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On the Great Liberal Manifiseto

If you have not read the texts of the six opening sentences of the Declaration of Independence since you were in High School, I suggest you take a moment to do so.

On the 4th of July, 1776, the United States were not, in fact, an independent country; rather it was the beginning of a long and hard struggle to make it one.

More importantly, it was the day the greatest manifesto of political liberalism in human history was signed and published. The ideas were not new; but Jefferson’s succinct prose in these six sentences, put the vision of political liberalism within the reach of common people. Over the next two centuries, peoples across the globe have taken these words as their own and have been inspired and motivated to claim they should not be subjects to a King or Lord; but citizens who deserve the same respect and rights as the rich and powerful.

By the decade following the 200th anniversary of the publication of these words, there was not a corner of the globe where they had not been heard and had inspired action. However, from the very first, here in America and across the planet, there have been those who see these words as a threat to ‘proper order.’ In the decades after WW2, dictators of every stripe were on the defensive feeling the power of political liberalism was the tide of history. Even dictators like Stalin tried to couch their totalitarianism in terms that appeared to accept the truths of Jefferson’s words because he knew their power.

Only in the past two decades have the forces of anti-liberalism felt bold enough to openly deny the basic precepts laid out in 1776. Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi have both made it their mission to declare and prove that the worlds experiment with liberalism is over and done. They want ordinary people to believe these words no longer have power and that true freedom only comes at the price of an authoritarian government that does not answer to “the people.”

Perhaps what saddens me the most, is that here in the United States we now have an open rejection of the ideals and creed that defines our country. On both the right and on the left there have always been those who reject popular sovereignty and universal rights. On the left have been a whole host of small ineffectual groups who claim that only by limiting the rights of people can justice be achieved. On the right however; there has always been strong groups who have openly used violence to maintain power and deny the humanity of some Americans. Men like Chief Justice Taney openly declared in his 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford that black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

To this day, we have those who do not believe that all people are created equal with an unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Just this month a justice on the Supreme Court stated that gay people don’t have those rights, and the Attorney General of Texas affirmed he would seek to imprison gay people if the state legislature told him to do so.

These statements did not appear from nowhere. Recently, there has been something new in the mainstream of conservative culture: an overt rejection of the ideals spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. This is not new however.

Sadly, men like John C. Calhoun (on whose land Clemson University Stands) not only worked hard to preserve the total rejection of any “unalienable rights” for black people in America; he worked to have race-based slavery reintroduced in places it had been abolished. The white ruling class in the Deep South was able to keep the legal apparatus used to strip black citizens of equality under the law into my lifetime. The KKK had hundreds of thousands of members across the South and Mid-West in the 1920s’. In the 1930’s The Bund, (the American Nazi Party) had tens of thousands of followers. No, anti-liberalism is not new in America. Such people have always been with us; but some of us had deluded ourselves into thinking that the strain of anti-liberalism had finally been quashed. Yet, now we know it had just gone underground.

For several decades there have been those who have deliberately (and falsely) conflated liberalism with Stalinism and anti-liberal ideologies in the post-Marx political world. These voices were so effective that in a large segment of America the very word “liberal” became to be used as a pejorative. However; most who did so, did it out of ignorance rather than a rejection of Jefferson’s words.

Only in the past four or five years have we found within the mainstream of conservatism, there is a strain that is openly and unapologetically opposed to the ideals of 1776. Some are in the camp that seek a theocratic America ruled by religious leaders (akin to Iran). Others are simply drawn to the strong-man image of authorities that the image will put down their perceived enemies while granting them favor and freedom. In both cases, such people are delusional. One thing we know of authoritarian regimes, they are no less oppressive to those who brought them to power than to those who opposed them. In both cases, they don’t believe in Jefferson’s key belief that just governments must get their power from the consent of the governed. A ruling minority group will never have this no matter how much they try to convince themselves that they are standing for “The American Way.”

So, as we celebrate the Holiday…let us renew our commitment to protect and defend the ideals and ideology set forth on July 4th, 1776.

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