[The following was excerpted from Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s book, Seize Freedom: American Truths and Renewal in a Chaotic Age – used with permission.]
Right now, parents suffer sleepless nights worrying that they will lose their jobs, their homes, their health care, and their hopes for their children. In the War for Freedom against Terrorism, families bury, mourn, and honor their loved ones lost in battle against our barbaric enemies. Reverent citizens struggle to make sense of an increasingly perverse society disdainful of–and destructive to–the traditional culture of faith, truth, virtue, and beauty, if the existence of these permanent things is even admitted. Parents sense “American Exceptionalism” eroding, and fear they will not be allowed to pass on to their children the great nation they’ve inherited.
Amidst this turmoil, Americans have come to view the government as lacking their consent, and as a threat to their freedom. Ideologues and demagogues prey upon such chaos, just as the great conservative thinker Russell Kirk warned in The American Cause:
What really creates discontent in the modern age, as in all ages, is confusion and uncertainty. People turn to radical doctrines not necessarily when they are poor, but when they are emotionally and intellectually distraught. When faith in their world is shaken; when old rulers and old forms of government disappear; when profound economic changes alter their modes of livelihood; when the expectation of private and public change becomes greater than the expectation of private and public continuity; when even the family seems imperiled; when people can no longer live as their ancestors lived before them, but wander bewildered in new ways–then the radical agitator, of one persuasion or another, has a fertile field to cultivate.
Demagogues, of course, are not a modern development. In the fourth century B.C., the Athenian civilization heeded demagogues who dismissed internal and external threats as imagined, insignificant, and distant. Prideful and pampered, the Athenians ridiculed the patriot Demosthenes, who pleaded with the people–“In God’s name, I beg of you to think”–to grasp reality and preserve their liberty. The Athenians refused and reveled in false hope–until Macedonian arms crushed them.
Poised to repeat this tragedy in our own time, we are enthralled with ideologues’ simplistic solutions and false comforts. Wholly or in part, we are ignoring, belittling, or denying our immense challenges, and the demagogues deluding us are rewarded. No longer do we honor the Latin charge–“Out of shadows and symbols into the truth!” Instead, we flit from the truth into shadows and symbols, where yawns the abyss. We have forgotten young Abraham Lincoln’s antebellum warning of 1838: “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
We are engaged in an epic struggle to conserve our cherished way of life. But rather than despair, at this time we must recall that Americans have always overcome great challenges and inspired the world. Through the pivotal middle decades of the twentieth century, America’s Greatest Generation overcame four great challenges:
- The social, economic, and political upheavals of industrialization
- A world war against evil enemies
- The Soviet Union as a strategic threat and rival model of governance
- The moral struggle of the civil rights movement
Now, our Global Generation must overcome four great challenges:
- The social, economic and political upheavals of globalization
- A world war against evil enemies
- Communist China as a strategic threat and rival model of governance
- Moral relativism’s erosion of our self-evident truths
Despite the parallels, a difference exists: the Greatest Generation faced their great challenges consecutively; our Global Generation faces our great challenges simultaneously.
Our great challenges manifest themselves in a global recession and War for Freedom against Terrorism. In response, a leftist administration and its radical Congress have taken America in a “new direction”–backward to the 1970s. The Left has proven too costly, too crazy, too quickly, giving Americans:
- More deficits and debt
- More spending and taxes
- More unemployment
- More government
- Less freedom
Ideologically blinded, the Left responds to our great challenges by making big government larger and more expensive, and leaves sovereign Americans less powerful and more indebted. The Left wants big government to bury our freedom.
Instead, our freedom will bury big government.
We the People are at our best when challenged. It is up to us, America’s sovereign citizens, to prevent ideologues and demagogues from reaping a bitter harvest in the “fertile field” of uncertainty and discontent. It is up to us to reassert America’s enduring truths. It is up to us to determine freedom’s future in these transformational times.
The first step to transcending these great challenges is to rid ourselves of ideology. As was his wont, Ronald Reagan hit the nail on the head:
Conservatism is the antithesis of the kind of ideological fanaticism that has brought so much horror and destruction to the world. The common sense and common decency of ordinary men and women, working out their own lives in their own way–this is the heart of American conservatism today. Conservative wisdom and principles are derived from a willingness to learn–not just from what is going on now, but from what has happened before.
Ideologues fit the world to their minds; conservatives fit their minds to the world. Ideologues believe politics encompasses life; conservatives believe politics is a part of life. Ideologues believe they possess an abstract, absolute truth that can compel an imperfect humanity to attain a terrestrial paradise; conservatives believe in self-evident truths and the traditional rights and duties found in an imperfect humanity’s wisdom, customs, and community institutions that have developed over the generations. As a result, ideology is an act of negation and hate; conservatism is an act of creation and love.
Little wonder that the plurality of Americans say they are “conservative,” though this is more a philosophical position than political. Most people dislike radical change and crazy schemes. They know America isn’t a bureaucracy or an economy, America is a country. Living real life’s sorrows and joys, Americans want elected servants with the hearts to treat people as souls, not statistics, and to empathize with their trials and dreams. They demand honest, realistic answers to stem the rising tide of chaos in this ideologically riven time and to restore order, justice, and freedom to our American home.
