In Federalist No. 14, James Madison so movingly remarked, in regard to our revolutionary forefathers, “Happily for America, happily, we trust, for the whole human race… they accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society… They formed the design of a great confederacy, which it is incumbent upon their successors to improve and perpetuate.”
As it currently stands, patriotism is on a decline in America. I think there are a multitude of factors that come into play here, however, I am of the firm belief that the historical ignorance propagated by the apostles of vanity and political charlatans masquerading as academics have certainly exacerbated this decline.
Nonetheless, as Americans we truly are heirs to a marvelous inheritance, links in the social chain of giving and receiving. We are where we are because of the customs and traditions of our forefathers — especially those of the Anglo-Saxon tradition, which we are an extension of here in America, and which has become the Anglo-American tradition.
As Americans, we have been afforded many profound blessings. I would like to talk about some of these today, and why these are, among other things, reasons why I truly love our country.
I would like to begin detailing this by turning to Aristotle. In his marvelous work, The Politics, he begins Book I by laying out man as a political animal, in whose very fabric is nested the concept of association. According to Aristotle, it is natural for mankind to associate in terms of ruler and ruled for purposes of propagation (this is also deeply nested in natural order of politics laid out by Polybius), and he gives us the natural forms of association, first the household, following is that of the village, and finally the state which comes about to secure life itself and continues to secure the good life.
I’m not here to compose a treatise on government, however, visiting Aristotle will prove worthwhile because we learn from him that the state is a natural thing. Now, the question of what kind of state we should constitute is another question, one some of our founders disagreed on.
Writing to Madison, concerning the U.S. Constitution, Jefferson claimed that the Earth belonged to the living who should not be “bound by the dead hand of the past.” In response, Madison stated that “the improvements made by the dead form a debt against the living, who take the benefit of them.” Madison, per usual, was right here. Humans do not enter the world spontaneously with no attachments. We are born into families, with obligations from the moment we are conceived. As Montesquiue states in Book V of The Spirit of the Laws, “at our coming into the world, we contract an immense debt to our country, which we can never discharge.”
As beneficiaries of the American tradition, we owe a debt to our forefathers that we cannot dismiss, and we are obligated, as Madison said, to improve and perpetuate it. We cannot accomplish this cumbersome task without a love for our country and an understanding of who we are. I now wish to briefly highlight the profound ideal of natural rights and a government instituted among men, by men to safeguard them, because I firmly hold it to be one worthy of our utmost affection.
To briefly cover the idea of the natural law, I believe it’s basic tenet is formulated as such: the law should start from the individual, with his complaints or grievances–the thing which has brought him to the court in the first place. Until the law decides otherwise, he is the sovereign over his own life. I know when we think of natural rights we think of life, liberty, and property; however, I think we make a mistake when speaking of rights in an abstract and esoteric manner. Any law, in and of itself, will restrict freedom, for example.
The problem is whether or not it is restricted with justification. The law should be about the judgements that ordinary people make everyday of their lives. This is what we, as Americans, inherit from the common law tradition. We also have a Bill of Rights, however, Madison explicitly authored the ninth Amendment to be sure to make it clear that this statement of rights didn’t cover all of them.
While it is marvelous to have a government instituted on the idea of respecting the sovereignty of the individual and the natural law, our founders knew that politics exists to maintain peace and the rule of law, and to permit civil society to flourish — as it is itself the end, and government is the mean to ensure it does not grow out of control.
This cannot be achieved prudently, or sustained through time, without the separation of powers and the marvelous principles of federalism that our constitution demands from our government.
To conclude, we, as Americans, are heirs to a splendid inheritance unfathomable to most in the chronicles of human history. Aristotle teaches us that two impulses will bring humans to cherish something: knowing it is theirs, and that it is delightful.
When the founding fathers spoke of our civilization, they purposefully spoke of it in terms of a Union. We have inherited a spectacular civilization. It is not mine, nor is it exclusively yours. It is ours. It belongs to the first person plural: we the people; Americans of past, present, and future generations. And it is truly delightful.
I hope you can come to cherish this wonderful land and all the benefits it provides; it is after all our home, sweet home.