The publishing of the Declaration of Independence 233 years ago by our Founders was responded to in London by two of the 18th century's greatest minds: Dr. Samuel Johnson (after whom a literary age was named) and Edmund Burke (the intellectual father of modern Anglo-American conservatism).
Dr. Johnson made the harsh assertion that our Declaration was "the delirious dream of republican fanaticism" that, if sincere, would "put the axe to the roots of all government." Moreover, he went on, it was the rankest hypocrisy for owners of slaves to shout for freedom, or, as Johnson put it: "Why is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of negroes?"
But it was Edmund Burke who had the more profound insight. He recognized that it wasn't despite being slaveholders that American Colonists felt so powerfully about liberty. Rather, being in the midst of the obvious evils of slavery, those men who were free more fully appreciated their freedom. "Those who are free are by far the most proud and jealous of rank and privilege," Burke argued. Or, as Jedediah Purdy (from whose historically rich and ingenious book "A Tolerable Anarchy" I have abstracted these observations) put it: "Slavery made masters uniquely sensitive to any invasion of their independence."
These sensitivities -- sensibilities -- that Burke so shrewdly observed in 1775 continue to manifest themselves in American politics today as we fight over socializing health care, nationalizing industries, indebting our grandchildren, regulating and taxing energy creation and the other intrusions into what Americans have long considered not to be the government's business.
Burke would understand what Europeans (and many European-influenced Americans) in 2010 continue to scoff at as America's obsession with the slogan of freedom. Because although we Americans may talk about freedom as an abstraction -- and believe in freedom as an abstraction -- our politics come alive when we experience an intrusion into what John Adams called "the sensations of freedom."
As Burke explained: "Abstract liberty, like other abstractions, is not to be found. Liberty inheres in some sensible object; and every nation has formed to itself some favorite point which ... becomes the criterion of their happiness."
I believe that the rise of the Tea Party movement and the impassioned nature of American politics in 2009-10 is the result of the Obama administration's having, probably inadvertently, intruded into "some favorite points which becomes the criterion of (our) happiness."
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.