Thinking critically about independence is a challenge, because it is easy to take freedom for granted. For those who have grown up in the United States and other Democratic countries, independence is like water: people drink it, they demand more of it, and they often drown in it. They are not beheaded for their beliefs or tortured for their speech — though one might argue that even the U.S. is not immune from this – and they believe that the pursuit of happiness is as simple as working hard and building strength.
But American independence is not as simple as working hard and being rewarded. It is also not as simple as having the ability to do whatever one wishes. Independence is built upon three core concepts: Equal rights in all of humankind, reliance on self-government, and education on the function and processes of the system of government.
Government does not grant the “unalienable rights” the American forefathers spoke of in the Declaration of Independence. Instead, it must recognize it; for, if all were truly “created equal,” and the creation of each individual granted the previously mentioned rights, then the purpose of government is to protect the rights of its citizens, not to give them what they already had in the first place. It is through establishing the power of all individuals that this true purpose may be defined: Government is not a totalitarian state or merely a code of ethics; it is a shield. The American government must shield its citizens against those who would wish to take away its citizen’s freedoms –- as detailed in the Constitution of the United States of America — even if such a threat came from the government itself.
Can there be anything the government can do to take away the status of equality? It is not possible. But what if a citizen is a criminal? What if a citizen follows an immoral code of ethics? The government must act accordingly to ensure someone who would wish to take away someone’s happiness is no longer free to do so. But a criminal is just as equal as the one who imprisons him or her, unless one subscribes to the idea that one singular action can change someone’s status eternally, with no hope of mercy or justice; such a way of thinking was what our forefathers were protesting. The forefathers knew that since government is less powerful than the individual, government cannot decide what is moral or immoral. The subject of morality is a burden upon the shoulders of the people; the government only acts accordingly.
How is a citizen to react to this news that the government is the lesser and he or she is more powerful? He or she is to strive to live justly and righteously for, when one receives power, he or she must never exploit it for fear of violating the rights of another. What government is needed when one can govern him or herself? If a citizen lives by what is right, never harming his or her fellow citizens, he or she is self-governed, which wields far more power than any Senator, Representative, Supreme Court Justice, or President.
How can self-government work? Take, for example, a man in a store. If the man walks into the store, selects an item, and pays for it, he has no need for a police officer to come and arrest him. Since the man knows that stealing is immoral, since it violates the rights to happiness that all other citizens have, he does not steal. The man is self-governed, for he governs his own actions. The man must utilize self-control. When he loses his self-control, and acts in a way that harms another person, government is necessary.
The citizen who self-governs asks before each action, “Is what I am doing just? Does it harm other citizens? Does it infringe on the rights of others?” This citizen has realized the ultimate skill: Self-Control. Unfortunately, self-control cannot be taught…it can only be learned.
But the self-governed are not to mistake their power over the government for isolationism. At this current point in history, the government is run by people who do not wish to be self-governed, who wish to govern others far more than they would govern themselves. It is the responsibility of the self-governed to eschew the lie that politics does not affect them, but to join the fight to ensure their fellow citizens do not lose the rights that the government must protect. The self-governed must educate themselves to act as voters and pundits to help protect the rights of their fellow citizens, especially if they feel the government cannot be trusted.
The self-governed must educate themselves on the issues of the government, working to ensure diligence from the workers therein. The self-governed must be careful never to let their own personal beliefs conflict with the shield that government provides. As stated before, government does not determine right or wrong; the people under it do. Overall, the self-governed must throw away their conflicts of interest and ask the one, true question: “Does this action from the government protect the unalienable rights of all citizens?” If the answer is no, then the self-governed must reject such corruption. If the answer is yes, then the self-governed may go about their lives. If the answer is more complicated than that, the self-governed must choose a solution. Government is only as useful as the people who run it, and a government that only acts in the interest of certain citizens due to fear or anger is the most useless government of all.
The nature of independence allows the self-governed citizen to determine their morality, which in turn informs the government. My statements may seem idealistic, but for far too long this country has been like a corpse: morbid and motionless. Only by giving the individual the power to live a life of self-governance not out of fear or haughtiness, but in acknowledgement of the true power held within, can America be made great.
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