WASHINGTON– Today is the Fourth of July, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of 1776 –and America’s most revered public holiday.
People are essentially good
Despite their determination to fight against an unjust King, the Founders of the United States of America, children of the Age of the Enlightenment, “The Age of Light”, were not bellicose people. In fact they shared a fundamentally positive view of human nature.
The pursuit of knowledge
According to them, human beings are naturally predisposed to pursue greater knowledge that will enrich their spirits, and to use their improved understanding of the laws of nature, of physics and mechanics to produce tools and machines that will improve economic processes and the quality of life.
The only real obstacle between people and their overall benign pursuit of knowledge is political oppression perpetrated by a tyrannical government that, by definition, does not acknowledge, let alone abide by, the will of the people.
The American Revolution that started with the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776, set in motion a process that was supposed to lead to freedom from oppression. After that, the Founders, after some initial hesitation, decided to create a Federal Government whose main objective was supposed to be the protection of liberty, via an unprecedented experiment in republican self-government.
And liberty, as we have seen above, was viewed as a blissful state in which people could pursue their interests and aspirations within the boundaries of fair laws, but without fear of governmental interference or arbitrary retribution.
Knowledge comes because of freedom
Assuming fairly educated and entrepreneurial people, freedom would be the magic yeast that would lead to the acquisition of new knowledge, more progress and therefore increased prosperity. (It is no accident that Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, among the most intellectually gifted individuals of their age, were also the founders of universities).
America attracted original thinkers
If you wonder why America has been and still is a large laboratory and workshop where innovators from all over the world felt and feel at home, the answer is in the optimistic –and ultimately true– assumptions of our Founders. Indeed, ground breaking new ideas are hatched and grow better within a terrain made fertile by freedom.
Other countries that today want to emulate America and become laboratories of innovation, should reflect on America’s history. It is not by accident that America became a magnet for people with big new ideas.
They came (and they still come) here because they understood that a free society that protects freedom and private property, including intellectual property, (as in patents, trademarks and copyrights), would be a better place in which to establish their home and their base.
Prosperity is the result of freedom
It sounds so simple. And yet it is profound. The Founders believed that human beings were mostly good and driven by a healthy desire to pursue new knowledge. This knowledge would broaden their minds and at the same time it would increase societal maturity and wisdom. Some of this new knowledge, once developed into inventions and machines, would improve the quality of life.
As we know, this linear concept of a free and happy society that would move from success to success was a bit too optimistic. Many failures along the way attest to that. Still, all in all, it was and is mostly true.
The Fourth of July is an opportunity to reflect on the value of this incredible gift of freedom. The Founders believed that its was a “natural right”. And yet they also understood that freedom was difficult to obtain, (hence the Revolution), and still quite fragile once acquired. Freedom is precious. It must be protected and nurtured, because it is the essential precondition that makes everything else possible.
Unfortunately, if we take freedom for granted, then we do not value it, and therefore we lose sight of the infinite possibilities that it opens up.
How do we use our freedom?
The Founders knew from experience that freedom was the coveted condition that made life good and enjoyable. And we? What do we think of freedom –today– as we celebrate the revolution that gave it to us? What can we do –today– because we are free?
These are no idle questions. Indeed, unless we modern Americans can give a good answer –an answer that includes optimistic hope and the unleashing of positive energies, as opposed to confusion and self-doubt– then America’s future becomes uncertain and very cloudy.
Let us treasure and put to good use our freedom –our Founders’ precious gift.