Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Independence Day

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My hope for Independence Day is that we can start with the small step of calling this day Independence Day, not Fourth of July. It strikes me how odd it is to refer to the day by its date. I suspect it’s partly because of its political content – like so much political language, this seems to be an example of “blunt[ing] the too sharply pointed.”

From there, I hope that we can reconnect with the meaning of today and other holidays – like Martin Luther King Day and Labor Day. Perhaps we might also use this day as a chance to think about the ways we have yet to root out royalism / aristocracy in our culture – whether that is the way we treat presidents, senators, celebrities, or the rich.  If we get past the fireworks and barbecue, we often just lionize the people at the top of the American Revolution (who did not make the Revolution, they were only a part of it.)  It’s also worth remembering that those who made the Revolution were putting principle over their loyalty to the country—those who chose the opposite path were not called patriots, they were called loyalists.

It’s also not just about our country, it’s about each one of us and about people around the globe – who have every right to self-determination that our political ancestors had.  Merely using the name Independence Day rather than 4th of July is a small step – thinking and talking about what independence is about today, for all of us, is the key.

As Glenn Smith said:

Authors of the U.S. Constitution, which arrived some years after the day we celebrate as our nation’s birthday, considered their document a living one, one that would safeguard freedom while providing plenty of room for change in future circumstances.

In other words, the citizens of every generation would carry the heavy responsibility of founding America anew. Let that sink in.

They, like those who made the Revolution, knew that the only source of legitimate power was the people, and that government was made for the people, not the other way around. This is, incidentally, precisely why they were wrong to exclude many people from the protections of the Constitution, something we have made great progress on in the interim despite how much work  remains to be done.

And today we might also remember that independence, like freedom, doesn’t exist if it can be taken away by your employer or some other non-governmental authority.

We might remember all those things, and use our principles to challenge ourselves to better live up to them, rather than to defend the status quo without a searching inquiry into the ways those principles have yet to be implemented.

Or perhaps maybe (it’s a small thing, I know), I could go to the grocery store and not have to see magazines detailing the lives of British princes.

Happy Independence Day.

Variations on this rumination have appeared here and elsewhere in previous years.

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Written by David Kaib

July 4, 2013 at 8:56 am

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