Independence from England, Dependence on Washington?
Isn't our choice really one of up or down? Down through statism, the welfare state, more and more government largesse, accompanied always by more government authority, less individual liberty and ultimately totalitarianism, always advanced as for our own good. The alternative is the dream conceived by our Founding Fathers, up to the ultimate in individual freedom, consistent with an orderly society.
"We don't celebrate Dependence Day on the Fourth of July. We celebrate Independence Day.
~ Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan's reminder that the Fourth of July is a celebration of independence, not dependence, still resonates today. We celebrate not only our political independence from England, but also our independence from the feudal notion of loyalty to King and Crown. We celebrate victory by the American colonies over a government that taxed them too much and sought too much control over their affairs. We also celebrate the Founding Fathers themselves, and the great principles contained in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Today some Americans, including many members of Congress, view both the Constitution and our Founders as quaint anachronisms at best. Times have changed, they argue, and we hardly should be bound by rules established by a bunch of dead white men who could not possibly understand our modern society. The Constitution is relevant only if it evolves to allow for new realities, and the federal government certainly should not be constrained by outdated notions about its proper role. This viewpoint steadily gained acceptance throughout the 20th century, exemplified by the blatantly unconstitutional New Deal and Great Society programs, Supreme Court activism, the virtual abolition of states rights, and uncontrolled growth of the federal government.
In my opinion this perspective threatens the very foundation of American greatness. The principles enshrined in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence define the American way of life. Without those principles we become just another country, governed by whim and expediency, with no guiding vision beyond the ambitions of the latest politicians in power. The purpose of the Constitution was to impose systematic limits on government power, limits that survive the political tides.
We owe our Founding Fathers a tremendous debt of gratitude. They created a society based on the radical idea that the purpose of government was to protect the rights of the individual, preexisting rights granted by God rather than the state. For the first time in human history, a government was designed to serve the individual, rather than vice versa. This triumph of the individual over the claims of the state, the King, the collective, or society represents a great gift to humanity. The principle of a servant government is the ideal that made America the greatest nation on earth.
Those who dismiss the Constitution ignore the link between the wisdom of our Founders and the freedom and prosperity we still enjoy today. America is not prosperous and relatively free merely by accident. It is prosperous and free because we still retain vestiges of our constitutional system of limited government, with its emphasis on property rights and the rule of law. Other nations are similarly filled with bright, hardworking people, and enjoy abundant natural resources. Yet why have they not prospered like America? The simple reason is they enjoy less liberty. Without liberty and property rights, the human spirit diminishes. More freedom always means more prosperity, which is why American enjoys a much higher level of material well-being than almost any other nation.
As we celebrate the Fourth of July, we might consider what our Founders would think of present-day America. Would they find the ideal of a servant government intact? Would they see a society that abides by the principles established in the Constitution?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. They would discover a society completely dominated by the federal government, totally at odds with the weak central state they envisioned. They would find the people over-taxed, over-regulated, and far too dependent on government in every sphere of human activity. They would find most Americans woefully ignorant about our own history and Constitution, despite the prevalence of college degrees. Worst of all, they would find an attitude of complacency and subservience toward government, a mindset of accepting whatever Washington hands down.
And on this Fourth of July, they would outrageously find that fireworks displays all across the nation have been cancelled, because communities did not obtain federal licenses for handling explosives.
We can complain about how far we've fallen in 225 years, but that won't make America a better place. Our challenge is to create an America that lives up to the principles and ideals of our Founding Fathers.
July 8, 2003
Dr. Ron Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas.