On Liberty, Militarism and Independence


For many years, this blog has celebrated Independence Day with a reminder of what this day is supposed to be about and how July 4th marked only the beginning of a long, tumultuous, often bloody democratic process.

Yes, our Forefathers were far from democratic. Indeed, they did not trust the demos to effectively guide the nation. They were dedicated republicans. In other words, they believed in a government by common people, rather than monarchy or nobility. This common form of government by consent of the governed, should not, however, be mistaken for democracy. When it came to the governing, the Founders clearly privileged the wealthy, propertied class over working people, let alone women, Natives, and those of African or non-European descent. Republican government has always placed the seat of power into the hands of the elite.

Still, the Founding Fathers did establish the starting point from which the concepts of the self-evident truth of human equality and a government of “the People” has been debated and has evolved. They established the initial challenge to the ages for an idea of government based on liberty and justice and equality–what I will refer to as The Great Challenge. Their legacy is the perpetuation of that Great Challenge and concomitant debates that we still struggle with today. For this, the Founders should be remembered fondly despite their iniquities, their conflicts of interest, their bigotry, their hypocrisy.

Independence Day should be celebrated as the cradle of our rights and liberties as a sovereign people. Yet, too often, we forget the Great Challenge of our founding principles in the rumble of fireworks and sizzle of the grill, and we focus instead on the expansion of American power as the nexus of our greatness. We celebrate American power and militarism and forget the long, contentious, tumultuous evolution of human rights, dignity, and liberty that defines the American experiment.

The power elite is happy to promulgate this myth. Listen to any speech given by our officials and you will hear the standard homage to our troops as the source of our rights and liberties. If we have freedom, according to the established rhetoric, it is because of our military might, it is because brave Americans fought and killed and died, often on battlefields far away, so that we may enjoy a holiday bar-b-que.

Not to diminish the sacrifice of our soldiers who really are brave and dedicated and patriotic, but Independence Day should not be a celebration of American Militarism, but rather of American dissidence and disobedience. Masses of people mobbing the streets is the greater source of our freedoms than are soldiers marching in column. Those who refused to move in lock-step with the status quo are the real legacy of The Great Challenge. Celebrating militarism is a false narrative that distorts the true nature of the idea of America, of the truths we hold as self-evident.

Indeed, if we want to go back to the Founders and their motives, most of them were suspicious of militarism and would probably be uncomfortable with its manifestation in modern times. Remember, the original patriots of the American Revolution were fighting against the expansion of British militarism. The taxes that so angered the American colonists were levied to pay British war debts and the demands of an expanding empire. American disobedience inspired the Crown to respond with military interdiction, stationing and quartering soldiers in troublesome cities, using the military to enforce tax collection. British militarism was the reason so many American leaders were wary of standing armies and preferred citizen regulated militias as a means of national defense. The last thing our Founders would have wanted is for their defining moment to be defiled with a celebration of the very militarism against which they rebelled.

Image result for militarized police force balko
Our Founding Fathers would have seen this as a threat to liberty.

Yet, if there is one area in which the Founding Fathers would not recognize the manifestation their Great Challenge today it’s in our militarized society. U.S. military bases are spread all over the world. Our civil police forces are taking on a frightening, militarized posture. Billions of dollars are spent on the business of militarization, from the infamous military-industrial complex to the growth of private military corporations. The military is not just a locus of control and a mechanism of violence against threats to the national elite, but it is a source of great profit. The greatest redistribution of wealth in the United States is not Medicaid or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. That distinction goes the hundreds of billions of dollars transferred from current and future taxpayers into the coffers of corporate titans.

On the other hand, the true source of American rights and freedoms, common people taking to the streets, organizing, applying popular pressure against the trespasses of the wealthy and the powerful, are a source of discomfort to the power elite. They are dangerous to the status quo, to profit margins, to elite control. So it’s no wonder that our leadership would want to laud its own enforcement arm, to justify the excesses of American militarism, while at the same time downplaying the real contributions of the Demos to our rights and freedoms. Doing so serves the interests of the American corporate class. Celebrating militarism over activism becomes the accepted paradigm of American liberty despite its clear contradictions.

We cannot allow militaristic paradigms to distort the true nature of the American ideal. If there is a legacy to the Great Challenge birthed by our Founders on this day, two hundred and forty-one years ago, it can be found in the streets, not in the barracks.


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