What should a country remember? What should it forget? Some say we should remember only the times where the nation failed to live up to ideals, to mourn in sackcloth and ashes forever. Others say we should honor those who fought for the ideals of the country. And a lot are setting out or raising their flags, heading to small town parades, firing up the grill, checking the smoker, assembling the ingredients for ice cream sundaes, or flan, or other good stuff, and ignoring the entire philosophic argument. I think they’re the wise ones. They remember that the US is different, and celebrate that without worrying about who might care.
It is easy, especially for those immersed in mass culture, to forget just how unusual the US is. It is the only country founded on a set of ideas that place the government behind the citizens. All powers are derived from the consent of the governed. The country’s founding idea is that the citizens agree to allow the government to have some of their powers, so long as the government behaves, for the greater good. The state, be it a monarchy, oligarchy, council of elders, or elected officials, does not grant rights to the citizens. The citizens loan powers to the government. That is totally bass-akwards to most of the world.
And “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, these being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When all goes well, all are the same in the eyes of the law, and the judge doesn’t care if you are the son of Bill Gates or the son of a farm worker. No one has special rights by birth. No one is forever denied rights because of their birth. You are not going to be forced to be a farmer because your father was a farmer. You are not going to be forced to serve in the military because your father served in the military. If you are the first in your family to go to college, yeah! Congratulations. You won’t be shunned because your father barely escaped the North Vietnamese Communists and survived the boat voyage to Thailand, then made it here.
That’s also odd. You can be a citizen, fully accepted, even if you move here from elsewhere. Germany has people who are third generation residents but who are still not considered German, even if they want to be. If you come here, pass the tests, work hard, and decide to become the hotdog eating champion, yeah! If you come here and grow your Russian bakery into a major seller of gourmet dark bread, you are a success and considered a wonderful addition to our national cultural stew. Most of us don’t care where you came from, as long as you put your hands on the rope and help us pull. Or if we do ask, we’re being friendly and curious, because you may have some neat new food or idea or word we can borrow.
Do we live up to our ideals? Not always. Does anyone? No. We’re human, so we all fall short. OK, Stalin and Mao may have lived up to their ideals, with disastrous results. George Washington probably felt that he’d not done enough, could have done things differently. The angels of our better (national) nature have been shouted down at times. And we forget that in international affairs, the other side gets a vote. We tend to get into things on the assumption that we can find nice people to work with and make things right. That doesn’t always work out.
“If you seek a monument, look around you.” Today we honor the founding of the United States of America, and we are still a monument to the ideals of the Founders: all are created equal, all have certain rights that can never be denied by state or individual, all can pursue their happiness so long as it does not hurt another person. The best monument we can erect to the Founders and to all who tried to make the US better is to do our little part, help our neighbors, keep our faith, and love our families (genetic, adopted, or selected).
Edited to Add: Welcome to all visitors from Instapundit! Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a great Independence Day.
If you like this, you might try my story “A Father’s Choice.”