This Fourth of July, let's give America the birthday present she cannot do without. Let's give the people back their Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration of Independence sets forth a worldview that, back in the 18th century, served as the foundation of our new nation. This foundation was composed of the principle of human equality and the rights of self-determination implied by the famous phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Back then, this foundation was sufficient to support the society we hoped to build, one free of the economic monopolies, religious authoritarianism and military brutality embodied, respectively, in the English nobility, the Church of England and England's Redcoat soldiers. As large as these forces loomed over the colonists in the New World, these were forces still dwarfed by the Atlantic Ocean, the American wilderness and the sheer number of people they aimed to dominate.
In a day of bayonets, wooden hulls and musket balls, mere consciousness of the principle of human equality was enough to give the people confidence in their ability to rewrite the social contract, even if it had to be written in their own blood. "Give me liberty or give me death," Patrick Henry cried. In his day, he could calculate the odds of success as reasonable against an enemy that was still on a human scale. He could look his enemy in the eye and say to King George with confidence, our equality is self-evident.
When we won our independence, we dismantled all the power platforms setting some human beings above others. Against the concentration of wealth and power of the classist aristocracy, we built the one-person, one-vote principle. Against the psychological oppression of religious authoritarianism, we constructed the doctrine of separation of church and state. And against the physical domination of mercenary armies, we instituted civilian control of the military.
But then we lost our way.
After the Civil War, corporations stole the principle of equality and put it in the service of nonhuman monetary engines antagonistic to our democratic political process. During World War II, the military-industrial complex grew into a powerful privatized industry no longer answerable to the people. After the civil rights movement, the corporations and the military-industrial complex offered the authoritarian religious right political legitimacy in exchange for their votes. It took us far too long to recognize the Republican Party as embodying the same feudal alliance of authoritarian platforms we once revolted against.
Simply put, for more than two centuries, we did nothing to defend ourselves against the anti-democratic forces in society that were themselves constantly seeking ever-increasing sophistication and power. Thus, while economic monopolists, religious authoritarians and military industrialists developed subtle strategies for placing the people under their control, the people remained content with a merely "self-evident" equality. As a result, today we harbor serious doubts about our equality, our ability to rewrite the social contract, and the future of our democracy.
Fortunately, our understanding of the principle of human equality, the rights of self-determination that flow from it, and the people's power to rewrite their social contract need not remain in its 18th century "self-evident" condition. A logical explication of these truths exists. We can give America the birthday gift she so desperately needs if only we will make thinking seriously about the democratic worldview our responsibility. Our original articulation of the democratic worldview changed the course of history in 1776. In 2009, it is high time we upgrade that worldview to meet the sophistication of our 21st century society. In so doing, we will once again expose the ideologies of authoritarian supremacy advanced by economic monopolists, religious authoritarians and mercenary militarists as directly in conflict with the people's rights and humanity's well-being. Equipped with this new understanding, we will find the true direction of change that America is wishing for as her birthday candles all blow out.
John Hank Edson is an attorney and the author of "The Declaration of the Democratic Worldview" (Democracy Press, 2008).