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This hasn't been the kind of 4th of July essay I would have liked to have written -- or might have written in years gone by. But I'm too old and too disgusted to go through the motions of celebrating the national holiday...

Bethany [my wife] is sitting in the background watching 1776, and I'm pondering the 4th of July. Independence Day, the day that the first 2 signatories of that declaration put their names on the dotted line. I'm far too cynical to buy into the myth - American independence was started by rich men who wanted more and found Britain standing in their way, no more, no less. But even if you believe, as I do, that the Declaration is just a well written piece of propaganda... it's a great piece of propaganda. And it's easy to understand how people buy into the myth. If anything, that Americans do so wholeheartedly when the Declaration so fully espouses human equality and self-worth should be a source of hope.

The Declaration, along with the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights, despite their flaws, are probably some of the greatest documents ever penned by human hand, not because of what was intended at the time but because of what they have come to represent. America has never been a land of the free. It has never been a land of unrestricted liberty, and at times has been pretty draconian, discriminatory and oftentimes downright evil.
But what you can say about it is that it's still a country of ideals.
Those ideals have never been realised, but even in their phantasmic form, people are still called to what the Declaration and Constitution represent. Equality, justice, freedom, and individual self worth. Looking at America today, it's pretty hard to believe that those ideals are still alive at all - as Billmon says above, tribalism and "I'm better than you," nationalism seems to have taken over. But people here still believe in it. And people around the world, even if they've never heard of the Declaration, still believe in its principles. That's cause for celebration, of a sort. A dream, still, but hopefully one that won't die for a while, and even one which, if we're very, very lucky may actually one day exist.

Cross Posted to Taxation Without Representation.

Originally posted to Expat Briton on Mon Jul 04, 2005 at 08:45 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Comments, flames, mojo. (4.00)
    Not what I'd wanted to write today either - hopefully I'll have the time to compose a longer version in the next few days, and also my sinking feeling that there are many parallels with how Britain lost America, and America is now "losing" Iraq. But those will have to wait for another day.
  •  america never was america to [us] (4.00)
    and yet i say it plain: america will be

    crimson gates reek with meat and wine/while on the streets, bones of the frozen dead -du fu (712-770)

    by wu ming on Mon Jul 04, 2005 at 08:53:31 PM PDT

  •  I know someone who would appreciate this (4.00)
    My WWII vet neighbor who I just diaried about.

    Thank you so much for sharing these sentiments!

  •  I think that was the point... (none)
    We weren't expected to reach these ideals, but to keep trying.  I mean, when you think about it, not only are these ideals radical now (in the sense that people still stand against them), but they were even more radical when they were penned down.

    These "dead white men" really were heroes (with all the flaws that make them human) who really tried to set up a form of government that would let its citizens have as much freedom as possible.  What other tools of government explicitly set down what the government can't do?

    These were men of learning and science who did their best to give us the chance to keep chains off us, despite the almost heartbreaking tendency for most people to beg for them (always "for the good of others" "for the children" - I tend to vote with Carlin on this: "...Oh yeah? Well, FUCK the children.")

    "Every day, in every way, I think I'm going to vomit."

    by seronimous on Mon Jul 04, 2005 at 09:39:37 PM PDT

  •  You might enjoy (none)
    this take on the foundations of Liberty from the NY Times today:

    When rich London and Paris stockbrokers proudly retain their working-class accents, when audiences show up at La Scala in track suits and sneakers, when South Africans and Thais complain that the police don't read suspects their rights the way they do on "Starsky & Hutch," when anti-government protesters in Beirut sing "We Shall Overcome" in Lebanese accents - all these raspberries in the face of social and legal authority have a distinctly American tone. Or, perhaps, a distinctly Native American tone, for among its wellsprings is American Indian culture, especially that of the Iroquois.

    The Iroquois confederation, known to its members as the Haudenosaunee, was probably the greatest indigenous polity north of the Rio Grande in the two centuries before Columbus and definitely the greatest in the two centuries after. A political and military alliance formed by the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and, after about 1720, the Tuscarora, it dominated, at its height, an area from Kentucky to Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain. Its capital was Onondaga, a bustling small city of several thousand souls a few miles south of where Tocqueville stopped in modern Syracuse.

    (found thanks to NYCO's post at Liberal Street Fighter and NYCO's Blog)

  •  The difference between liberals and... (none)
    ...conservatives is that liberals work to have those ideals fulfilled in the future, and that instead conservatives mourn that they used to be fulfilled in the past that we should return to.

    "Never give up, never surrender"

    by wonkydonkey on Mon Jul 04, 2005 at 11:52:50 PM PDT

  •  I agree that (none)
    the state of which we always find ourselves in is a reduced ugly version of "ideal." But those simple papers gave us people everything we needed and need now to realise the entire truth of what's intended from the heart. We really can sit back and say that it's the elite that will always run this country and others but that would be a lazy.
    Theres this homeless man around the corner who's mentally ill, he walks two steps forward, pauses and then goes one step back. That's America. That's democracy. And that's also the limit of what the majority of it's citizens can stand in terms of " change." We'd rather ,for now, pick a rich rock star to govern us than a grassroots name because we need the comfort somehow. It comes in stages. But we do move forward.

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