With the 4th of July coming up, it is easy to get distracted by all the flag waving, the tricolor banners and the emphasis on national independence, to forget that the American Revolution was caused by the political abuse of power, rather than by a pure striving toward national independence. Rather than an independence movement on the grounds of national identity, the American Revolution saw British citizens revolting against incursions on their rights and freedoms by a distant and powerful government.
The Declaration of Independence argues that rights are natural, and do not require a divinely appointed intercessor between man and G-d, in the form of a monarch. It states that the people of the United States do not derive their laws from being the subjects of a king, but from natural rights inherent in every human being, and that above all else they have the right to live, to be free and to pursue the course of their lives as they see fit.
This was a bold statement to make in a time when government received its authority from tradition and held its people as subjects, when church and state were intertwined so that the state held religious and even divine authority. The Declaration of Independence rejected the sanctity of government, instead putting forward the idea that government is nothing more than the consensual agreement of people as a tool for maintaining their affairs.
In a few short words what the 4th of July marks is a document that stated that henceforth in America, the people would not be creature of their government, but the government would be a creature of the people. The Declaration of Independence was not simply a declaration of national independence or the independence of the thirteen states-- it was a declaration of individual independence. It stated that not only did each American have rights and freedoms independent of any government, but that the government was his to make or unmake.
And yet the average American of 2009 is far more a creature of the government, than a colonial of 1769 ever was.
Thanks to the tattered remains of the Constitution the American of 2009 has managed to maintain some key political freedoms that his counterpart in 1769 did not have, but for all that his life is a tightly regimented and heavily taxed affair, overseen by a distant central government and its "multitude of New Offices" and their "swarms of Officers to harrass our people and eat out their substance" that the Declaration had complained about. Except today we call them Czars.
All this happened because Americans spent far too much time celebrating the forms of government, while forgetting the substance of their rights. Generations view the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as sacred documents, without actually understanding the fundamental principles that they embody. Meanwhile an activist judiciary has worked hard to create new "rights" out of whole cloth in the Constitution to be administered by the government, only to take away the plain rights that actually do exist in the Constitution. Government has become centralized and absolute.
We can still vote in legislators and executives, within the narrow parameters of a two party system in which both parties are absolutely committed to the expansion of government power. We cannot however vote away the bureaucracy, the "multitude of new Offices" and "swarms of Officers", who rule our lives directly, and whose numbers constantly keep growing without number.
The American political system has become a self-perpetuating interest group run by lawyers for the benefit of their supporters. A group that considers constitutional literalism to be outmoded and views government as a nanny caring for people who cannot properly care for themselves.
The British monarchy saw colonials as childlike subjects. The American government today sees them as self-destructive infants, too stupid to know what is good for them. The fundamental doctrine of tyranny in American today is no longer the divine authority of the king, but the temporal authority of the social worker. Both are premised on the incompetence and inequality of the ruled in relation to the rulers.
And so the nanny government constantly searches for new ways to project its subjects from themselves, while finding ways to turn a tidy profit on the arrangement. Are the pesky subjects smoking? Are they eating fatty foods? Are they driving fast cars, building houses not up to code and using plastic bags? Are they gambling, drinking and using insensitive language? Don't they know it's not good for them. "There oughta be a law" and sooner or later there is.
American government began as a tool with limited power, a hacksaw or an ax, and has since become a giant power jack of all trades with 300 different drills, saws and instruments built in, but which is too heavy to actually move anywhere or do anything with. But our fascination with the tool we had drove us to do what humans always do with tools, improve them to be able to do more. And government began doing more. Year by year, decade by decade and century by century, it grew larger and more powerful. And there came a day when no one knew how to shut it off anymore.
What does freedom mean anyway? Freedom as embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the 4th of July means freedom from government. The freedom to choose and shape laws and to treat government as a tool, rather than a master.
For now we still have ballots and voting booths. We can elect and unelect politicians. And when we elect the "wrong ones", the media and cultural establishment will smear them and tear them apart until we see reason and elect the men and women that they support. For now we still have that. But there were ballots and voting booths and in the USSR. There are ballots and voting booths in Iran. The key question is not simply who counts the votes, but do the votes actually count?
Democracy alone means that those who vote have a degree of control over the election of candidates. How much control they have depends on factors such as how open the nomination process is, how much influence raw money has on elections and help determine how much power vested interests exercise over the system, rather than the actual constituents.
In American politics, democracy has become a game in which winning the popular vote is the final goal. Those are the rules of the game that the various corporations, lobbies and special interest groups continue to play by in order to get what they want. For now. It is not inconceivable that they might at one date decided that they would be better served by modifying the rules of the game.
When the Republican governor of California and the Democratic assembly failed to win the public's constant for new taxes on the ballot, the immediate response from many pundits was to argue that the people of California had failed to make the right decision, and with adduced proof from their previous votes against illegal immigrants and gay marriage, should no longer be able to vote on ballot measures.
In East Germany, Erich Honecker once stated that the government had lost confidence in the people, and that they would have to regain the government's trust. There may come a time when the government loses confidence in the American people. As the King of England once lost confidence in his subjects.
Against that day, 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.
That is what freedom means. Government is either a slave of the citizenry or its master. In a free nation, government is a slave. In a slave nation, it is a master.