When I was growing up, we referred to America as the land of liberty, land of the free, the country where Lady Liberty greeted all who came to her shores with open arms and a promise of the American dream. The early Americans took pride in what was called rugged individualism. Rugged Individualism is that quality of being able to rise or fall based on the individual making choices in the exercise of their God given liberty. The early Americans took their liberty seriously, very seriously in fact. In 1791 when the Federal Government tried to impose a whiskey tax, the people of western Pennsylvania rose up in insurrection. How dare the Government try to impose a tax, all of 9 cents per gallon, on the fruit of my labor!
In the following months tax collectors were chased out of town after being tarred and feathered, stills of compliant distillers were destroyed, and militia groups were formed to fight the Federal Government, if that is what it came to. This wasn’t just a 9 cent tax; this was an assault on the very liberty that God had given them, the second right the right of labor and of property. Where are those Americans today? Where is the outrage today? Today our liberties are being taken away at a breathtaking pace and there seems to be more outrage from the supporters of this liberty theft, towards the few who do voice their complaints, than from the Americans whose liberty is dying like the last few rays of sunlight at the end of a perfect summer day.
I don’t hear much talk these days about the importance of individual liberty, or of American exceptionalism. On one of his many apology tours abroad, President Obama said the following, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." This is quite profound. If this is the best that the President of the United States can come up with, then what must he really think of this country? What this says to me is that the President does not see the role that the United States plays in the world as being markedly different from any other country in the world. Shouldn’t the President of the United States be the strongest advocate for his own country even if he doesn’t believe it?
America isn’t exceptional because the people are better than anyone else, that would be an absurd notion, because we are every one else, after all. America is exceptional because of the principles that it was founded on. In particular the following; “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal”. This belief alone makes America exceptional. While other countries mouth these words, there is little evidence that others actually believe this, or practice this. Here in America it is belief in this core foundational principle that makes us uniquely American. The Declaration of Independence goes even further by stating, “..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." Right here in black and white it could not be any clearer. The primary function of government, in the American view, is to protect the rights of the individual. This concept alone makes America exceptional among the nations of the world.
The very concept that men have rights given to them by God that are unalienable, and existed before the State, is unique in all of history. To my knowledge, it is unique in all of the world today. At the time of the writing of the Constitution most western societies believed that God gave the power to rule to the king and that the king alone controlled the individual liberties of the people. The people were little more than slaves to the king and his nobles. Today roughly 2/3rds of the world’s people still live under statist forms of governments with little regard to the rights of the individual. The rest of the world, that does enjoy some modicum of liberty, experiences liberty as a function of the liberty that America expresses. We are not just the lamp of liberty to our own people, but to all of the people in the world yearning to breath free.
This means that the weight of history is upon us to preserve our liberty at all costs. This is not just for our children, but for the future generations in other countries, that hope one day to break the chains that bind them to servitude to the state, and dream of the day when they can proudly proclaim, “in our country we also hold these truths to be self evident.”
In the final analysis America is really about one thing and one thing only; liberty. Not just any liberty but an identification with and a strong defense of individual liberty. Without this fundamental belief we are just another first world country trying to get by, and therefore not exceptional. America went from being a small group of British colonies in a backwater part of the world to the most prosperous and powerful nation the world had ever known by strictly adhering to, and upholding the principles of individual liberty. The wealth of any nation is directly correlated to the amount of individual liberty celebrated and enjoyed by the citizens of that nation. If we as a nation continue down this path towards statism and the destruction of individual liberty, we will also be witness to the destruction of the very prosperity that gave rise to our power. If America is to survive then we as a people must always remember what made America great, even if the current occupant of the White House never understood it.