It is incumbent upon us to reassert the centrality of the human soul in making public policy; return power and opportunity from governmental and bureaucratic institutions to American citizens; defend our blessed sanctuary of liberty in a lethal world; perpetuate American Exceptionalism for our children; and never allow ideology blind us to this reality.
Our enduring duty, then, is clear. We must:
- Expand liberty and self-government
- Conserve our cherished way of life and its foundations of faith, family, community, and country
- Empower Americans to achieve constructive, necessary change by limiting government
- Defend America’s national security
The American Revolution’s experiment in liberty and self-government lit a fire of freedom around the world, carried forward and nurtured for generations. Americans cannot allow that fire to be dimmed.
Unfortunately, the Left is doing just that with its attempts to bloat government and reduce sovereign Americans from the masters of their destiny to the serfs of governmental dependency. The Left is not “progressive.” The Left is “regressive,” because it invariably increases big government at the expense of self-government. Thankfully, We the People know that true progress is the expansion of freedom. We know, too, that if America falters or fails in her “last full measure of devotion” to freedom, there is no other nation to replace her. After all, if we turn our backs on freedom, who will take our place and carry its torch?
Equally, we must not cede to big government our sovereign power to devise individual and collective solutions to our problems in the pursuit of our happiness. Tyrants claim that absolute order must precede their people’s paltry snippets of liberty . . . which never come. But we understand freedom’s paradox: personal liberty leads to national prosperity and security by freeing Americans to establish the true roots of American order. This is accomplished through the voluntary and virtuous individual, familial, and communal associations that inspire and guide a free people to conquer challenges.
Further, we must limit government to empower Americans to achieve constructive, necessary change, because, as Russell Kirk noted: “Permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. . . . Just how much change a society requires, and what sort of change, depend upon the circumstances of an age and a nation.” In every age, big government doesn’t stop chaos; big government is chaos. The federal government cannot keep inflating itself with higher taxes, spending, and regulations. Government must be reined in so that Americans can achieve the constructive change we need.
Finally, even if we promote liberty and self-government at home, we must defend America from her enemies abroad. A balanced budget alone will not preserve our freedom. In a bittersweet irony, it is our very existence as a free people that makes us the target of tyrants and terrorists around the globe. So long as we live as a free people, we inspire oppressed peoples to throw off the yoke of their subjugators; and their subjugators know this. We must be ever vigilant and strong to deter and defeat them.
In fulfilling our enduring duty, we must be guided by five permanent principles:
- Our liberty is from God, not the government
- Our sovereignty rests is in our souls, not the soil
- Our security is through strength, not surrender
- Our prosperity is from the private sector, not the public sector
- Our truths are self-evident, not relative
If our rights came from government, our rights can be taken by government. This theory of governance inverts the fundamental premise of the American Revolution that government is established to protect our unalienable rights, which come from a higher source than government. Therefore, recognizing that our rights come from God, not man, protects our rights by asserting that government is subservient to the sovereign people.
Logically and rightly, the sovereignty of our nation is vested in the people, not an imaginary “Fatherland,” bureaucracy, or crown. Instead, it lives in the hearts and minds of all Americans. This is the reason American government must be a limited government. If big government is allowed to dictate and determine the rights of citizens, the people are no longer sovereign and America’s revolutionary experiment in freedom and self-government is undone.
Historically, tyrants have viewed the democratic institutions of free nations as a sign of weakness. As Jean-François Revel observed in How Democracies Perish, totalitarian nations’ initial advantages in mobilizing for and waging war tempt them to bully and blackmail democracies into appeasing them. Consequently, America’s surest path to disabusing these rulers of such dangerous illusions is to practice the policy of “peace through strength” and prudently expand liberty to ensure our security.
Though we expect government to protect our national security, we should not seek “economic security” from the state. Dependence on government largesse precludes people’s independent pursuit of happiness, degrades their dignity of self-reliance; and diminishes their prosperity, liberty, and sovereignty.
Crucially, a cancerous threat to our liberty, sovereignty, security, and prosperity is moral relativism. We are a nation built upon self-evident truths, not self-serving rationalizations.
If moral relativism is allowed to erode these truths, we will lack a common moral compass, betray our national purpose, and devolve into heartless hedonists ripe for serfdom.
This will not be the fate of our American civilization, for which generations of citizens have sacrificed their blood, sweat, toil, and love to make great. Sure, some Americans consider themselves the cosmopolitan inhabitants of a new, global “post-American” order. They disdain their inheritance from the late “American Century.” These callow, unwitting ideologues deem traditional American virtues, sacrifices, and strengths too steady to be trendy, too antiquated to be saved.
They are wrong.
Our freedom is too precious to be squandered upon or usurped by big government. Thankfully, the majority of Americans know the twenty-first century’s Freedom Paradigm is this: Good government empowers citizens by expanding freedom and self-government.
Embracing this verity during our nation’s foundational trial by fire, Abigail Adams proclaimed, “I know America capable of anything she undertakes with spirit and vigor.” To us, the heirs of America’s revolutionary experiment in liberty and self-government, her faith rings true today, here on the cusp of our nation’s newest birth of freedom.
Today, America’s ultimate strength and salvation remains her free people. We will not let her down. We will seize our freedom; lead today to shape tomorrow as an unparalleled age of liberty, prosperity, and peace; and honor our sacred duty to bequeath our exceptional nation to future generations of free Americans.