Could it be Dependence Day?

Published 11:46 am Monday, June 30, 2008

For many Americans, the Fourth of July would be more appropriately called Dependence Day. For them, the independence declared from Britain in 1776 and gained in the Revolutionary War has now become exchanged for dependence upon the American government. So, these have simply exchanged dependence upon one government for dependence upon another. This is not the meaning of independence, and this is not what we celebrate on Independence Day.

It’s hard enough to get people, in the midst of parades, picnics, and fireworks, to think of independence, and it is harder yet to get them to understand the meaning and requirements of independence. While we profess to celebrate independence from Britain, many of us wallow in dependence upon the American government.

When those who signed the Declaration of Independence positioned us independent of Britain, they meant independence of the political control and economic exploitation of the King and his imperial government. They did not mean to be absolutely independent and dependent upon no one. They could not have meant this, because like the related concepts of freedom and liberty, independence is relative to a specific entity and cannot be absolute, i.e. independence of everything and everyone.

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If we are to be independent of British government and not dependent upon American government, upon what, then, did Thomas Jefferson and the others expect us to be dependent? The answer from the constitution that was soon to be adopted is: ourselves, each other —”We the people.”

We became independent of British government so we can be dependent upon we the people. A world of difference exists between the people and the government. President John F. Kennedy famously directed us: “Ask not what the country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Like almost all modern politicians and professional office holders, Kennedy meant, “Ask not what the government can do for you; ask what you can do for your government.” If he had used the word “government,” he would have been honest; using “country,” he was only political.

In the simpler economy of the 18th century, still largely agrarian and not yet industrial and certainly not technological, it was easier for people to depend upon family, friends, and neighbors, to be sure. Yet, on this level, family, friends, and neighbors are still the most effective and efficient people upon whom to depend.

Governments must operate by laws, and the best laws do more good than the harm they also do. Many laws do much harm and very little good. Whenever we pass a law, we admit the failure of society to take care of each other. This is one of many limitations of dependence upon government. Laws are inflexible and cannot adapt to particular situations and needs. Laws are all head and no heart.

Lest you think, in talking about dependence on government, I mean government funded public welfare, I acknowledge I do. We have effectively destroyed self-respect and initiative in several generations. Welfare has ceased being life support and become a way of life. The greater tragedy is there are Americans who need welfare at least as much as those who are getting it but they can also do something with it. They can be transformed from tax-users to tax-payers. But laws are written not to enable people but to make them dependent.

Yet, I mean much more than this obvious dependence. Government is good when it provides genuine help that only government can. But help that makes people dependent upon it is not help but bondage.

I also mean micromanaged government regulation that compromises services and products and destroys creative innovation. I mean paying not to produce food rather than to produce it. I mean giving money to people who aren’t working when they can work and earn an income. I mean telling people what to think rather than encouraging them to think for themselves.

We flatter ourselves on Independence Day when we are among the most dependent in history. We are, in a word, a nation of victims living on entitlements.