, Alabama.