Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Independence Day

And so another Independence Day rolls around. Happy birthday USA!

I wonder whether Democracy Now! will be "celebrating" again this year by having famous actors and actresses read journal entries from radical leftists who hated America. 'Cause last year their show was all about all the things the US has done wrong (or "wrong" in many cases, since I don't share their Socialist worldview).

Of course, a great chunk of their broadcast last year was eaten up by reading from victims of slavery and racism. And indeed, slavery and racism are blights on the history of this country - can't disagree with them there. But I DO take issue with the view that America itself was somehow conceived in racism and slavery, or that we're forbidden from being proud of our history because of these things.

There's no space here to take on the whole race-baiting industry, of course, so I'll stick to one interesting and appropriate inconvenient truth. The link goes to the original draft of the Declaration of Independence - which was penned by Thomas Jefferson, well-known slave-owner:


he[King George III] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce:[11] and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.


And there is also this - some meditations on black people (also by Thomas Jefferson) which concludes:


I think a change already perceptible, since the origin of the present revolution. The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation.


In other words, if slavery was with us from the beginning, so was guilt about it. So was the recognition that it was wrong, and the hope that it would soon be abolished. And real history vindicates this view: the United Kingdom DID soon abolish slavery - perhaps the first time in history a real attempt had been made to stamp it out. And the United States soon followed suit (though not without a bloody Civil War, of course).

None of this is to say that this nation doesn't have racial sins to atone for. It is just to point out that much of the finger-pointing that "Democracy Now!" and the rest of the "blame America" crowd like to indulge in is only possible from the perspective of the present. From the perspective of the times in question, the United States was quite liberal, and was in fact a leader in the crusade AGAINST slavery and racism (though the UK has a better record here). Slavery remained legal and common in the rest of the world outside Europe and North America well into the 20th century.

In any case, if the lefties want to spend the 4th pointing the finger as usual, they would do well to remember that historical changes rarely are the result of an overnight realization that this, that or the other thing is immoral. The realization itself may come to us in a flash, but our ability to change the status quo doesn't operate on the same timescale. I myself am going to spend the 4th doing classwork as though it were any other day. But this isn't meant to be a reflection on my patriotism. I love this country - not because I was lucky enough to be born here, but because it is the nation that has done more than any other to keep the political ideals of Classical Liberalism - in my opinion the only civilized and humane political philosophy - alive and well. And yes, in spite of everything, I think our record on race and slavery confirms that this country has, though most of its history, been a beacon for individual liberty in the world.

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