The unique American experiment is being celebrated at the spot where the Pilgrims landed in 1620.
It’s the 125th anniversary of the National Monument to the Forefathers, which the Plymouth Rock Foundation is commemorating with a series of special events this week, concluding Saturday.
The monument, the Plymouth Rock Foundation says on its website, is the “largest solid granite monument in the United States, and the most ornate in giving the details of our Pilgrim forefathers.”
Foundation Executive Director Paul Jehle said the purpose of the events is “to remind Americans that it was the Pilgrims’ faith that brought them to America.”
“The fruit of that faith was civil liberty,” he said. “That liberty was secured at the time of the American Revolution.”
In the tradition of Tocqueville, Australian philosopher and author Nick Adams looks at the American experiment through fresh eyes in “The American Boomerang: How the World’s Greatest ‘Turnaround’ Nation Will Do It Again”
Author and historian William Federer, who is helping commemorate the monument, frequently lectures on the uniqueness of the American experiment in human history.
“The most common form of government in human history is kings, regardless of whether the king was called Pharaoh, Caesar, Kaiser, Darius, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, whatever,” he noted. “No matter where you go in the world, over the 6,000 years of recorded history you’re going to see kings.”
He lectures on the Magna Carta, the first significant document to limit the power of a king.
But Federer pointed out that the first attempt at an alternative form of government happened when Israel entered the Promised Land after 40 years in the wilderness and 400 years of slavery in Egypt.
There was no king for the first 400 years in the Promised Land, and everyone was equal under the law of God.
“The law specifically said there is no favoritism in judgment,” said Federer.
“It lasted as long as the priests taught the law,” he said. “When the priests stopped teaching the law, every man did what was right in their own eyes. They turned back the clock, then they got a king, Saul, who a short time later killed all of the priests.”
Federer then took the narrative to 600 B.C. when Athens had a king named Draco.
“He had written laws, and they were harsh – the death penalty for every other thing. This is where we get the phrase a draconian law,” he explained.
“They got rid of Draco and then they got Salon, who invented democracy and then left town,” Federer said. “In democracy, everyone, every day had to go to the market and talk politics. If you didn’t keep up with it every day you were called an idiotus, which is where we get the word idiot.”
The necessity of virtue
The ancient Greek philosopher Plato warned democracy could last only as long as the people have virtue.
“When they give up their virtue and give in to unnecessary pleasures and engage in immoral conduct, they raid the treasury, and then they wonder where to get more money,” Federer noted. “They vote to take the money from the rich people.”
The resulting shortage turns into a tug-of-war and the people call for someone to come and fix the mess.
“Someone comes along and promises to fix it, and they yield to him their privileges,” Federer said. “Sooner or later this person consolidates power, targets his political opponents, and he stands in the chariot of state and is revealed as the tyrant.”
America’s founders drew lessons from these historical experiments. From Israel, they adopted the principle of equality and rights that are given by a creator.
“You don’t get that from Athens; a majority could vote to kill a minority,” Federer said. “We get the idea of elections from Athens. ‘Demos’ means people; ‘cracy’ means rule. We get the idea of a republic from Rome, where they had people to represent them in the assembly of government.”
He explained that the word republic comes from the word rep, a short form of res publica, or “in the place of.”
“So a republic is a representative form of government. However, in America, we took from Athens the idea of electing our representatives. They can’t do whatever they want because they’re restrained by something called a Constitution,” he said.
The idea of limiting the power of a king or government by a Constitution is traced back to the Magna Carta.
Plato wrote in great detail about how governments throughout history have gone from a government led by people with virtue to chaos, then to the rise of a tyrant, Federer pointed out.
Plato, in about 380 B.C. in Athens, wrote in his work “Republic” that the government of Athens would go through five stages. The first is called rule of the capable, people who are responsible and who know how to run farms and businesses.
They are followed by “timocracy,” a form of government in which rulers are motivated by love of fame.
“These are people who have no experience running anything; they just got famous,” Federer said. “These are actors or athletes, and they hate to be dishonored. So, they can be manipulated.
“They want to do what’s popular,” he said. “But because these people have no real ability to do anything, they begin to vote themselves money from the treasury to pad their retirement.”
To do that they must turn to people who have money, which moves government to a third stage.
“The third type of government is the oligarchy, a rule of the view – an insider clique. They vote themselves favors and raise the taxes on everyone else, and exempt themselves. They pass laws that everyone else has to obey, but they exempt themselves,” Federer said.
The people eventually get upset at this privileged class, who are lovers of money, and vote them out of office and set up a democracy.
“Plato said a democracy is great; it’s like an embroidery patchwork. It’s like a bazaar market where you can pick any viewpoint,” Federer said. “It goes on fine because the chief characteristic is a love of tolerance. That can go along fine, but eventually you tolerate any viewpoint.”
Eventually, he said, society tolerates the criminal, which devolves into tolerating a lack of virtue.
“The tolerance of crime and libertinism, the exaltation of freedom to do anything, gets into the finances of the home and state,” he said. “They pilfer all of the reserves, a crisis results, then there’s a cry for someone to come and fix it.”
The person who comes to fix it asks for power, consolidates the power and then uses the government to target political enemies.
“Then he purges his government of anyone with virtue; he purges his military of anyone with virtue,” Federer said. “He loves power and works to retain his power. He gets rids of virtuous people because they know there is a higher standard than the one set by the tyrant.”
The tyrant replaces the people who have virtue, surrounding himself “with the people who got him his power.”
“So he will surround himself with criminals, slaves, illegal aliens, and he will arm them so they will go out and do his bidding and dirty work for him.”
‘One people, equal under God’
While Federer refrained from making any direct connections to the present situation in the United States, he discussed what is necessary for the nation to preserve its unique experiment.
One major necessity, he said, is for the people to educate themselves.
“We have the motivation to educate ourselves and our politicians about the patterns and facts of history. Most politicians are experts at one thing – getting elected. They’re not experts on history, finance, or global politics; they’re good at getting elected. Then they want to be re-elected,” he explained.
“So we have to let them know that we are educated and we hold the key to their getting elected or re-elected. It is the education of the people that is important,” Federer said.
He concluded emphasizing that government “will last only as long as we are a people who have virtue.”
“We were founded as a country that was predominantly Protestant, with some Catholics and Jews. So the country was completely started by people who held a common morality of Judeo-Christian beliefs,” he noted.
“We were founded on a belief in equality of persons who are one people, equal under God,” Federer said. “If we ever lose that, we will not survive as a nation.”