By Shane Krauser
The American experiment is an experiment that is unmatched and unparalleled, and there is no better time of year to remember this. America’s success is reflected, in part, by the fact that the US Constitution is the oldest living national constitution in the world. We should be careful not to take such a feat for granted, as the world is replete with examples of attempted and failed constitutions. Brazil has had eight constitutions since 1822. Russia has had four since 1917. Afghanistan has had five in the 20th century alone. Poland has had seven since 1923. And France has had 15 since our one.
America is different because of the philosophy of government that we embrace, which is outlined in the Declaration of Independence: “[A]ll men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Think about how much different this philosophy is than the scores of societies that have embraced the principles found in Plato’s Republic, Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, and Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. As opposed to believing that man is not responsible enough to govern himself and, in turn, needs dictators to control human tendencies, America has taken the bold position that man can establish his own government. More than that, man cannot be compelled to submit to a dictatorial form of government given that man is born to be free, is accountable for his own actions, and should be permitted to pursue his own desired ends without government interference.
As America has undertaken the task of establishing government, she has also assumed something of monumental proportions. If man can in fact govern himself, it only stands to reason that any such government that is established must be formed, first and foremost, to protect the rights of the people. And this is precisely what we have done.
We protect the liberties of the people even in the face of majoritarian tendencies. Protecting speech that we may disagree with is critical to preserving the vibrant marketplace of ideas. Protecting the right to bear arms is important regardless of whether we would do such a thing ourselves. Protecting a person’s right to acquire and enjoy property is paramount even if we choose not to be property owners. And protecting the right to worship must be honored regardless of how “silly” we deem the practice.
Freedom is not the ability to use government power to dictate the actions of others when the majority think it is a good idea to suppress certain activities. On the contrary, freedom is the ability to do that which one wants to do so long as the activity does not harm others. Just as important, it also means the responsibility to voluntarily act within certain parameters for the benefit of all. Unfortunately, many adhere to the former principle of “doing” and sadly ignore the latter of “responsibility.”
As Thomas Jefferson emphasized, we counter speech we dislike with “more speech.” The compulsive hand of the government is not the answer. Further, we counter bad ideas with good ideas. In other words, we do something rather than nothing. With freedom comes responsibility, and it is our responsibility to be active in the freedom experiment, and it is our responsibility to be able to articulate what it means to truly be an American.
Make no mistake about it. Freedom is a risky proposition, and we have a constant choice before us: What kind of America will you choose?
Shane Krauser is a partner with the law firm Davis Miles McGuire Gardner, the director of the American Academy for Constitutional Education, and the chief instructor of K-Force Vanguard. Follow him on twitter: @ShaneKrauser.
If you have a constitutional legal issue, call Davis Miles McGuire Gardner at 480-733.6800. They will help you find a solution.