Celebrating Self Government

Posted: July 4, 2012 in Category - Cultural War, Celebrating Self Government

The Heritage Foundation
New Common Sense
Applying First Principles to the Issues of Today
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From Buddists to Zoroastrians: Defending religious liberty for all.

What’s the limit to Congress’s taxing power?
Around the Country
What’s the verdict on the Obamacare opinion?

Charles Krauthammer: The greatest constitutional finesses of all time.

John Yoo: It’s exactly the big-government disaster it appears to be.

Yuval Levin: The Court’s rewriting of the law strengthens the case for repealing it.

Michael McConnell: The Chief Justice is taking the long view.

Todd Gaziano: A limited victory for limited government.

George Will: A long-term victory for Conservatives

Quick Thoughts
Constitutional fireworks: Woodrow Wilson and the 100 year war on First Principles.
Question of the week: Who is the only President born on the Fourth of July?
From the bookshelf: The Democratic Party has long presented itself as the party of the poor, the working class, the little guy. In Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, Jay Cost traces the history of the modern Democratic party from the party of reform to the party of special interest carve outs.


Celebrating Self-Government

Every Fourth of July, Americans celebrate with fireworks and barbeques and John Philip Sousa. Then we return to our regularly scheduled lives.

But this Independence Day is different. Last week, the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare, an unprecedented expansion of government’s power into one-sixth of the economy and a tremendous loss to individual liberty. Now more than ever we need to embrace our nation’s First Principles and remember what it takes to be self-governing citizens.

The Declaration of Independence announced to the world that the American colonies were free and independence states, no longer ruled by Great Britain. It articulated certain truths about people and governments: all men equally possess certain rights, and the government operates by our consent to secure these rights. The Declaration of Independence is about self-government.

Typically, that brings to mind the basics of political participation: voting, signing petitions, serving on a jury, and complaining to your congressman. These activities are important, but they aren’t the whole story. The Founders understood self-government in a twofold sense: political self-government, by which we govern ourselves as a political community and moral self-government, according to which each individual is responsible for governing himself.

The Founders relied on four virtues to sustain individual self-government.

  • Self-reliance. Forged through hard work, it prevents citizens from depending on the state.
  • Courage. Self-confident citizens nourish freedom and defend liberty from foreign and domestic threats.
  • Responsibility. Independent citizens understand the limits of government and solve problems for themselves.
  • Moderation. Reasonable citizens control their impulses, and respect the rights of others, the constitutional process, and the rule of law.

But this understanding of self-governing citizens has been supplanted by a new version of the modern ideal citizen. Recently, Americans met Julia, the faceless cartoon woman starring in an online ad for the Obama campaign. She’s the modern American girl whose success in life can be chalked up to the helping hand of government.

She gets a federally-subsidized education, college loans, free birth control, free prenatal care (when she “decides to have a child;” no father is mentioned), a small business loan, and retirement security because of the ever-present and ever-President Obama. Her success apparently has nothing to do with her own initiative, talent or hard work. It’s attributed to government programs, there to bless and subsidize every activity of life. The idea of self-government, which is at heart of the Declaration of Independence, has been replaced.

We’re being told, essentially, that we’re incapable of governing ourselves. Instead, we need bureaucrats to determine what our children learn in Head Start, and primary school. Other faceless desk jockeys will approve our college loans. With the Supreme Court upholding Obamacare, even more bureaucrats will be necessary to select our health care plans.

Experts aren’t just “helping” with life-changing issues such as education and healthcare. There’s also a slate of bureaucrats to cover the mundane activities of life: picking light bulbs, deciding credit-card terms, and figuring out how much cola it’s safe to consume.

This isn’t what our forefathers fought for.

To name one: Levi Preston was in his early twenties when he fought in the Battle of Concord, the beginning of the American Revolution. Years later he was asked why he fought.

Preston responded that it wasn’t the tax on tea. “I never drank a drop of the stuff; the boys threw it all overboard.” It wasn’t the burdensome Stamp Act. “I never saw any stamps.” Nor was it John Locke’s inspiring book. “We read only the Bible, the catechism, Watt’s Psalms and Hymns, and the Almanack.”

Well, what was it? “What we meant in going for those redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”

On this Fourth of July, let’s remember our principles and celebrate our self-government. Then, the rest of the year, let’s do our best to live them out.

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