Posts Tagged ‘American exceptionalism’

To Be American

July 4, 2010

I. What is it to be American?

What is it to be an American?  Is it to live at certain points on a map?  Is it to have the right to vote?  Is it to have the right to free speech?  Is it to have the strongest military?  Is it capitalism?  Is it George Washington?  Norman Rockwell?  William Faulkner?  Aaron Copland?  John Wayne?  Baseball?  Apple pie?  All of the above?  None of the above?  Or is it something much more?

II. America is an Idea

America is really an idea: an idea of liberty, or freedom.  It is an idea that recognizes man is born with certain rights which are inseparable from him.  It is an idea of a new nation.  A nation based on a form of government by the consent of the governed, founded on certain principles, and granted certain powers organized in such a way as to best secure those rights and liberties for the people it governs.  This idea of a new American nation is set out in two separate but interconnected documents: The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.  The Constitution flows from and is a natural outgrowth of the principles of the Declaration. 

III. The Vision of the Founders

The men who created and shaped these two documents, America’s founding fathers, were men of great vision but also men of practical common sense.  They truly believed they were putting forth self-evident truths, but they knew full well the radical departure they were taking from what must have seemed, at the time, the destined march of human history.  So when Thomas Jefferson put ink-dipped quill to paper, the Declaration of Independence, he knew, would be a fundamental rejection of all other forms of government extant at that time.  Most especially, the Founders of the new American nation were intent on differentiating and separating themselves (or dissolving all political bands) from the country that was their progenitor turned antagonist: Great Britain.

In taking this upon themselves, the Founders relied on the protection of Divine Providence and pledged to one another their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.  If they failed, they knew that their lives would be over, and that no future history would remember them for long.  Indeed, they and their cause would be a mere footnote to history: rebels who dared challenge the might of the British Empire and who were justly crushed by it.  But they did not fail.  Miraculously, they succeeded in their cause.  They prevailed, even though at times all seemed lost. 

The Founders knew, however, that it would not be enough to merely win.  They knew that if they were victorious over the British they could not simply substitute one kind of tyranny for another: one despotic ruler for another despotic ruler.  No, the form of government which they would need to create and put in place would have to be something quite different from the European model of a supreme centralized state authority as embodied in the personage of a king.  Indeed, so worried were they about this, that the first form of government they ratified, the Articles of Confederation, was hardly a government at all.  It was so removed from any central form of government that it resulted in near anarchy and was an utter failure.  So they tried again.  And this time they got the balance right.

The Founders envisioned and created a new and unique form of government.  They foresaw that if they put in place only that government which was absolutely necessary, such conditions would allow the maximum amount of liberty for the people.  They knew government could never deliver happiness to people and, if it ever tried, it would only create the opposite result.  Rather, they understood that if people were merely allowed to pursue their own happiness, that they would, and that in their own way they would find it.

They also foresaw that power in such a system of government would need to be diffuse.  They understood all too well that men were not to be trusted with power: that they were easily corrupted by it.  Hence, the form of government they would establish would have power so balanced and so spread throughout its various layers that no one individual or group of individuals could credibly accumulate and concentrate power and so pervert the system into tyranny. 

And so, the formulation of a system of government was created based on certain guaranteed liberties and certain checks and balances on power.  It was to be one that would be a bulwark against those unscrupulous individuals who crave power and would seek to use power to subvert liberty.

IV. American Exceptionalism

Alexis de Tocqueville

So unique was this new system of American government that people began to talk about it, and the concept of “American Exceptionalism” arose.  American Exceptionalism is something I have touched on several times before in these writings.  It is a philosophy that can be traced back to Alexis de Tocqueville, a French historian who in the 1830s travelled throughout the young American nation and was quite impressed by what he saw.  And no wonder. Coming from Europe where despotism was still entrenched, American democracy was a refreshing and remarkable experiment.  So inspired was he that he wrote about it.  His treatise, Democracy in America, is a major work on the early American nation, its government and society.  In it, he depicted America as having established a form of government that created a remarkable balance between individual liberty and the needs of the community.  In this, he saw the young American nation as truly unique in the world.  Indeed, it was exceptional.

V.  Abraham Lincoln and American Liberty

Abraham Lincoln also knew that America was a unique and exceptional nation.  Delivered in the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is a kind of testament and prayer in recognition of America’s unique position in the world.  At the time, the fate of this nation “conceived in liberty” must have seemed very much in doubt, and Lincoln obviously feared that this, the only beacon of liberty on earth, could very well be snuffed out.  On this July 4th, it is worth remembering his stirring and enduring words:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.  Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.  But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate…we can not consecrate…we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. –Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863.

The nation survived that ordeal, but both Lincoln, and the Founders before him, knew that this unique concept, this idea of liberty embodied in a nation, would be tested throughout its existence, as it had been during the Civil War.  And they knew it would be tested from without and from within.  The year following his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln made the following statement on liberty:

We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names—liberty and tyranny.  –Abraham Lincoln, 1864

VI. Liberty and Tyranny Today

Lincoln’s quote on liberty and tyranny seems most prescient.  For in America today there are those who would call a thing liberty when it is really tyranny.  They are Americans who would do with other Americans and the product of other Americans’ labors as they please and all the while call that liberty.  Or compassion.  Or spreading the wealth.  Or social justice.  Or socialism.  But by whatever words they may call it, it has but one name: tyranny.

