The Declaration of Dependence

America desperately needs a recommitment to the idea of independence.

Today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day.  Well, yesterday actually, but since most people have Sunday off already, celebrating it then would be a waste of a holiday.  It's not quite the violation of history that it might appear, since the Declaration of Independence wasn't signed until a bit later anyway and the people who signed didn't all sign at the same time.

Be that as it may, the Declaration of Independence was the formal notification that the American colonies considered themselves no longer subject to the King or Parliament of England - as the Founders put it, becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them...

Up until that time, the citizens of America had expected to be both ruled and protected by the British Empire.  British soldiers came to defend American colonists during the French and Indian war; British soldiers protected Americans from raiding hostile natives; the British navy defended American ships from Spanish forces and raiding pirates.  The colonists were completely in favor of this, of course, until the British tried to raise taxes to get the colonists to pay the costs of their defense.

In declaring independence, the Continental Congress was saying that from this day forward, America would rely on its own abilities - its own people, its own power, its own forces - to make its way in the world, standing on its own two metaphorical feet as the equal of any other nation.

Independence Day celebrates our political independence.  But that political independence came out of something even more far-reaching and important: a tradition of individual independence.

You: Responsible For You

Recollect the traditions of European society during the colonial era.  The days of medieval feudalism were dying, true, but the history was very fresh.  Almost everyone in Europe was bound to one or more other people by mutual obligations formal or informal.

The peasants had some obligation to work on the lord's land and pay his taxes, but the lord was obliged to protect his peasants from raiders, to fund necessary public works, and often to provide what today we'd call individual charity or welfare to the destitute of the village.

The lord was expected to support the king and provide soldiers when required, but the king was expected to defend the traditional rights and privileges of the nobility.  No man except possibly the king himself had true freedom of action, motion, career, or much else; for the nobles the restrictions were far cushier but no less strong for all that.

The world of early America was utterly different.  It was both legally and practically possible for a man to strike out into the virgin forest with nothing more than a few tools on his back, and carve out a living from the resources found in nature.  He might chop down trees, build a cabin, and create a farm where none was before.  He might instead roam the mountains trapping animals for fur, selling them once yearly to buy the few essential supplies he'd need for the coming months.

An American answered to nobody, or if he did, only to the extent that he himself was willing to - for the wilderness was always beckoning over the next hill.

This environment, utterly and profoundly different from anything in the Old World, created a totally new culture - one that cherished freedom, liberty, and above all, independence.  From that day almost to this, Americans have deeply disliked being told what to do or how to do it by anyone, and through their own industry and initiative, mostly been able to tell their would-be masters to shove it.

Bread and Circuses

Alas, no more.  For a majority of Americans, statisticians and pollsters tell us, their living is now provided by an all-encompassing government to whom they must pay fealty and homage as surely as the lowliest peon of Muscovy.

A woman who prefers a government check to a husband is not merely no longer the master of her own fate in any meaningful way; she is subject to the whims of a mechanism outside of any reach, control, or influence of her own - the most tyrannical husband is nothing compared to an unfeeling and faceless bureaucracy.

A man who holds a government job is tightly constricted, both by law and custom, from expressing his political opinions in any useful way.  When government employees were few, this was fine; but as the number of government workers bodes fair to exceed the private sector, how can democracy survive?  For the majority of government employees who are forced into unions, their dollars go into the pockets of union bosses whose interests and power is almost totally opposed to what the individual workers might prefer.

What of the independent small businessman?  Alas, there's no such thing anymore; that "independence" is an illusion.  With government approaching half the economy, vast numbers of supposedly independent businesses in truth depend on government for their very livelihoods; they must kiss the ring of their political masters if they want to continue to exist.

Even the purveyor of something that has nothing to do with government service - a restaurant, say, or a gas station - must comply with an infinity of intrusive regulations, bowing and scraping before

...swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance...

and who hold the power to destroy a life's work on a whim.  When the President can demand the resignation of private executives, demand that private businesses pay money without any court order, and shut down entire industries at the stroke of a pen, what true independence does anyone have?

Instead, we are generously granted sufficient resources to sustain life and sufficient entertainments to keep us occupied.  Little by little, Americans are being turned from independent citizens into dependent subjects... and eventually, subservient slaves.

A Restoration

The founders of America took great risks and paid a heavy price to achieve their freedom, both the great names that grace our history books, and the anonymous unknowns who tamed the wilderness one rock at a time.  Many died; some were impoverished; all were inconvenienced, and all paid with blood, and sweat, and toil, and tears.

We modern Americans have lived splendidly in the house they built, but we've been too lazy to maintain or defend it.  As a result, the beams have been rotting away, and over the last several years we've suddenly discovered that walls we thought were stout and immovable are showing cracks, holes, or even falling down entirely.

But the house of America as a whole has not yet caved in, though we can hear Barack Obama and his hordes of un-American anti-Constitutionalists sawing through the joists and prying stones from the foundation even as we eat our barbecue.  We need not be imprisoned by a totalitarian statist government that represents only itself.  We still have the right to vote, and the right to change our government from top to bottom.

This is the true measure of independence - can we recognize the urgent need to slash the overwhelming size of government, even if we ourselves lose a few cherished benefits?  If someone we know loses their job as a bureaucrat?  If a neighbor might gain the right to do something we'd rather he didn't, because of a new respect for private property?  If we no longer imagine ourselves cushioned by the government should we fall on hard times - not that we ever truly were?

If not - if Americans would rather depend on the government to protect them from all ills and provide them for all needs - then the great dream of the Founders is well and truly dead.

But if so, an awesome hacking and slashing of government not seen in all of human history outside of violent revolutions must begin, and at once.

Or before long - certainly in the lifetimes of most of those reading this - we will no longer have an Independence Day to celebrate because we won't have any independence at all.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
The vast majority of people value the ability to prevent others from doing things they don't want them to do more than they value their own freedom.
July 5, 2010 9:48 AM
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