Stossel: Fourth vs. Force
I hope you had a happy Fourth of July!
We have reason to celebrate.
The Fourth honors the founding of America. It’s the anniversary of the day in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was approved.
The Declaration was important.
It didn’t say that America would be the best country because it would have the biggest military, toughest leaders, most government giveaways or tightest borders.
The great innovation that day in Philadelphia was the declaration that the United States would have a limited government, rooted in the idea that every individual has inalienable rights.
In other words, we do not get our rights from government. They already exist. The government’s job is to protect our rights.
It would have been a good thing to say out loud while watching the fireworks with your family.
The world took notice when American colonists told their king: “Bug off. We will trade with you and respect your borders, but no longer will we allow you to rule us.” Revolutions in France and elsewhere took their cues from America.
It was America’s emphasis on limited government — wanting to make sure no one in government would ever again wield power like that of the British king — that made our revolution the greatest and most lasting success of recent centuries.
Other countries replaced kings and aristocrats with new forms of bureaucracy and tyranny.
France created revolutionary committees that murdered dissenters. Russia replaced its czar with a communist police state that confiscated farms, killing millions.
The U.S. government, by comparison at least, remained humble. It mostly allowed citizens to forge their own destinies and choose where to live, what professions to pursue and what to say and publish, gradually expanding those freedoms to more Americans, not just the white men who were in that room in Philadelphia in 1776.
That freedom to innovate and live as one chooses made us the most prosperous nation on earth.
Let’s celebrate that.
The founders had a joyful optimism: Let individuals be free to trade and travel, and they’ll take from the best of the world and make something even better.
The optimism was rewarded. We outlasted European fascism and communism and now have better, healthier and more interesting lives than anyone anywhere ever.
Yet there is a pessimistic, ugly streak in current politics, both left and right.
Many Americans now want to create a nation built on very different principles than the ones that made us a success.
The crowd at the Democratic presidential debates cheered socialist promises — government-run health care, free college, etc. They are eager to replace individualism and markets with government central planning.
Many sound as if they think the American experiment is an embarrassment.
Some Republicans, meanwhile, act as if nationalist pride is an end unto itself.
President Donald Trump talks as if the key to our success is not spreading the idea of liberty but keeping the rest of the world away from the U.S.
Today’s nationalists and populists don’t want to leave Americans free to engage in trade with whomever we choose. They do not want people to immigrate and emigrate freely. Some even want government to police speech.
This year, instead of toasting the Declaration of Independence and individual liberty, some Americans will push for socialism — and others will demand Trump throw out all immigrants.
Those ideas rely upon force — getting everyone to go along with one big plan.
No matter how great that plan sounds, though, if it is imposed by government, it inevitably overrides the 330 million individual plans that Americans make for themselves, and it overrides them with taxes, regulations, fines, guns and arrests.
But it wasn’t force that made America great. It was freedom.
America happened — and continues to happen — spontaneously, when its leaders are smart enough to just stay out of our way.
America will do best if we remember that the Declaration of Independence talks about “limited” government and reminds us that every individual has inalienable rights.
John Stossel is author of “No They Can’t! Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed.”