Hello again, folks.
It’s Independence Day here in the US of A, the 240th birthday of a nation unlike any others on this planet. Besides the fireworks and grilling and beer, we citizens of this nation celebrate the peculiarities that mark this nation as something fundamentally different. Whether they make the US of A ‘better’ than other nations is open to opinion and debate, naturally. I think there are many things that make this nation better, for all of its warts and blemishes. I am biased, of course, but here’s one reason I think the experiment of the United States is both different and better.
I’m not going to argue politics; I promised that I wouldn’t. ‘Democrat’, ‘Republican’, ‘Libertarian’, ‘Green’, ‘Socialist’; ‘left’ and ‘right’, ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’; these are all just tags, and they’re all the same to me for the purposes of this discussion. There is one thing that unites all of the people who use them self-referentially or as descriptions of a particular political camp in this nation.
Almost every nation, the US of A included, describes the people who belong to it as their ‘citizens’. This term is inaccurate for every nation except the US. Most nations have a governing document or documents that describe the relation between the government and its citizens; things the government can and cannot do, or at least promises that it will or will not do, as well as the duties, responsibilities, and rights its citizens enjoy under its purview.
Let’s talk about ‘rights’. Without disappearing down the rabbit-hole of legalistic descriptions of what a ‘right’ actually amounts to, the US of A’s governing documents – the Constitution and the later Bill of Rights – delineates what the government is allowed to do to the people and for the people, on the behalf of the people; and the powers that government can use to enforce the people’s rights, both as a res publica and those rights of the individual citizen. It might seem like splitting hairs, but in no place do either of these documents ‘allow’ citizens their rights. It’s not a statement of what the government allows people to do, by its good graces, if everyone behaves themselves–but a statement that the government exists solely to keep the citizens from being denied those rights by its actions or through its inaction.
In effect–and this is a point that might escape a lot of US citizens these days–the government is truly the servant of the citizens; the public as a whole, and of each individual citizen. The fact that citizens have the rights protected by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is accepted as a given; the government is not the source of those rights, and it does not issue them to each citizen through its goodwill, good graces, or from the goodness of its being. People are born possessing these rights, and the government can only restrict them or take them away from an individual–and only then on a case-by-case basis–as administered by law. I know that this concept has not been nor is today completely and honestly applied in this nation to each and every one of its citizens, and even the definition of citizen is rather haphazard and on occasion unlawfully denied to some of the people living here . . . but the concept is part of our culture, and the birthright of every human residing here. I won’t get into weaselly interpretations. There’s still a lot of stuff that needs fixed around here, no lie; this nation is still an experiment, not the finished article.
It’s a fundamentally different case from the rights of the citizen in almost any other nation in the world. I don’t have rights because the US government tells me I have them, and it is not up to any organ of the US government to take them from me under any circumstances save due process of law because of being convicted of a criminal offense. Changes in rulers, changes in political representation, changes in the interpretation of laws; none of these matters obtain to my rights, and the fact that I retain them has, does and shall not ever be affected by any act of the government. I live in a society governed by the rule of law; not the whims of a despot, agency, bureaucracy, political party or movement. It’s hard to see some days, but we–you and I–have the only true liberty guaranteed though not granted by a government. We are citizens; not subjects, not thralls, and not beggars subsisting on the good will of a benevolent tyrant or soulless bureaucracy.
To all my fellow citizens of the United States of America, I wish you a happy Independence Day. Be safe. Keep striving, and read good stuff.