The American Idea

“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”  — James Madison

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) aggravates and annoys me as much as he does/says things I like. Just when I really start to appreciate him again, he’ll do something immensely frustrating. Of course, I try to remember that I am not in his position, nor do I have all the relevant facts.

He did write a pretty good book, though. The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea (2014) is equal parts autobiography and examination of the current state and future of the conservative movement in America. Along the way, Ryan also critiques the other side — i.e., the progressive movement and its leader (at the time, at least), President Obama. He then lays out his plan for the future, aka “the way forward”. It’s a good read, and you can pick it up pretty cheap at Amazon, right now.

Meantime, allow me to cite one particular section that I thought was apropos for this Fourth of July weekend celebration….

“The American Idea is our nation’s most unique and powerful contribution to the world. It describes a way of life made possible by our commitment to the principles of freedom and equality — and rooted in our respect for every person’s natural rights.

We can understand the American Idea in philosophical terms — as the expression of those principles in ideas like the opportunity to rise, the rule of law, and the American Dream.

We can understand it in political terms — as a system of government that is at once both energetic enough to meet our needs and limited enough to preserve our freedoms.

We can understand it in human terms — as the vital space between the individual and the state, the space where family, community, and civil society thrive. As the conviction that we’re all in this together and have a duty to protect the vulnerable.

We can understand it in cultural terms — as the notion that a free society requires a virtuous citizenry.

And we can understand it in economic terms — as the belief that broadly shared prosperity is best achieved by allowing individual creativity and ingenuity to emerge and evolve. This understanding, of course, assumes that productive enterprise and free choices in the market — not the edicts of centralized command — should shape our economy.

The American Idea is a way of life — one that enables each person to chart their own course, pursue their own happiness, and govern their own lives.

Why is this so special?

For most of human history, a very different idea reigned supreme: the idea that a few were born to rule, and everyone else was destined to obey. The common man lived to serve the king, the despot, or the state. They were subjects, serfs, or slaves.

Our forefathers rebelled against this long-held belief. To this day, America is exceptional in part because it was the first country explicitly founded on the ideas of natural rights, human equality, and self-governance. It was the first to take these articles of faith and write them into law. It was the first to tell the world — and to prove by its example — that the best government rests on the consent of the governed. It was the first to proclaim that our rights come not from rulers, but from God.”

To advance this idea, the Founders first issued a “birth certificate” — i.e., the Declaration of Independence — to establish that “the power of government was legitimate only to the extent that it secured the rights and expressed the consent of the people — a truly radical claim.” After sacrificing much in blood and wealth to win that independence, our Founding Fathers authored and passed the United States Constitution to structure the new government, establishing which powers belonged at the federal level and leaving the rest to the states and the people.

Ryan continues…

“So in addition to our birth certificate, the Founders gave us the blueprint for a free and just society. Limiting government and freeing up the formative institutions of civil society makes safety and security, self-government and liberty, opportunity and social mobility available to everyone. It has led to unprecedented prosperity and unrivaled opportunity. It’s done more to help the poor than any other economic system designed by man, and it remains a beacon of hope for the rest of the world.”

To my fellow-American citizens and residents (and anyone else who wishes to join with us), I wish you a “Happy Independence Day!”


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