Extracted from The Secrets of Masonic Washington
Destiny Books, 2008
We often forget that America is the first successful self-governing republic since the brief moments of ancient Athens and the Roman republic more than two thousand years before. The question of the balance between individual liberty and government authority is one that has always had a ready answer. Since time immemorial, people have been ruled by powerful kings and queens, or wealthy oligarchies, exercising their power with little or no restriction. Perhaps these dictators are beneficent, in which case the people are lucky. Often they are not. People in such systems are powerless to protect themselves. The sole historical alternative—until the American Revolution—has been mob rule, when tyrannies are temporarily suspended, and the chaos of indiscriminate violence and unchecked greed reign supreme.
Yet since the success of the American Revolution, the ideology of self-government has swept the world, exactly as envisioned by our Founders. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Paine all expressed their faith in the universality of liberty. They had little doubt it would extend beyond the shores of the American experiment. They believed freedom is as basic a need of the human soul as air, water, and sunlight to the body. And history has proven them correct.
In 1787, there was one republican form of government on earth: the United States. By 1950, twenty-two nations were considered democracies, composing 14 percent of the world’s population. That number grew to forty by the early 1970s. Today, some 121 of the world’s 192 sovereign states may reasonably be considered “democracies.” They include 64 percent of the world’s population. (I place the word democracies in quotation marks because without a written constitution enshrining individual sovereignty, elections alone do not freedom make. Two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch may be an example of democracy, but it hardly serves as an enduring model of liberty.)
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America continues the eternal human search for the right course of action in both domestic politics and international relations. The timeless truths upon which America was founded are as relevant today as ever.
The Inherent Dignity of the Individual
Of these, I believe the most important is the recognition of the inherent dignity of the individual. This is what has distinguished America from every other nation on earth, and it is the greatest ideological contribution we can offer to the rest of the world. The individual is the cornerstone of the social and political edifice.
The Spirit of Open Inquiry
The spirit of open inquiry in science has led this nation to the finest technological accomplishments and most widespread prosperity of any people in any time. Yet this fundamental principle is under attack. Science cannot be politicized to fit an agenda without dire consequences to the spirit of truth, let alone the practical reality of life on earth. Consensus is not a condition of empiricism. When scientists who question modern dogmas are labeled “deniers,” we come perilously close to a modern Inquisition. Disagreement transforms into heresy, and the punitive removal of research opportunities is a form of house arrest Galileo would certainly recognize.
Freedom of Thought and Expression
Freedom of thought and expression is the social corollary of unrestricted scientific inquiry. The ability of people to think for themselves and openly express ideas—good ideas and bad ideas—is a means by which a culture develops and maintains intellectual resilience and creativity. The marketplace of ideas rewards success and punishes failure. The most dangerous legacy of the “sixties generation” is political correctness. People who justified tearing down universities and burning flags in the name of free speech put a gag in the mouths of Americans when they came to power. The concertina-wired thought prison called “hate speech” is the most pernicious example of political correctness.
The Objective Nature of Reality
The objective nature of reality, celebrated by Enlightenment rationality, is another value that needs to be reacknowledged. People are what they are, rather than what we might like them to be. The Founders were realists: they assessed human nature for exactly what it is, eschewing fantasies of perfectibility. The pipe dreams espoused by Rousseau and his followers—who believed they could remake human nature—were responsible for the carnage of the French Revolution and the lives of countless millions since.4 In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “In questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.”
Until we find, or can create, a “cooperation gene” in the human DNA, the perception of man’s actual nature as demonstrated in America’s political design, will be more successful than “hopes and aspirations.” A society that condones expelling six-year-olds from school for drawing pictures of guns, eliminating games of tag at recess because of the danger that someone might trip, and prescribing dangerous drugs to control rambunctious kids, will not build the kind of citizens we need to remain a free people.
Self-reliance needs to be recovered as a modern virtue. We cannot allow ourselves to become a culture of spectators. The iconography of Washington, D.C., calls us to be heroes. Life is filled with danger. Suffering consequences teaches people to distinguish right from wrong. Overcoming adversity builds inner strength and self-confidence. If our goal is to make government the national caretaker—a nursery for the young and a nursing home for the old—we will become a nation of the dependent. Freedom is not free. It requires passion and determination. Perhaps the most accurate portrayal of the dangers we face is that presented in the novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Will America succumb to the kinder, gentler tyranny of “managed care”?
People are still free to rise on the basis of intellect, creativity, hard work, and the industrious spirit that has been the American legacy since the days when young Benjamin Franklin opened his print shop. But as we encourage trade with other nations and an expansion of our markets abroad, there are some industrial capabilities, consonant with self-defense that cannot be abandoned. “Free trade” agreements that require thousands of pages in description would appear to be the antithesis of “free.” When America has the highest rate of corporate taxation in the world, is it any wonder that corporations—and the jobs they provide—move to more business-friendly environments?
Americans are the most charitable people of any country on earth. Witness the huge amounts of money contributed by our government, corporations, and individuals during the tsunami crisis in Southeast Asia in 2006 and the more recent tragedies since. Such giving is commendable and consistent with our Judaeo-Christian roots, Masonic values, and the Founders’ humanitarian sentiments. But, we need to be willing to distinguish genuine charity from encouraging unsuccessful behavior by paying for its consequences. Policies that reward failure will keep people in chains, whether domestically or internationally.
Reconsidering America’s Mission in the World
An issue that needs to be re-examined is the over-extension of America’s mission in the world. When George Washington warned against entangling ourselves in foreign alliances in his Farewell Address, his sentiments were not some quaint eighteenth century truism to be discarded by future generations—any more than the Ten Commandments are a survival from the tribal mentality. Truth is eternal. America need a clear-eyed foreign policy working in the national self-interest. We can encourage those relationships that are compatible with our values, and refuse to nurture those that are not. Propping up failed states is a recipe for greater suffering for those living in oppressive regimes. When people suffer enough, they will rebel. With an effective intelligence capacity providing accurate data, America can quietly manipulate the levers of power—with an economy of force—to help future allies succeed. Social and cultural change takes time.
Should America fail—should “we the people” be unwilling to take responsibility for the dreams realized for a time by the luminaries we have visited in these pages—their words and deeds will live on. Like the ancient Egyptians, the Founders erected timeless structures, conceptual masterpieces that have lived beyond the lifetimes of their creators. If we, their beneficiaries, surrender to corruption and decline, becoming soft and self-indulgent, a leaner, hungrier, more motivated people will one day rediscover and embrace liberty—with all its demands. The Goddess of Democracy carries a torch whose flame is eternal.
My fervent prayer is that we Americans make ourselves worthy to continue to enjoy the gift of our freedom. The values our Founders espoused, and brought to life in this nation and its capital, are the highest and best of which humanity is capable. If we can summon the courage and will to face modern challenges, bringing to bear intelligence, through education, and apply the lessons taught by Washington, D.C., we can succeed.