Thursday, July 4, 2013

Another 4th

As we noted recently, holidays have a funny way of attracting as many naysayers and spoilsports as they do true believers. I don't mind the party-poopers so much because I myself am of two minds on holidays. On the one hand I prefer quiet solemnity to public pomp, and on the other, reflection to jubilation. The downside of reflection, especially on a day of celebration, is its liability to veer toward the pessimistic. Christmas brings fears of commercialism, Thanksgiving of waste, Earth day of arboricide. Things do seem to produce their opposites, and thus Independence Day naturally produces some loathing the loss of liberty. Is it appropriate?

By that I don't wonder whether it is honest to fear the loss of freedom: of course it is. Shouldn't, though, today as all holidays, be one of gratitude? Surely. Anyone anywhere with the slightest soft spot for liberty ought to mark the day with a little affection for America as people, union, nation, and project. The people prosper in myriad, unexpected and often untutored ways. The union circumscribes some behavior to preserve liberty. As a nation we've gone to bat for a few others. As a project the American undertaking has given everyone involved and everyone looking-on quite an education.

Surely enough, though, the other shoe falls and fearing for every cause which a free man might follow we despair for our liberty. Yet these fears, it seems to me, have a right to surface on America's Independence Day, for I can think of no day on which the Founding Fathers might have feared more for liberty than on the day they dissevered themselves from the mother country. They surely worried for their lives and property in the expectation of British suppression. They already knew the acrimony of self rule from the heated colonial conflicts among Tories, moderates, and liberals, between Levellers and aristocrats, between Diggers and capitalists, farmers and commercialists, among democrats, republicans, and monarchists, and seemingly every combination possible. What questions must have run through their minds. Who would run the war? Who would prosecute it? Who would adapt the state constitutions? How would they get along without British adjudication?  Would they be prey to other powers? What if the war were lost or, saddest of all, what if they had misjudged their readiness to govern themselves?

Familiar fears. It surely would have been easier to rush headlong or fall back, rather than prudently pave the way. While today's causes are often just we lay waste our efforts and selves when we allow any sudden gust of zeal to uproot prudence. For although we are a varied society of individuals, by dint of fate our fortunes are intertwined–more still, they have been interwoven over many years, and it is that calm with which free men walk with easy hearts among one another that bears the truth: peace finds a home not in the fool's inflamed romance with freedom but the prudent care of liberty.

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