Thursday, August 21, 2008

The American Idea

The United States of America is unique among nations in that it was founded on an idea — not on blood and soil.

The idea is encapsulated in the Declaration of Independence — that mankind comes into the world with rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Rights exist naturally; they are not granted by a sovereign. Rational man will act in enlightened self-interest in a way that will benefit all.

This idea was the product of Enlightenment thinking and it prevailed in part because the British culture from which we grew and from which we violently broke away half believed it, too.

The trouble is, it’s hard to sustain emotional attachment to an idea. patriotism is so much easier to engender out of blood and soil, a tribal sense of identity.

You have to work at holding tight to an idea. And only an educated citizenry has the tools for that work.
I wonder if our schools (I’m speaking nationally now) are teaching the idea. It doesn’t seem like it. In my darker moments, I sometimes think that the founding principles of America are but a ghost now.

We have grown comfortable with a massive state and orient our lives by its leave. That is dangerous to liberty and an abdication of our own pursuit of happiness.

That goes for both “liberal” who want the state to do more for the welfare of its citizens (ignoring the unintended consequences) and for “conservatives” who want to state to do more for their security and to regulate behavior.
So, here’s the question: How do we hold onto the founding idea in the 21st Century?

Jim Cornelius, Editor

1 comment:

  1. Jim, great post. Unfortunately, schools do not teach or discuss the great questions that have faced our ancestors all the way back to the Greeks. School today boils down to daycare, basic education/indoctrination, and preparing them for their "work" in this world.

    That "work" does not involve thinking about one's government or standing in the world. Liberty and freedom are vague concepts that even I have only grasped after years of toil in the world.

    We are very fat/dumb/happy and very few are interested rocking the boat with radical ideas of liberty. A sad state of affairs I fear.