Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Randomish reflections on the Fourth

"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. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" - Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

"My allegiance is not to the nation, it is to the set of principles upon which the nation was founded. When the government upholds those principles, I offer it praise; when it violates them, I offer my anger and my opposition. Those principles of individual liberty and equality before the law are, in my mind, sacred and inviolable. They are the cornerstone of my view of human civilization; whatever advances them has my support, whatever impedes them my opposition." - Ed Brayton

Ed preceded that quote by saying that the 4th had little to do with patriotism to him. I mentioned in his comments that what he had said actually is the definition of patriotism (or at least it's the proper one.)

Thomas Paine, who I consider to be America's greatest patriot, wrote in Common Sense (which was the inspiration for the Declaration)

The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind
What did Paine mean by this? He meant that the unalienable rights that the colonists were fighting for were rights that belong to all mankind. That's what the American revolution meant to Paine, it meant that the colonists were fighting for the right of all humanity to be free from tyranny.

When Benjamin Franklin stated that "where liberty is, that is my country," Paine answered, "where liberty is not, that is mine."

It was devotion to that principle that caused Paine to make America his country. It was devotion to that principle that led Paine to convince the colonists the "common sense" of declaring independence from the nation that had been his home for 37 years. It was devotion to that principle that led Paine to put his life on the line in both England and France to spread "the cause of all mankind." And it was devotion to that principle which led Paine, through his pen, to become one of the world's greatest champions of liberty.

There is no nobler expression in the English language of patriotism, than this sentiment from Paine's The Rights of Man

Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.
To borrow from Lincoln, (see several posts down) any sentiment that differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is not patriotism.

As Paine put it "freedom must have all or none, and she must have them equally."1

Long before this "war on terror" began, Thomas Paine offered us a model of what it meant to spread the principles of democracy. This Fourth, we should reflect on that model and consider if our actions as a nation live up to that ideal. Do any of our actions impede the advancement of the idea that the principlies of liberty and equality before the law are sacred and inviolable?

Update: Also required reading on the Fourth, Robert Green Ingersoll's God In the Constitution.

1. Kaye, Harvey Thomas (2005) Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. New York: Hill and Wang

1 comment:

bradford said...

The monarchs owned their country outright, so Paine gave us the right to property. Manifest destiny showed how intoxicating THAT was. Now the new vehicle for accumulating assets is The Trust. Thank you for spreading the liberation spirit with such respect for the teachers. Invested interest is appreciation.