July 4 is the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and the founding of America as a new country in 1776. Today, 246 years later, for many it’s just a fun three-day weekend — a time of cookouts and fireworks.
Or maybe, for some who focus on slavery or other historical crimes, a time for lamenting the founding of America. But for anyone in any country who values freedom, it should be more — a time of contemplation and real celebration.
The Fourth commemorates the founding of America as a new country, not merely a regime or government, but a country founded on a fundamental ideal: the inherent rights of the individual. Individual liberty, the freedom of each person to exercise his or her rights, is the political condition necessary for every individual to flourish, and the fundamental foundation of a peaceful and prosperous society.
The Declaration explicitly explains and justifies this.
“All men” — all people — “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.”
America’s founders understood that governments are merely means to an end, and that end is the freedom of people to build their lives and their societies. The true source of society is the relationships we build with each other — the families, friendships, enterprises, churches and civil organizations — that constitute real society. Kings, commissars, politicians, bureaucrats and academic “experts” cannot engineer these and certainly cannot socially engineer a successful society.
Human beings are not pawns to be pushed around on a ruler’s chessboard, nor putty to be molded by a central planner. We are autonomous agents. Under a system of freedom — freedom of thought, speech, action, and enterprise — where each person’s rights are protected and each is constrained to respect each other’s rights, our relations with others are restricted to those we can mutually agree upon.
This system provides us the freedom and incentive to build better lives for ourselves and those around us. This system of a free civil society, with everyone’s rights protected, fosters maximum human flourishing. It promotes Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness like no other system can.
America was explicitly founded upon these principles 246 years ago. They were not implemented perfectly — most notably it took 89 years to eradicate the crime of slavery — but by pursuing these principles America became the freest, most benevolent and most prosperous country in human history. This should be an inspiration for everyone who values human freedom and human well-being. (For those who don’t value freedom: just leave us alone; you’ll be better off not provoking those of us who do.)
People everywhere should celebrate. It’s not just an American holiday, it’s about the success of a universal set of principles. Each of us should take time, today, to read or re-read the Declaration and to dedicate, or re-dedicate, ourselves to protecting and advancing freedom for all.
The Fourth of July is a celebration of the triumph of freedom, and it should be celebrated by everyone who values freedom, peace and prosperity. Happy Independence Day!
Charles N. Steele is Chairman of the Department of Economics, Business, and Accounting, and Associate Professor of Economics, at Hillsdale College.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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