My column in today’s Greenville News.

Disclaimer:  Incidentally, two readers have commented (one on the newspaper website and one in an e-mail) that I should have spent more time decrying the oppressive history of the United States.  At one time there were slaves, after all. And we conquered and displaced the Native Americans. 

Well, all I can say is yes.  We did bad things. But the idea was a good thing. The goal was a good thing. The intellectual and moral and spiritual underpinnings of the American experience were brilliant and earth-shattering.  And in the end, the fruit of that experience was, and remains, a constant vigilance on the part of Americans to root out oppression and inequity.  If every column about the good of American spent half of its word count apologizing for America, well we wouldn’t have much time to say what a brilliant thing we have here, would we? 

 Furthermore, the history of every nation is tainted with some cruelty, some sin, just as the history of every man and woman is.  We are no greater as a nation than our collective as individuals.  So get over it.  And if the reader is too offended by this column, if the reader is unfazed by current developments in censorship and surveillance and the truncation of free speech, then the reader has his or her head in the sand of history.  Which will ultimately bury us all without due vigilance.

Every July 4th we celebrate our inheritance of freedom, purchased with remarkable courage and cost by our founders.  We think back to the momentous events that set in motion the great experiment that became our nation.  We consider the bold words of men like Patrick Henry, ‘give me liberty or give me death.’  And Nathan Hale’s words before hanging from a British rope, ‘I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.’

We replay the poetry of the Declaration of Independence about self-evident truths and the words that say, boldly (and politically incorrectly), that men are ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.’  Freedom gets good press on July 4th, amidst picnics and fireworks, concerts and re-enactors.

But I wonder, do we still want our inheritance?  Is it too difficult or costly? It’s worth asking. Maybe it’s just a little too much to endure.  Maybe we only want freedom until we have enough wealth and enough safety that surrendering it feels comfortable.  As if it ever could.

I wonder, as I find my nation under endless surveillance (with bipartisan support), if we really care enough to change?  We’ve all heard the line:  ‘If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.’  Perhaps we should say, ‘if you have no desire for freedom, (or don’t do anything interesting) you have nothing to fear.’

Freedom is at issue as we increasingly face a government which not only distrusts us all, but rules by proclamation, regulation and judicial decision, all unaccountable to the inconvenient masses.  A government whose ‘series of abuses,’ whose corruption and disinformation, whose expansion and lack of accountability to the electorate would stun the patriots of our revolution and in all likelihood make even old King George as red as his soldiers’ coats.

Do we want freedom?  This July 4th, I’m not convinced.  We certainly want free things, like benefits and entitlements. And we want free speech, so long as nobody says anything, now or in the past, offensive to the wrong group or the dominant cultural ideology.  And we want self-determination, but not if people have unequal outcomes.

I believe that far too many Americans like the idea of what our ancestors accomplished, but would surrender it all for cheap Internet access, physical safety, free health-care and a world in which their opinions could never be challenged; their feelings never hurt.

But that’s not what the founders intended.  They meant for us to have freedom with all its chaos and danger, as well as all its potential delights and benefits.

The founders, dear friends, would have been arrested…by us.  We would have threatened their political activities with taxes, we would have publicized every aspect of their private lives, we would have listened to their conversations for keywords that sounded dangerous.  We would have regulated them and followed them, and arrested them for their arsenals.

We would not have hung them; that’s too straightforward and decisive.  But we would had them evaluated by psychiatrists, or sentenced them for daring to question the status quo.  We would have coerced apologies from them on national television.

On the other hand.  Maybe Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and all the rest would have been a little happier with good insurance and lots of inexpensive movies online, and freedom be damned.

Thank God, they rose to heights that we can barely imagine and created a nation of freedom.  I pray we can recover their passion and be free as they intended.  Because freedom is difficult and confusing, messy and perilous.  But it’s the best inheritance they could possibly have left us.

And in the end, it’s up to us to either enjoy it, or put it in a box and hide it from our children forever in the interest of comfort, safety, popular opinion and some heretical, twisted view of historical progress.



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