Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Not since the Civil War has Independence Day been celebrated amidst such threats to our country’s political heritage. The riots and bombings of the Sixties and Seventies were more lethal and destructive, but the political consensus from the center-left to the center-right––that the democratic process rather than violence should be the agent of change––hence rejected the revolutionary narrative of the New Left.
Today, however, the recent shift of the Democrats to their progressives and Marxist wing has put the authority and power of Congressmen, Democrat Party leaders, governors, mayors, city councils, media, corporations, sports teams, and entertainment industries on the side of rioters, vandals, and looters. The outfits behind this disorder, whether the self-proclaimed Marxists of Black Lives Matter, or the juvenile anarchists of Antifa, have with near impunity added widespread violence to illiberal tactics like “cancel culture”: the vandalism of public monuments and proscription of cultural artifacts; and the shaming, silencing, and ostracizing of dissenting voices.
The alleged “crisis” of racist police targeting black males for slaughter is in fact a specious pretext for this disorder, a Reichstag Fire for justifying a revolutionary political agenda to “burn down this system and replace it,” as a BLM honcho put it recently. This legitimizing of an illiberal political ideology and violent tactics by civic, business, and cultural leaders now threatens to dismantle the Constitutional order and American civic identity of which American exceptionalism and political freedom are the fruit.
The heart of that exceptionalism is the Founders’ success in binding a broad diversity of peoples into a unity that would avoid the dangers of blood-and-soil nationalism and its tendency to concentrate power at the expense of other citizens and nations. That diversity of Colonial America was not today’s superficial “diversity” comprising the old crude categories of “scientific racism”: black, white, “Hispanic,” and “Asian,” along with other privileged identities based on sexual preferences and sex. In practice these terms are nearly meaningless given the vast differences within those categories, the various cultures, religions, mores, and landscapes that contribute to the complex identities of unique individuals who happen to belong to one of those groups.
The diversity of early America, on the other hand, was real diversity. It was obvious in the conflicted decades before the Revolution, in the turbulent decade between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutional Convention, and in the coalescing of formal political parties during Washington’s second term. The containment of these divisions, or “factions” as they were called, was a critical goal in creating our form of government: divided powers that check and balance each other in order to protect political freedom from centralization, consolidation, and expansion of the new federal government and its power; and federalism, in which the states are not departments or provinces wholly subordinate to the unitary central government, but sovereign, with considerable freedom to honor their distinct identities and pursue their particular interests.
The purpose of this structure was to give all citizens and factions equal rights and the freedom to participate in governing, and to honor their diverse ways of life and opinions. This structure, of course, was existentially challenged by the Civil War. But after four years of gruesome slaughter the Union’s integrity–– and its assumptions of unalienable rights beyond the power of mere men to abandon or limit for some peoples––were confirmed in what Lincoln at Gettysburg called a “new birth of freedom.” For the individual plures to survive the ambitions of European powers, there had to be a consensus on the collective unum, a consensus articulated in the Declaration of Independence and codified in the Constitution.
That unity has historically manifested itself in times of crises, especially war. At least until Vietnam and the post-9/11 wars, we might debate or criticize the origins or conduct of the war, but there still remained enough of a consensus that politics “ends at the water’s edge.” The other collective celebration of the unum is Independence Day, a time when we together acknowledge not just our nation’s birth, but its revolutionary foundational principles: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Governments, moreover, are created to “secure these rights,” not to bestow or create them, and “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed”–– a creed worthy of the patriotic loyalty and affection we traditionally celebrate on July 4.
Those principles, and the government it created, are the heart of American exceptionalism and its goodness. Over the years Americans have failed or betrayed those principles, but that is reflection of an unchanging flawed human nature constant over space and time. The Founders in the main were realists about human nature and its “passions and interests,” particularly the lust for power. They did not set out to create a utopia or a “new man,” but to craft a structure that allows flawed humans to be free from tyranny, and to correct abuses or end institutions like slavery and legal segregation that violated those foundational principles.
Today’s categories of “diversity,” and the political aims its adherents seek, are much different. First, the real agenda of Diversity, Inc. and it subsidiary “multiculturalism,” is not to give equal public space, recognition, and respect to all the multifarious examples of diversity. Instead, its purpose is to mask a conformist, uniform collectivist ideology inimical both to the Constitutional order and to the most important diversity––of thought, opinion, ideas, and principles, which now must be subject to tests for political purity. It follows, then, that for the “woke” left there is no “unalienable right” to free speech that flunks that test, and repressing such incorrect speech is not just acceptable, but mandatory.
Notice that the denial of free speech to political rivals challenges the very idea of “unalienable rights” bestowed by a “Creator.” This notion has been a target of progressives for over a century. In their view enlightened people can create, modify, or discard rights at will. This is just one front of the long leftist assault on the foundations of the Constitution in order to clear space for “social justice,” a vague idea that in practice requires state-enforced radical egalitarianism, the equality of result rather than the equality of opportunity––an idea that has for over a century failed miserably and created mountains of corpses.
In reality, then, the “woke” revolution is creating a world in which some people are more equal than others: Some lives “matter” more than other lives, some speech is freer than other speech, some people enjoy more equality before the law than others do. The goal is to dismantle the whole architecture of American political freedom and its foundational principles. That’s why we are witnessing the destruction, removal, or besmirching of civic monuments; and the demands to shove down the “memory hole” America’s historical figures who do not measure up to the utopian standards and expectations of today’s arrogant people who do not have greater wisdom, morality, or understanding than our ancestors, but just “happen to be walking about,” as Chesterton put it, and so feel entitled to judge the past.
This revisionism is nothing new, for it is key to the leftist challenge now in its second century. What is making it more dangerous today is the widespread participation of civic and government officials who are either joining in this assault and legitimizing the ideological cleansing of our history; or standing down in fear of the mob lest they be targeted too. The immediate goal is to make sure Donald Trump does not get reelected, for he has resisted and dismantled the previous administration’s efforts to “fundamentally transform” the United States into a technocracy managed by an elite that knows better than we the people how we should manage our lives, and what we should think, believe, and publicly say.
If that transformation should happen in November, we will be on the dangerous “road to serfdom,” the dystopia of political violence, thought-control, “soft despotism” managed by the technocratic elite, more surrender of our sovereignty to globalist institutions, and more redistributionist policies that will lead to fiscal ruin. In other words, our political freedom and self-rule will be reduced to hedonistic consumption overseen by a consortium of Nurse Ratcheds.
So this Independence Day let’s celebrate our freedom, proclaim our pride in the greatest force for good in human history, and vow to defend our nation against all enemies foreign and domestic.
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