Around the nation today, people celebrate what may be our final Independence Day ever. Our liberty, which we have taken for granted most of our lives, hangs by a thread, possibly to disappear forever. Individual human rights, the basis of our nation's founding, are threatened by an ideology that will crush anyone in its way. What is the basis of Independence day, and what threatens our liberty?
On July 4, 1776 the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia Pennsylvania to ratify the text of the Declaration of Independence. This document served to notify the world that the thirteen United States of America would no longer be a part of the British Empire. In it, Congress expressed that when a government destroys the rights of the people, the people can alter, abolish, or form a new government. Since then, the Declaration of Independence has served as the foundation for political philosophy and the relationship between the people and the government. The Declaration of Independence famously states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men 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."
The Declaration of Independence, drafted primarily by 33 year old Thomas Jefferson, reflected many of the ideas of the Enlightenment, which were prevalent at the time. Enlightenment philosophers pushed forward the ideas of equality and human rights.
Jefferson drew heavily on the ideas of John Locke, who had written the Second Treatise of Government in 1689. Locke proposed that to understand the relationship between the people and the government, one had to understand the State of Nature. According to Locke, God created all men as equals, and in the State of Nature, no person has authority over any other. This is not to say that the State of Nature was a State of Chaos. Instead, Locke explained that in the State of Nature, people were bound by reason, rather than the arbitrary laws created by people. "The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions."
To better understand human rights, let's go back to Locke's State of Nature. An easy way to understand human rights is to imagine that you are the only human on Earth. What would you have? To begin with, you would have your own life. Every cell in your body would work together to sustain your life and your health. You would have the right to protect your life from anything that would threaten it. You would have your mind, and the ability to think any thought that would enter it. No one could influence your thoughts, or prevent you from thinking anything stupid, obscene, irreverent, inappropriate, or life-changing. You would have the liberty to pursue any activity you could choose. You would wake up every morning, and make your own choices to build a shelter, procure food, pursue amusement, or any other option you could think of. Your choice of one activity would by necessity prevent you from pursuing another choice available to you, but each of your choices, and their results, would be your own. You would have the rewards or the consequences of your actions.
In the State of Nature, you likely would not even think of these things as rights. They would be as mundane as the sun rising every morning. Only when other people come into the picture do human rights become noteworthy. Only when humans interact with each other do human rights come under threat. Only in a society will people will seek to infringe on the rights of others by restricting what they can say, think, or do. Only in a society will people plunder the achievements of others. Human rights are exceptionally unremarkable, but infringement of human rights remarkably shaped human history.
The Declaration of Independence formed a new nation based on the principles of freedom and human rights years before the U.S. Constitution formed the framework for the Republic. That nation went on to become the most powerful and most prosperous nation the world has ever seen. Since that time, other nations have emerged following various philosophies and ideals.
Inspired by the American Revolution, the people of France overthrew the monarchy, and established the first republic. The National Assembly of France drafted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789. Soon, however, the Revolution became the altar upon which individual French citizens were sacrificed. The leaders of the new Republic saw the people as the means to achieve their ideological aspirations.
In 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published "The Communist Manifesto", which declared "The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win." Instead of losing their chains, nearly 100 million people lost their lives under Communism, according to The Black Book of Communism.
In February 1920, Adolph Hitler presented a 25 Point Program at a meeting of the National Socialist Party. Among these points, which became the Nazi Party Platform, was the ideal of the "Common Good Before Individual Good". The quest for the common good sucked the world into its deadliest war ever, and the sacrifice of tens of millions of lives.
In 1964, Egyptian Islamist author Sayyid Qutb published Milestones, which called on Muslims worldwide to create a society based on Quranic teachings. This book inspired groups such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al-Qa'ida, and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash Sham (ISIS). These Islamist movements seek to subject all people to Islamic rule, and along the way have killed, raped, enslaved, and displaced those who stood in the way.
We see from these and countless other historical examples that ideologies for the "common good" that place themselves ahead of individual human rights inevitably lead to atrocities. When individuals become pawns sacrificed to achieve a greater goal, or ideal, humanity suffers. Ideological movements crush individuals on the road to their Utopian societies. In the end, the road leads to death, destruction, and servitude. Individual freedom, on the other hand, leads to peace and prosperity limited only by the imagination of each individual. Societies that protect individual freedom become resilient and thrive. Individuals are best positioned to make their own choices for what is best for their own situations. When each individual strives to improve their own personal conditions, and engages with others through a free exchange of goods and services, society as a whole reaps the rewards.
The United States today is at a crossroads as we celebrate the ratification of the Declaration of Independence. Some seek to impose rule of force, using mob rule to strip away individual rights. They seek to infringe on individuals' rights to defend themselves and their loved ones. They seek to create an economy dependent on the state for provision of basic necessities. They seek to regulate the thoughts, words, and actions of others. They seek to plunder the achievements of those who create value. Some today seek to tear down the historic achievement of our founding fathers, only to replace it with an ideology that will inevitably destroy all individuals in its path. We need to once again declare to the world our independence, proclaiming that no one will stand in the way of our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. We need to resile from the threats to our individual rights. Otherwise, this could be our last year as a free country.