The Real American Revolution

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Throughout history, individuals have been forced to live for the benefit of others, whether the king, the clan, or the community. On July 4, 1776, America’s Founding Fathers rejected this premise, taking an unprecedented step in human history and declaring to the world “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 culminated what John Adams would later call the “real American Revolution.” To Adams, “The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people” in the fifteen years prior to the start of the War of Independence. During that period, the nation witnessed a “radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people.” From loyal subjects of the British King, the American people turned into revolutionary intellectuals, willing to fight the most powerful military on earth.

The “real American Revolution” was fundamentally a revolution of ideas; completing the work of the Founders must be equally so. Just as the Founders fought for the principle of individual rights, so must we. But we must carry their battle one step further. We must defend the rights of each individual to his own life, his own liberty, and the pursuit of his own happiness, not just politically, but also morally.

For the Founders to throw off the chains of a tyrannical king was an act of utmost courage. It required the conviction that their cause was just. It required an intransigent devotion to the principles for which they fought. They did not take their actions lightly, pledging to one another “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, and the other Founding Fathers knew that if they were captured, they would be hanged as traitors. During the war, many Founding Fathers lost their lives, their fortunes, or both. But none lost their sacred honor. They fought for the most noble cause the world has ever witnessed—the inviolate rights of the individual.

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” as Thomas Paine wrote in the bleak winter of 1776.  “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

The task of completing the work of the Founders will try our souls. The Founding Fathers identified the ideas necessary to create this great nation. It is now our turn to fight the battle of ideas. We, who love America, can restore America to its glory and its greatness.

The battle to save capitalism and America can be won. To do so, we must, as occurred in the years prior to the War of Independence, change the “minds and hearts of the people.” Those who love America must do more than protest the latest government “stimulus,” bailout, or “entitlement” program. We must protest against the ideas that make such policies possible. More importantly, we must spread the right ideas, not variations of the same worn out ideas that have led us to where we are today. America will not be saved by debating over the beneficiaries of government largesse. Capitalism and America will only be saved by defending the idea that government regulations and controls violate individual rights and are never moral, no matter the cause. America will only be saved by defending the idea that each individual has a moral right to his own life, his own liberty, his own property, and the pursuit of his own happiness.

Syria and Altruism

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On CNN.com, a story about the Syrian government crackdown on dissidents includes the following quote: “Why are they treating us like animals? We are humans.” Sadly, most governments regard their citizens as animals. The source of this view is not political, but rather, it is moral.

The dominant morality in the world today, and indeed throughout history, is altruism. Altruism holds that each individual has a moral duty to self-sacrificially serve others. Auguste Comte, who coined the term altruism, wrote, “All honest and sensible men, of whatever party, should agree, by a common consent, to eliminate the doctrine of rights…. Rights, then, in the case of man, are as absurd as they are immoral.”

If individuals do not have rights, if they should not have the freedom to act on their own judgment in the pursuit of their own happiness, then individuals will be treated as nothing more than sacrificial animals. According to altruism, your life does not belong to you. Others—whether the community, the king, or the government—may dispose of your life in the name of the “public interest,” the “common good,” or the “general welfare.”

While the Syrian government is practicing altruism consistently, it is hardly the only government imposing self-sacrifice on its citizens. For example, in the United States, the EPA forces us to sacrifice domestic drilling, the construction of dams, and development in general for the alleged benefit of caribou, snail darters, spotted owls, and swamps. “Entitlement” programs force productive individuals to sacrifice their property in order to provide food, housing, and health care for the non-productive. Zoning forces Americans to sacrifice affordable housing for the alleged purpose of preventing “incompatible” land uses.

No matter the issue, we are told that we must put aside our self-interest in deference to the “public interest.” No matter which political party is in control, we are told that some individuals must sacrifice for the alleged benefit of other individuals. Virtually everyone agrees that sacrifice is necessary, and the only issue open to debate is who will be the victims and who will be the beneficiaries.

As long as Americans accept self-sacrifice as a moral ideal, we will inch our way toward the orgy of sacrifice occurring in Syria. If we wish to avoid that fate, we must reject altruism. We must embrace the moral right of each individual to his own life, his own liberty, and the pursuit of his own happiness.

Your Life, Your Values

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“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, “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.” Today, these rights, so esteemed by the Founders that they risked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to defend them, are routinely evaded and trampled by the very institution that should protect them—the government.

Fundamentally, these rights recognize that your life belongs to you, that you should have the freedom to act as you judge best in the pursuit of the values that will bring you satisfaction, joy, and happiness.

Throughout history, men have been taught that they must live for others, whether the pharaoh, the king, the tribe, or the community. The Founders rejected this premise, declaring that the individual has a right to live for himself. Politically, the Declaration announced America’s independence from Britain. Morally, it announced the individual’s independence from the king, the clan, or the community.

Whether it is drinking raw milk or starting a business, whether it is drilling for oil or taking a life-saving medicine, there is little that you can do without the government’s approval and sanction. If you wish to build a house, in most jurisdictions you must abide by zoning laws and building codes. If want to enter a particular profession, chances are one in three that you must first secure a license from the government. No matter your desires or values, you are frequently forced to act contrary to your own judgment.

These violations of individual rights are usually justified by citing the “common good” or “general welfare.” Each of us, we are told, must put aside our self-interest in order to promote the “public interest.” We are forced to sacrifice our personal values, interests, and happiness for the alleged welfare, interests, and happiness of others.

This is not what the Founders envisioned, nor is it proper, just, or moral.