By Michael d’Oliveira
Throughout history, revolutions have either ended in failure or betrayal of the ideals they claimed to cherish. Time and time again, once people have successfully deposed their oppressive rulers, more oppressive rulers took their place.
China, Russia, Cuba, all of these revolutions ended in the creation of dictators or system of dictators. Even the French Revolution ended with Napoleon declaring himself emperor. The French Revolution sewed the seeds of modern France, but its ideals didn’t fully materialize for decades.
The American colonists rebelled against Great Britain because they felt their rights as English subjects were under assault from the government. After they won their independence, the Founding Fathers created the Constitution to ensure that government was prevented from violating the rights of its citizens. That’s what makes America such an historically-unique place and the Fourth of July such a special holiday – a time for fireworks and for reaffirming our commitment to the real values of America.
The leaders of the new nation could have given themselves unlimited power. Instead, they chose to follow through with the ideals they espoused during the war. George Washington even gave up serving a third term as president, a tradition that all presidents until FDR voluntarily adhered to. America is certainly not without her problems, past or present. The Founding Fathers were not without their faults. They preserved slavery and left its abolishment up to future generations. Slavery is still and will always be a stain on the founding of America. There’s no way around it.
But just as we should recognize our shortcomings, we should also recognize what makes everything good possible – the type of government our Founding Fathers created.
As Christopher Hitchens told C-Span, the American form of government was quite revolutionary for its time. America has never had a despotic ruler precisely because the Founders created co-equal branches of government. Congress has to the power to reign in the power of the president and the judiciary has the power to rule on both.
“The American Revolution, the one that says, build your Republic on individual rights, not group rights. Have a bill of rights that inscribes these and then makes them available and legible to everybody. Separate the church from the state, separate the executive, the judicial and the political branch. Do all these things. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s really a very revolutionary idea. There is hardly a country in the world that wouldn’t benefit from adopting those principles,” said Hitchens.
America and what it stands for are worth celebrating. But we have to understand why America is so special and, as David Frum wrote in May, we have to defend American values and Western culture.
“The Western culture of personal autonomy and equal dignity is a precious thing precisely because it is not universal. Those who participate in that culture and enjoy its benefits may hope—do hope—that it may someday become universal. They may hope that their culture will shape the shared future of all humanity. But it is not a universal inheritance, and it is not the universal contemporary practice. If anything, that culture is at present in retreat, challenged and assailed both at home and abroad. It needs defending, and to be defended effectively it is vital to understand precisely how non-universal it is.”