The Case for Independence

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On July 4th libertarians celebrate the rejection of empire. Politicians more likely see it as the US government’s birthday. If they’re right, we should think it a tragic commemoration indeed.

No, I see the Fourth as an independence celebration to which our government has no rightful claim. Seventeen seventy-six was, after all, five years before they ratified the Articles of Confederation and a full eleven years before the Constitution was completed. As our national mythos goes, it was on this day that America declared its separation from the British state. This is a day to remember liberation, disunion, the idea that a house divided might be more civil, peaceful and secure than one kept together by force.

In light of this heritage and Jefferson’s wonderful declaration, I believe we should consider the possible benefits were the American people to reclaim the spirit of 1776 and apply its principles to the present day. I believe we should contemplate the possibility that what Americans and foreigners need is independence from the empire.

The American colonists had been particularly irked by the British government’s hypocrisy regarding the liberal tradition. The British prided themselves on having a liberal and enlightened political culture, complete with checks and balances, due process and the like. But they did not grant such privileges and immunities to their colonial subjects. They preached freedom and toleration but practiced international despotism. Edmund Burke, one of the most consistent proponents of liberty in Britain, decried this colonial hypocrisy as an enormous scandal.

Today, the US empire is everything the British empire was: It claims the banner of constitutional justice at home, it feigns interest in freedom abroad, it poses as the embodiment of liberty itself. But it treats those in its clutches, especially those in its remote grasp, as dispensable means to an imperial end. It slaughters civilians with no regard for the number. It enforces martial law in its exploits abroad. It is the champion and vindicator, not of foreign liberty, but of theocracies and socialist states everywhere. In the course of its reign, it has laid waste to millions of lives.

George W. Bush is a far greater tyrant than King George ever was. He claims the right to seize anyone in all the world — his designated battlefield in the war on terror — and deprive him of liberty or life without anything approaching due process, without a right to an attorney, without habeas corpus. Under recent presidents and especially today’s, the US has become just what John Quincy Adams warned it might: The Dictatress of the World.

The world’s people deserve their independence. Perhaps it would be fitting to start with the British. Liberate them from the Bush foreign policy that only a minority of them approve. Wartime coalitions without representation are tyranny! They should be the first satellite freed, as a poetic gesture of honest friendship. The Brits didn’t release America without a fight, but perhaps they can be let go in peace.

Of course, Iraq and Afghanistan must be freed immediately. Is it not an embarrassment for Americans to celebrate the day with fireworks and barbecues yet think nothing of the perversity of it all, given what is happening in the Muslim world? US interference with Middle Eastern independence has been nothing but a repudiation of July-4th principles, at least since 1953 when the CIA overthrew Iranian democracy and installed a torturing inflationist monster. The US support, betrayals and overthrows of Arab and Muslim regimes have typically been incoherent, contradictory, and nakedly unjust. Such intervention has not protected but has rather endangered American lives and freedoms. The entangling alliance between the United States and Israel, which compromises the safety of both populations, must also end.

Then there are the other imperial holdings. There’s Old Europe, which should stop being bullied every time they don’t want to go to war for America. Just because Americans were dragged into World War II doesn’t mean the French should be dragged into the next installment, with presumed allegiance to Old Glory until the end of time. Bring GI Joe home from Germany, where he has absurdly been stationed for six decades, presumably in wait for Hitler’s resurrection, or the threats presented by the Soviet Union, always an economic invalid and now nearly two-decades defunct.

Then there’s New Europe, which should be freed from undue US government influence. Stop bribing their leaders and see how loyal their people really are to the Bush-Cheney enterprise. It is high time the US stop playing elections to its advantage.

In Japan and Korea, American troops have long been the cause of much agitation and no visible good. Bring them home. Mao has long been dead, so it’s time the US government stopped pretending it’s all that’s keeping imaginary dominoes from falling all over Asia. Free trade with Asians would be good as well. Much of the original US imperial interest in Asia was commercial in nature, although now America’s protectionists fear Asia becoming capitalist and rich. It’s clear, however, that trade benefits both sides to the transaction, and empire only gets in the way.

Latin Americans’ self-determination declines whenever the US reinterprets the arrogant Monroe doctrine to award itself the keys to the capital city of yet another Spanish-speaking nation. Policy in the region has been brazenly colonial at least since the US imposed the Platt Amendment on the Cubans and stole Guantanamo Bay. The US should stop pretending it has always owned the Western Hemisphere, stop poisoning crops, stop staging coups and stop strong-arming Mexico and other countries into maintaining a draconian drug war.

US meddling in Africa also tends toward disaster, as Somalia and Sudan have shown. Extend to the African peoples total free trade and friendship, which is the best America can do to help them join the developing world. We should resist the internationalist temptation to redeploy into the continent with humanitarian bombs and altruistic bellicosity, as if in anticipation of a Joseph Conrad novel with a happy ending.

Australia, Canada (and every other country) should also get their independence, at last, from the US. No more global regulatory arm-twisting, manipulative foreign aid, threats or empty promises.

As for the American people, we should consider independence, too. For starters, half our income is taxed away and we have the biggest prison population on the planet. American government is much worse for American liberty than the British empire was, to an almost obscene degree.

Open up Common Sense and notice the radical insights about being governed from afar. There is simply no sense or justice in the same central state ruling everybody from Hawaii to Virginia, from Arizona to Vermont. The American Republic was a half-decent experiment, as far as such political experiments go, but it didn’t guarantee liberty even when the American population was 2% the size it is today.

American freedom and international peace will always be a mirage so long as the beast in Washington, DC, lords it over everyone on earth. There have always been Americans who saw no limits to the US government’s power, but let us once and for all tell these Hamiltonians and Wilsonians that we are sick of their crazed expansions and invasions and want some peace and freedom for a change.

Americans make particularly terrible imperialists. We are a people who prefer privacy and liberty in our own lives. We are a people with independence and rebellion in our national heritage. Ours is thus an even more hypocritical empire than that of the British. It’s long past time Americans stopped trampling across the globe as conquerors. As long as we pursue such conquests, we ourselves will remain conquered, shackled by our own chains. Edmund Burke’s rebuke of his nation’s imperial policy and his defense of American independence apply today as never before.

Our government, the biggest in human history, is the greatest threat to our freedom, drain on our wealth, and fomenter of international conflict. We cannot keep empire if we want liberty. We cannot be free if we seek to boss all of mankind around. To have the freedom that Jefferson described, we must let go of our foreign satellites and allow our compatriots and international brothers and sisters the freedom we want for ourselves.

Is such independence possible? Absolutely. Empires crumble. In 1775, few thought the Americans would soon be their own nation. The British empire suffered from pretensions to eternal life. The US empire may in some ways be unique, but it is no more permanent than any other. In stark contrast, the principles of human nature declared to the world from a small Philadelphia gathering 231years ago were true then, years before the US empire was born, and will remain true long after the US empire collapses.

Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.

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