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One of the many patriotic slogans that has become popular as the 2012 election campaigns swing into full gear is “reclaiming the American Dream.” But in order to reclaim something, you must first understand what it is, and I can tell you with certainty that the American Dream is not what power-focused politicians would like you to believe it is.
It is not about “socially progressive” judges promoting “social justice.” It is not about government micromanaging people’s lives. It is not about punishing success. And it certainly is not about politicians divvying up an imaginary financial pie in a way that they believe is most likely to keep them in power.
The American Dream is about self-responsibility – about an individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And the only way he can pursue those rights is if the government leaves him alone.
No government has a right to interfere with the sovereignty of any individual. “American Government,” said Rose Wilder Lane, “is not an Authority; it has no control over individuals and no responsibility for their affairs. American Government is a permission which free individuals grant to certain men to use force in certain necessary and strictly limited ways; a permission which Americans can always withdraw from American Government.”
People who believe they need big government, run mostly by those who have never worked a day in their collective lives, to “reclaim” the American Dream for themselves are sadly mistaken. Government has nothing to do with the American Dream. The American Dream is a way of life that can be experienced only by free individuals.
Those who believe in the real American Dream cannot be distinguished by race, religious belief, nationality, occupation, or sex. They can be distinguished only by their common belief that liberty must be accorded a higher priority than all other objectives.
The American Dream means the freedom to pursue a better life, and it was that freedom that inspired millions of people to cross the oceans to reach America. Those millions of immigrants were not looking for government handouts. They were looking for opportunity, and that’s what the American Dream gave them.
In “The Federalist Papers,” James Madison warned, “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
Madison’s warnings were not heeded. The government did not, and does not, “control itself.” “Government by the people” has come to mean government by those in power. Ironically, the way this is accomplished is through a sleight of hand called “representative government,” which gives people a false sense of control.
As Alvin Toffler pointed out 30 years ago, representative government is but an illusion. Letting people vote every few years is the equivalent of throwing them a piece of raw meat. Once the election circus is over, they learn once again that they have virtually no power.
As early as 1857, Thomas Macaulay, the British historian, predicted what the inevitable results of majority rule would be when he said:
The day will come when [in the United States] a multitude of people will choose the legislature. Is it possible to doubt what sort of a legislature will be chosen? On the one side is a statesman preaching patience, respect for rights, strict observance of public faith. On the other is a demagogue ranting about the tyranny of capitalism and usurers and asking why anybody should be permitted to drink Champagne and to ride in a carriage while thousands of honest people are in want of necessaries. Which of the candidates is likely to be preferred by a workman? … When Society has entered on this downward progress, either civilization or liberty must perish. Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand, or your Republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians in the 20th century as the Roman Empire in the fifth; with this difference, that the Huns and vandals who ravaged the Roman Empire came from without, and that your Huns and vandals will have been engendered within your country, by your own institutions.
Macaulay’s powers of prophecy were incredibly accurate. Our democratic republic has destroyed itself through an excess of democracy. Majority rule has evolved into a free-for-all stampede of citizens appealing to politicians to give them an ever greater share of the plunder. And there is never a shortage of vile human beings who are willing to resort to euphemistic slogans like “reclaiming the American Dream” in an effort to accommodate them.
Rational people know there is something very wrong with our once-proud culture. We live in an age of tension and uncertainty. There is ill will and fear all around us. In the 1970s, Eric Hoffer observed that “the feeling of doom is stronger now. There is a widespread feeling that our economic system and our civilization are nearing their end. In the 1930s we still had values, ideals, hopes, illusions, certitudes. In the 1970s many people see life drained of meaning, and there is hardly a certitude left.”
Which begs the question: If those were Eric Hoffer’s thoughts 40 years ago, what would he have to say about today’s state of the union? I kind of doubt he’d buy into the notion that the promise of more government control over people’s lives equates to “reclaiming the American Dream.”
Even if we are successful in evicting the nation’s first anti-American president from the White House in 2012, people must understand that a new face in the Oval Office is not the solution to their No. 1 problem – a continuing loss of freedom. Freedom will always elude those who are not willing to fight for it.
Thus, the dominant question that confronts us is: Do moral, self-responsible individuals in this country harbor a great enough love of freedom to fight to reclaim it? Regardless of how the 2012 elections turn out, we will get the answer to that question fairly quickly because we are just now arriving at the tipping point.