They are the ones Lincoln and the Founders forewarned us against.  They are the ones who would test liberty again and again and, if they could, take America away from what it was and remake her into something else.  They would use the power of the government as a tool to compel Americans to do what they think Americans should be doing with their lives.  They would use the power of government to compel Americans to embrace certain things and give up other things; to compel Americans to obey certain rules but dispense with other rules.  And they would call these actions the granting of “rights” and they would do so operating under the banner of liberty.  They would change, if they succeed, the very idea of America.  

And they are succeeding.  They are doing these things right now, and they are doing them from within.  There are leaders in America today who think it is government’s role and function to change people’s inclinations: to get them to do what they think they should do.  They seek to enact laws that purport to make certain groups or classes of people healthier and happier; or laws that are intended to make things more affordable, or safer, or cleaner, or easier, or more efficient; or laws designed to advance a particular cause or industry or private—but politically connected—entity within an industry.  In essence doling out happiness, to some.  And all at the expense of other people.  This stands diametrically against everything the Founders envisioned for this country.  And it is an anathema to the very idea of America.  Charity and compassion when compelled by governments, are neither charity nor compassion.  They are hoped-for handouts, that in turn become expected welfare, and that in turn become entitlements.

Most Americans today don’t think or probably even care much about all this stuff.  For them, it is just a bunch of politicians bickering, as usual.  But make no mistake: there is a war going on right now and right here in America.  Not a war fought with guns and bullets (at least not yet) but with ideas.  And the victor will determine the kind of nation we will be.  On the one side are those who believe the Founders got it right from the beginning.  That their formulation is one that works better than any other system ever has or ever could.  On the other side are those who think that the Founders’ views, while perhaps historically interesting, are to be seen as quaint and misguided, and in these modern times, certainly outdated.  They see the Founders as just a bunch of decrepit old white men who dressed funny and wore funny wigs and who just “wouldn’t get” what America is all about today.  They see America as having run its course, as being on the wrong side of history, as needing to be more like modern Europe or other nations of the world.  They see America as a country in desperate need of change, or even “fundamental transformation.”  There is no single idea or viewpoint that could be more wrong or more dangerous to this country’s existence than this one, for it takes aim at the very heart of what we are.

VII. Conclusion

What makes us exceptional, unique and unlike the other nations of the world, both past and present, is an idea.  An idea of liberty that binds us together as Americans.  We, as a nation, took a divergent path off of the historical road towards strong centralized government.  Yet, there are those who would have us return to that road and become more like other nations.  If we do, we will move further away from what we are meant to be: further away from what it means to be American.

The Founders bequeathed to us and made us stewards of a simple and elegant formula.  A way for a self-governing and self-reliant people to pursue happiness on earth.  For the Founders, it was their vision, their dream.  And to be American today is to have the great privilege to actually live this beautiful dream as a reality.  Now, why on earth would we ever want to change that?

Related posts on this topic:

https://culturecrusader.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/coming-undone/

https://culturecrusader.wordpress.com/2010/03/22/america-r-i-p/

https://culturecrusader.wordpress.com/2010/03/20/why-you-don%e2%80%99t-have-a-right-to-healthcare/

https://culturecrusader.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/the-arrogance-of-hope-change-%e2%80%a6-or-else/

https://culturecrusader.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/glenn-beck%e2%80%99s-cpac-speech-tiger-woods-and-toilet-bowls-a-blackboard-and-brilliance/

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Why You Don’t Have a Right to Healthcare

March 20, 2010

 

 

 

I.  What is a Right?

Healthcare in America is not a right and cannot be a right so long as we live in a country that still recognizes the United States Constitution as the law of the land.  Our rights are embedded in Natural Law.  They do not come from a king, they do not come from the President or any other politician, they do not come from Congress, nor do they come from the government as a whole or from some special group of policy makers within the government.  They do not even come from the Constitution itself.  Our rights emanate from the fundamental nature of our humanity or, if you will, from God.  As individuals, we are born with them.  The Constitution is the document under which our rights are protected.  Protected from what or whom? Why, from the government of course.  Or more to the point, the government’s inherent desire for ever more encroaching power and control over our lives.

Because our rights derive from our own individual humanity, healthcare, whether provided by the government or somebody else, cannot, by definition, be a human right.  And why is this?  Because if it were a right, we would be able to require of another person that he or she provide it to us, which would then infringe on that person’s rights.  In other words, if a so-called right requires someone else to do something for you or give something to you (i.e., guaranteed care whenever you are sick) then it is not a right.  So if healthcare is not a right, what is it?  It is a good.  A good is something we want or need, as opposed to something we naturally possess from birth.  So healthcare is no more a right than is food, clothing, housing, high-speed Internet access, or a double mocha latte from Starbucks. 

What are some examples of rights?  We have a right to life, to speech, to worship, to travel, to due process (or fairness); we also have the right to be left alone.  These basic rights and others are to be found among the first ten amendments to the Constitution, otherwise known as the Bill of Rights.  But when you think about it, they are not really rights at all. There is nothing there that is being given to Americans that they do not already naturally possess.  They are more like prohibitions – prohibitions placed upon the government; things that the government shall not do to infringe upon the rights of the individual.  “Congress shall make no law…” this right “shall not be infringed…” this other right “shall not be violated,” the Bill of Rights is replete with such language.  So if we already possess these rights, why were they even added to the Constitution?  Because the people were, understandably, suspicious of government and in fact feared a government that would not only fail to secure their rights but actually, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, become “destructive of these ends.” 

 

 

II. The Progressive View 

Of course none of this squares at all with what Progressive politicians are saying.  Those great liberal luminaries, Dennis Kucinich, Tom Harkin, Nancy Pelosi and even Barrack Obama, have all argued that healthcare either is or should be a right in this country.  If they think it is already a right, then they either are unable or unwilling to comprehend the above analysis.  On the other hand, believing it should be a right is even more troubling because that implies that they —the officials of the government — actually think they have the power to grant it as a right.  Well, they who have the power to give, also have the power to take away.

But all this begs the question, why are these deep-thinking Progressives so hot to make only healthcare a right?  What about food? What good is it being healthy if you don’t have anything to eat?  What about housing? You need a place to sleep don’t you? What about a job?  How about a car to get to the job?  How about a place to rest when you go on vacation from your job?  Sound good?

Well, believe it or not, these things can all be yours.  Just one little catch: you have to leave the country.  Yes, the governments of other fine nations, both existing and defunct, have provided in their constitutions for all of the above, including healthcare.  Regarding the healthcare “right,” here is just a brief sampling: 

Article 42.  Citizens … have the right to health protection.This right is ensured by free, qualified medical care provided by state health institutions; by extension of the network of therapeutic and health-building institutions; by the development and improvement of safety and hygiene in industry; by carrying out broad prophylactic measures; by measures to improve the environment; by special care for the health of the rising generation, including prohibition of child labor, excluding the work done by children as part of the school curriculum; and by developing research to prevent and reduce the incidence of disease and ensure citizens a long and active life.

This comes from the U.S.S.R.’s Constitution of Fundamental Rights, as amended in 1977.

Here is the right to healthcare from the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (as adopted in 1982): 

Article 45. Citizens of the People’s Republic of China have the right to material assistance from the state and society when they are old, ill or disabled. The state develops the social insurance, social relief and medical and health services that are required to enable citizens to enjoy this right. The state and society ensure the livelihood of disabled members of the armed forces, provide pensions to the families of martyrs and give preferential treatment to the families of military personnel. The state and society help make arrangements for the work, livelihood and education of the blind, deaf-mute and other handicapped citizens

And to satisfy the Michael Moore crowd, the Cuban Constitution (as amended in 2002) also gives everyone the right to healthcare:

Article 50: Everyone has the right to health protection and care. The state guarantees this right; by providing free medical and hospital care by means of the installations of the rural medical service network, polyclinics, hospitals, preventative and specialized treatment centers; by providing free dental care; by promoting the health publicity campaigns, health education, regular medical examinations, general vaccinations and other measures to prevent the outbreak of disease. All the population cooperates in these activities and plans through the social and mass organizations.

Finally, there’s this one:

… Healthcare is a basic right … to be provided through a not-for-profit plan.  We … include coverage for those excluded… We … free the states. We … have control over private insurance companies and the cost their very existence imposes on [our] families.  We … provide a significant place for alternative and complementary medicine, religious health science practice, and the personal responsibility aspects of health care which include diet, nutrition, and exercise.

Actually, those are the words of Congressman Dennis Kucinich in a speech he gave just last Wednesday regarding his plans to vote on the upcoming bill for government managed healthcare in this country.  Sound familiar?

 

 

 

III. America the Exceptional

I often get this from liberals: “Most of the industrialized world thinks that healthcare is a human right, why not the United States?” Well most of the world, industrialized or not, thinks a lot of things that are decidedly un-American, including the government’s power to bestow healthcare (and other things) as a right.  One has to ask, how did America get to be America?  By becoming like the rest of the world?  By giving things away for free? Heck no!  What makes us still today the shining beacon to the rest of the world is that we are different from the rest of the world.  We are exceptional.  And what allows us to be exceptional is the recognition that our rights and liberties are intrinsic to the individual and not derived from government.  Where over the course of human history through to this day, governments of other nations have handed down rights to the peoples they’ve governed and have, in the name of those very rights, meddled, restrained and enslaved, in America the individual rights and liberties of our people have freed us to create, innovate, invest, build, grow and pursue success and happiness in every conceivable way, including giving it all away if that is an individual’s choice.

So really the question is not so much whether healthcare is or is not a right, because in America it is not.  Rather the question is what kind of country we want to be. 

For more on the healthcare debate, link to:

https://culturecrusader.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/fortune-favors-the-brave/

https://culturecrusader.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/the-arrogance-of-hope-change-%e2%80%a6-or-else/