12 September 2008

Why America?

On this day after the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, too many Americans are unclear about why America exists and why they live here. Forthwith, a short refresher:

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, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

This quote from the US Declaration of Independence serves to point out that the founders of this country believed that Human Rights are not endowed by government - any government. Human Rights are endowed by our unspecified Creator, meaning that Human Rights are an integral, inseparable part of being a Human Person. It means that people set up governments to protect their rights. It means that Human Rights precede any government, including democratic government. You still have Rights even if a majority of the people vote to deny them to you.

In other words, the power of legitimate governments over people is limited. There are certain things a legitimate government is simply not allowed to do to you. And whenever this is not the case, the government in question is not legitimate.

It is the furtherance of this idea of limited government (classic liberalism) that is the stated reason the United States exists, and the assent and commitment to this idea is the reason to live in America and to be and American.

Ah, but there is the question of implementation.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The preamble to the US Constitution is a one-sentence mission statement for a government of a whole nation, for all time. It's drafters intended to found a Republic, a form of representative democracy, in which one's Human Rights were simply assumed. Wise objections soon arose that Human Rights do not "go without saying." In order to secure them, the Founders listed the limitations on the power of the new government over individuals and groups. These are the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. Not only do we have Representative Democracy, we have Constitutional Liberal Representative Democracy.

At least, that's how we try to have the benefits of government, while limiting the power of government to coerce or harm us. There may be other ways. But legitimate government is limited government, maintained by consent of the people governed. Any other government is, to an American, not legitimate. At least, not for the indefinite future.

Does the rest of the world go along with us on that? Even the enemies of democracy pay lip-service to democracy by using the word in the names they give themselves, like the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). The liberal democratic movement has its enemies, but it has been gradually catching on since 1776, when there was only one such government. Now there are many.

America's mission in the world is to lead, foster, and foment this movement. And to defend it against all enemies.

What the debate in America should be about is how to lead, foster, foment, and defend the spread of liberal democracy. Not whether to do it.

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