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Richard Larsen: What Makes America Different?

July 11th, 2012 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

At the NATO Summit in Strasbourg, France, in 2009 our president said, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

Contrary to what some among us erroneously assume, American exceptionalism is not some obtuse reference to Americans being any better than anyone else in the world. It doesn’t mean that our products are somehow superior, or that we’re any more erudite than the inhabitants of any other country. It simply means that, as a nation, America was exceptional in how it was founded and the precepts upon which it was established are unique and unparalleled in all of human history.

There has never been anything so unique and exceptional in the rising up of a new nation than one being established according to declared inalienable individual and collective rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In an era when monarchs, rulers, autocrats and aristocrats governed according to their whims and disposition based primarily on caste or bloodline, a motley collection of men steeped in classical-liberal principles led a revolution and established a nation dedicated to individual freedom.

Those precepts were the foundation to the Declaration of Independence, which states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” There is nothing more exceptional in human history than those two sentences and the nation that resulted from their utterance: a nation that derived its “just” powers from the “consent of the governed.”

A decade later, a structural document creating the governmental framework by which the tenets articulated in the Declaration of Independence were codified, was ratified by the colonies. That document, our Constitution, stated specifically what our national government would do in no uncertain terms, and whatever powers were not specified or enumerated, were “reserved to the states respectively or to the people.”

That concept of limited governmental power and maximum individual freedom is the embodiment of American exceptionalism and is the reason for our holiday this past week. It is a time for us to reflect on the historical significant of a nation being so founded, intentionally constructed in such a way as to prevent tyrants, despots, and bureaucrats from usurping the authority and power of the people. While we may seem so far removed from those ideals today, the poignant reflection on the historicity of the day should stir something deep within our souls for a return to such principles.

We can also reflect upon, and celebrate the lives and contributions of those who fought and died for those principles. Not just in our revolutionary era, but with each successive generation from that time. None have given more, and sacrificed more, than our men and women in uniform, who have carried high the banner of freedom onto foreign lands to defend life and liberty, and vanquish tyranny.

Those who don the nation’s uniform take an oath of fealty to the Constitution, and that they will defend it against all foes, foreign and domestic. I often reflect how all of us, as citizens, should take a similar oath. For if we did, the abuses of power, usurped and purloined from the citizens, would be so much less likely to occur than we observe on a nearly daily basis in news emanating from our seats of government.

In our reflection of the historical significance of the day, may we catch a glimpse of the fervor that filled the hearts and souls of those earliest of patriots. They were so willing to give all that they had, including their very lives, for the freedom for which they yearned. Yet collectively, we allow that very liberty to be frittered away on a daily basis by ostensibly well-intentioned politicians who, through new legislation, laws, and Acts, limit individual freedom and liberty, and engorge government with ever increasing power to harass, subjugate, and rule over us. With each such law, we become less citizens of a republic based on freedom, and increasingly subjects to an omnipotent and omniscient government.

If we are to truly celebrate Independence Day, let us recommit to those principles for which our forebears struggled that we might enjoy the fruits thereof. Let’s not allow their sacrifices to have been in vain, but let us take up the torch of Lady Liberty, with the fire of freedom burning within our souls, and recommit to those founding doctrines that made America unique and exceptional in all of human history.

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