These words championed on Republican banners during John McCain’s acceptance speech last night mark a dangerous inversion of the moral principles America was founded upon. Consider the principles as stated in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.Man has certain inalienable rights, and to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. The individual is paramount in the Founders’ vision. The individual’s right to pursue his own happiness and the rights to life, liberty and property, which are his means of achieving it, is the purpose of government. Governments exist solely as the means to secure these rights.
McCain and the new Republican principles reverse that order. For them, it is country first. Service to the state is the ideal. John McCain himself represents that ideal, the patriotic soldier who re-discovered this principle while being tortured for six years in a Hanoi dungeon. In that dungeon, he says that he learned to stop saying “me first,” and learned to say “country first.”
McCain’s new discovery is actually very old. From his earliest days, man has been sacrificing himself to the state. Whether it was embodied in the tribe and king, or the shaman and witch doctor, or the collective, man’s fate was to suffer for others, until the first free country ever clearly enunciated a different moral principle.
The American Revolution was fought to overturn the principle of individual subservience to the state, to overturn the tyranny of kings and their ilk. In America, men could proudly claim their own happiness first. Their patriotism was based on the knowledge that the government existed to protect them from the tyranny of the state and the forceful violations of their rights by their fellow men.
McCain’s old vision is not patriotic, properly understood. Carried to its logical extreme, it will reduce our status to the level of serfs. Man will return to his traditional relationship with the state, that of subservience. Men will be put back in the dungeon.
While McCain himself does not represent that sort of tyrant yet in degree, he does represent it in principle. One of McCain’s heroes is Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt gave us “authoritarianism lite.” Like McCain, he bashed big business. Roosevelt busted up the big trusts, including Big Oil, which McCain also despises. Roosevelt was also an environmentalist, championing the establishment of the massive Parks system.
Expect more of the same from McCain and the new-old Republican Party, for now. For a vision of our longer-term future, study the history of every society that proclaimed the state first. The party of the state is not the ally of each of us who wants to pursue his own happiness. With country first, the individual is subservient.