“Because we live in a largely free society, we tend to forget how limited is the span of time and the part of the globe for which there has ever been anything like political freedom: the typical state of mankind is tyranny, servitute, and misery.” – Milton Friedman
We certainly do take a lot for granted. Consider that on this planet of about 6.7 billion people, Americans comprise about 4.4% of the world population. If an American — and one who is healthy enough to function well, intelligent enough to be on a site like this, and even somewhat financially secure — you’ve won life’s lottery. You had a far greater chance of being born in — and usually confined to — China, or Sub-Saharan Africa. But out of sheer luck, you weren’t. For the vast majority of us living in the United States, we were fortunate enough to simply be born into history’s grandest civilization: one that we had not yet earned nor contributed to.
So why do we never feel so lucky? Amidst apocalyptic conservative rhetoric about impending tyranny, leftist outrage about relations between the sexes, races, or classes, and our own personal fixations on our relatively minor problems — why is it so difficult to take a step back, take the historical and international perspective, and realize how incredibly fortunate we are?
Independence Day is a day to be thankful. This civilization didn’t just fall into the hands of the world — although it did merely fall into our own. And yet, as Ronald Reagan would have reminded us: the love of freedom is not genetic. It is not passed along through bloodlines. We must be conscious guardians of civilization. But we cannot do that without understanding America’s virtues — and truly internalizing our love of them. The left came to abandon America because it could not come to terms with its imperfections. Conservatives, trained the tradition of Burke, Hayek, and Sowell, should know better: that in this life of trade-offs, prudence, and endless troubles of the human condition, America has achieved something grander than any nation in history has. Love of country surely includes the drive to improve it — but that alone isn’t patriotism. We cannot love merely an abstract America. We cannot consider ourselves patriots if the America we love is one that exists only in centuries past — or the distant future, once some major revisions have been made. No: for all of its imperfections, we must, as students of history, love the America of today. We must look at what this world’s alternatives to American life actually are. Only then can we truly see how truly fortunate we are. Our civilization’s virtues — those virtues we always take too much for granted — make and keep America the most exceptional nation on Earth.
Talk to Alex Knepper at [email protected]