Why Bother Celebrating the Fourth?
Tibor R. Machan
The Fourth of July is my all time favorite holiday?it is supposed to
celebrate the Declaration of Independence and its revolutionary idea that
it?s not governments, states, monarchs, kings, tsars, and the like that
possess sovereignty, with the rest of us subjects to their alleged
superior will, but we, individual human beings, we are the sovereign ones.
That idea was revolutionary and unpopular then and, let me assure you, it
is no different now.
The bulk of the world, including most Americans, pretty much reject it,
either explicitly (as with those within the academic political philosophy
and science, as well as much of the journalistic community) or implicitly
(as with those within the general public who clamor relentlessly for
ruling their fellow human beings via the government for various worthy
goals of their own).
Our courts, especially the US Supreme Court, give very little credence to
the Declaration?s political ideas. This is evident from how readily they
scoff at the notion that individuals have a right to the pursuit of
happiness (which clearly implies obtaining and using marijuana for medical
purposes), or that they have the right to their lives and liberties (which
also clearly implies they may produce and obtain property in peaceful ways
and not be subject to federal or state regulation and interference for the
sake of various critters). The courts have stood up in defense of
innumerable government powers that have nothing at all to do with the
single just power of government, namely, what it needs to secure our basic
rights. On June 23rd the US Supreme Court sanctioned perhaps the grossest
of abuses of government powers, namely, the feudal police power or eminent
domain, which the US Constitution had restricted to be used only for a
genuine public purpose (such as taking private property so as to build a
t house or a police station). In its ruling on June 23rd, 2005, in the
case of Kelo v,. New London, the Court affirmed, instead, that takings for
whatever purposes governments deem desirable?economic development, tax
revenue increase, you name it?are OK.
Just how reactionary this ruling is can be appreciated that back in the
early 1800s the court struck down the use of the very same kind of police
power for purposes of prohibiting labor stoppages because, despite the
fact that according to the common law practice government had the power to
promote economic stability, the US Constitution implied that the rights of
laborers trumped such police powers. So it ruled, in Commonwealth v. Hunt,
45 Mass. (4 Metc.) 111 (1842) that despite the fact that labor strikes
clearly amounted to an impediment to a community?s economic well being,
the rights of laborers superceded any government interest to promote such
development.. So, clearly, this recent ruling by the Supreme Court is
reactionary! It treats collective goals?that are really just the goals of
some people in a community--as superior to individual rights, such as the
right to private property.
Legislatures, too, care not a bit for human liberty, being as they are now
totally habituated to lord it over us with whatever project their members
deem to be worthy of everyone?s support. City, county, state and federal
projects get funded galore from resources that ought to be for individuals
and their voluntary associations to allocate as they choose. Instead every
branch and level of government dips into our pockets with total
impunity?including by means of the most blatant abuse of the Fifth
Amendment?s ?takings? clause that in fact empowers them all only to take
property for public use (meaning court houses, military bases or police
stations, all of which are means for securing our basic rights). Nowadays
our representatives see no limit whatsoever to their alleged power to
take, take, and take some more.
So what then are all these people celebrating, when the very institutions
created to secure our rights are hell bent?and have for decades been hell
bent?on violating these same rights in every nook and cranny of our lives?
Where is the respect for and joy about the actual content and meaning of
the revolutionary document that?s supposedly be celebrated on the Fourth
There may be one bit of silver lining within all these ominous clouds of
creeping tyranny. That is that around the rest of the globe more and more
people are clamoring for their liberty, their individual sovereignty, even
without fully grasping its implications. The Soviets were sent packing; it
looks like some of the Latin American and even African countries are
finally abandoning the bad habit of tolerating dictators; relatively free
markets are emerging in China and the former Soviet satellites, and the
world is gradually becoming a global economy where millions and millions
are beginning to get a chance to compete and prosper (even as their
intellectuals and politicians want to contain the trend).
Americans, however, more often than is good for anyone, are regressing.
They are becoming like so many of the Europeans, especially the French,
begging for government protection of their vested interests, be these of
the economic, environmental, scientific or educational variety. As in the
pre-revolutionary eras, when only members of certain favored classes had
the legal protection to try to flourish in life?usually at others?
expense?these champions of protectionism (protect my job, my favorite
bird, my favorite sport, my preferred scientific project, you name it)
give not a hoot about everyone?s equal rights, based on everyone?s equal
No, these folks follow not the ideas and ideals of John Locke and the
American Founders but those of Thomas Hobbes and the rest of the ?war of
all against all? champions. They are hoping, in their incoherent ways, to
win over governments to their causes, getting the bureaucrats and cops to
do their bidding while completely neglecting the idea that both these
professionals are supposed to serve all members of the public, equally,
with the protection of the peace.
Maybe what we need is to abolish this holiday altogether, drop the
pretense that most people care about anything besides the fanfare, fire
works, and barbecues. Let?s just admit that freedom had a short and uneasy
career on this continent and was mostly sacrificed on the altar of power,
of the power of some over the sovereignty of others. And even the others
didn?t seem to mind enough to protest. Then, perhaps, some will begin to
think about what has been lost and take certain necessary steps to recover
it all, whatever that would be.