Friday morning, July 4, our nation marks for the 232nd time the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which we have always regarded as the event that makes us what we are. Also we have regarded it as the event that marks us a special nation, a nation holding out a light to guide the rest of the world.
Always, that is, until lately.
Today critics celebrate that the world is passing us by. Fareed Zachariah declares: “America remains the global superpower today, but it is an enfeebled one.” China and India will soon tower above us.
Amy Chua writes in her book Day of Empire that we are getting what we deserve. Our empire building and our “xenophobic intolerance” are the causes of our coming decline. These sentiments are as common in the academy as snow in the Midwest (apologies, global warming).
Increasingly our politics revolve around the fashions of other nations or of that vast entity, commanding and yet impotent—“the world,” or better, “the rest of the world.” Seldom now do our politicians hearken to the great documents of our republic, the Declaration and the Constitution, to guide their actions or restrain their ambitions. We are reaching, perhaps, the place where America does not matter. Many think this a happy place.
Before we call it happy, we might just revisit this old and neglected friend to see what he has to say.
The universal claims of the Declaration are more remarkable when one remembers that it is an act of treason carrying the risk of death to all who supported it. Especially at the end, where the resolve of the signers becomes particular and grim, one can see that the document contemplates sacrifice as the price of liberty:
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
A lovely sentence, it contains one of the four mentions of God to be found in the Declaration. As it forms a link to God, so it forms at the same time a band of brothers, Adams pledging his life to Jefferson, and Jefferson to Franklin and Hancock and all the others. It is the mood of the battlefield. It is the prayer of the soldier before the charge is sounded.
How curious then is the contrast between this solemn and resolute conclusion to the Declaration and its majestic and universal beginning. You have read the words: