04 July 2022

Independence Day

This is a revision of my old Independence Day post.

On this day, arriving in a dire moment in American life & institutions, I want to celebrate how our national holiday commemorates neither a military victory nor founding an institution, but rather people signing a statement of principles: the Declaration Of Independence.

Some of the principles the Founders asserted 246 years ago are superb. Frankly, many of them are … not so much. And we have failed to live up to the best of those principles.

But celebrating the nation by pointing to its defining principles — not land or blood or history or institutions, but principles — is good.

A decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them

I could do without the implicit sexism, but taking care to name your reasons for your politics is good.

We hold these truths to be self-evident

Being clear about which key points one takes as axiomatic — where one will not respect argument about them — is good.

that all men are created equal […] with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

Again, implicit sexism. But if we understand this to mean all people — as we should — this is good.

And I love how it says “among these” rights. We have a lot of rights. Too many to list. This is just a start, naming some of the big ones.

And I love “pursuit of happiness” as a right. The frank admission that we cannot demand happiness. But we get to try. We will not enumerate the ways we get to try; there are too many. The principle is deeper than the particular examples.

to secure these rights, governments are instituted

Our rights do not bind and limit government. Nor do they come from government. Rights are prior to the government which is only our instrument. Rights are what governments are for.

governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

When people do not accept their government’s legitimacy, that renders that government inherently unjust. “Democracy” is another word for this.

whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it the right of the people to alter or to abolish it

Again, government is our instrument. If it does not secure our rights, it has failed. We get to fix it.

when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security


These are instructions.

in every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury

The first step in political change is to name the problems, to open the possibility of a correction.

we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor

When we act to secure our rights, we must act in solidarity, backed by all we are and all we possess.


Frederick Douglass, the greatest American, reminds us, in his speech What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?, how the very people who declared these principles profoundly failed to meet them, as did their children and grandchildren for generation after generation, and I humbly submit that we continue to fail.

Each year I mark our national holiday by revisiting those principles, asking myself what my principles are, asking myself how I may fulfill them better. I keep returning to the same principle, my most fundamental politics, my version of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”:

all people are equal in rights, dignity, and moral claim to the fruits of this world

all people

ALL people


I hold that truth to be self-evident

My nation was born from slavery and genocide, the greatest injustices I can imagine. It perpetuates them and their consequences to this very day. But our national holiday is chosen to remind us how the USA got some very important things very right.

  1. We start from principles.
  2. Our principles say that slavery and genocide are wrong.
  3. Those crimes render the system which supports them illegitimate. So today our national holiday reminds us to read its founding statement of principle which rightly rejects the legitimacy of the country we have built.
  4. The United States Of America comes with instructions. They say it is our right to fix the nation. They say it is our duty to fix the nation.

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