Independence Day is once again upon us, which means that we once again enjoy the whirs and bursts of firecrackers, the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of meat cooked by comically apron-clad figures on smoky backyard grills, and some time set aside from the usual toil to reflect upon the birth of our republic all those years ago.
We know that our form of self-government was born from more than just the blood shed and gunpowder expended over the long course of our revolution. It was also a product of philosophy, of men driven by timeless ideals. But what were those ideals, where do they come from, and what implications do they have for us today?
All sides of our political debates – either sincerely or obnoxiously – make some sort of claim to the lineage of those “inalienable rights” alluded to in our Declaration of Independence, signed on this day in 1776. But whose ideals most closely and most honestly match those of our Founders? In short, what is Americanism? And what does it mean today?
In his recently released book, “Rediscovering Americanism and the Tyranny of Progressivism,” Mark Levin, Conservative Review editor-in-chief, explores America’s philosophical history, beginning with the founding.
The book’s first chapter, “Americanism,” begins on a July 4, but not the one of 1776. Rather, Levin’s first peek into Americanism begins with Jefferson’s famous letter explaining why he could not attend the 50th anniversary of our republic’s birth, set for the day on which, as it turned out, both he and fellow Founder and former president John Adams would die.
“[F]or ourselves,” the dying Virginian wrote, “let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.” In keeping with Jefferson’s wish to “refresh” that recollection, Levin then peers back at the decades and centuries of thought and belief that would eventually find their way to Philadelphia at the outset of America’s independence.
What Levin details is a tradition steeped in a reverent understanding of the natural law, that inescapable set of dictates written on the soul of every human being. It’s the natural law that respects the dignity of the human person and sees liberty as a precondition of his flourishing.
More importantly, it is a law higher than the dictates of any king or despot, and the Founders sought to craft a government in accordance with it by setting strict, intentional limits on the power of that government.
In its subsequent chapters, the book delves into the litany of other philosophies imported from Europe, all different forms of state-driven progress, each in its own way wholly incompatible with the ideals of the founding and each contributing to the “tyranny” named in the title.
But to answer the question of what “Americanism” is, as Levin describes it, is to draw on a history of thought that begins thousands of years before the proverbial “shot heard ’round the world” was fired or even loaded into its musket. It is a way of thinking – and a way of governing – that balances rights with duties, using the natural law as its scale and the freedom of the individual and the health of civil society as its barometers.
And in order to find it, one must begin in Philadelphia, with the Declaration, and look back to its true roots. In order to appreciate and preserve it, one must identify the pretenders’ theories that have sought to undermine it, Levin explains, and remove their tyrannical influence from the equation.