THE VISION OF THE IDEAL
"We must embrace a code that extols the virtues of thought, production, and trade and declares that the purpose of morality is to teach you how to achieve your own life and happiness. We must recognize that a moral code of individualism is the only code compatible with America’s uniqueness.
What remains for us to do is to pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to understanding and realizing its vision of the ideal.
To understand, we need to begin by rewinding some 230 years, to the birth of the nation, to consider what the American Revolution accomplished and failed to accomplish.
It is easy to forget how new an idea America is. The Founding Fathers invented a new type of government.
All previous forms of government had, to some degree or other, placed power in the hands of the state at the expense of the individual.
Theocracy placed power in the hands of priests and popes, who, as spokesmen for the supernatural, were to be obeyed without question. Monarchy placed power in the hands of a king or queen, whose subjects lived and died by the ruler’s edicts. Aristocracy placed power in the hands of a hereditary elite, who trampled on the members of the lower classes. Democracy placed power in the hands of the majority, who could do what they wished to any minority.
In all these systems, recalcitrant individuals were dealt with in the same way. They were greeted with the instruments of physical compulsion: with imprisonment, torture, and death.
The priests placed Galileo under house arrest and burned Bruno at the stake. The king beheaded Thomas More. The aristocrats butchered individual peasants en mass. The Athenian democracy forced Socrates to drink hemlock.
To all such outrages, the Founding Fathers said: No more.
They devised a system that placed power into the hands of the individual at the expense of the state. The individual, they declared, possesses the inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. The government does not stand above the individual, as his master, but below him, as his servant.
“To secure these rights,” Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” If a government trespasses on the rights of the individual, “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.”
In the Declaration, the Founding Fathers were of course declaring political independence from Britain. More deeply, however, they were declaring independence from priests and from kings, from aristocrats and from the will of the majority.
They were creating a sanctuary for individuals with unbowed minds—for the Galileos and Socrateses of the world, who were henceforth to meet with a different fate.
What motivated the Founding Fathers to take the enormously dangerous action of creating a new country? Why did they risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor?
The key to understanding their motivation is that they were this-worldly, fact-based idealists.
As students of the Enlightenment, of Europe’s Age of Reason, the Founding Fathers believed in the perfectibility of man. If man unfailingly uses his rational mind, and if he carefully studies and formulates the methods by which in fact human values and prosperity are achieved, then perfection, they held, here on earth, is within man’s grasp.
This, precisely, is what the Founding Fathers did with regard to the subject of government. They painstakingly studied the forms and history of governments, in order to define a perfect method of governance. The result was the Constitution of the United States, with its innovative set of checks and balances, designed to prevent any emergence of absolute power.
To most British subjects, British rule was good (which, comparatively speaking, it was) and good enough. But to the Founding Fathers, good was not good enough. As idealists, they sought perfection. When they saw the possibility for action, therefore, they rebelled—when few other men would have done so.
To burn with this type of idealism requires a profound self-esteem. It requires a spirit that wants to see perfection made real, for itself and in its own life. Genuine self-esteem—not the “we’re all okay” variety—is an earned esteem of your own soul. It is the
conviction that you are deserving of success and happiness, because you are continuously working to achieve these.
If you wonder about the imposing stature of the Founding Fathers, of men like Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson, this is the key. They were men of genuine self-esteem; men who took the perfection of their own lives, mind, character, and happiness with the utmost seriousness. They were abstract thinkers and also doers: men of wide and constantly expanding erudition, who were also lawyers, farmers, printers, business owners, architects, and inventors.
This kind of individual will jealously guard his freedom—his freedom to follow his own judgment, to make his own choices, and to enjoy the values and wealth he creates. To such an individual, the issue of his own perfectibility is a daily reality, which he will allow no one to usurp. To such an individual, the idea that he is a sinful or irrational or wretched creature, desperately in need of a superior to tell him what to do, has no reality. This kind of an individual will allow no king or government to dictate his convictions or dispose of his fortune and life—not for any reason or to any degree.
For the Founding Fathers, the motto “live free or die” had real meaning. Without freedom, they would be dead—their mode of existence would be dead—their unrelenting, unbowed pursuit of their own perfection would be dead. And so they fought.
The Declaration of Independence was a declaration of self-esteem. It was made by men proud to fight for their full freedom.
But their achievement is eroding.
The Founding Fathers would be shocked by the power that is now concentrated in the hands of the American government at the expense of the individual."
The above is a excerpt from "Atlas Shrugged: America's Second Declaration of Independence" By Onkar Gate