Commentary Magazine


Topic: Independence Day

Independence Day and the Left’s Unseemly Vanity

As most of the nation is preparing to celebrate the 239th anniversary of its founding, the left is going about producing self-affirmations and reinforcing its narcissistic prejudices. Read More

As most of the nation is preparing to celebrate the 239th anniversary of its founding, the left is going about producing self-affirmations and reinforcing its narcissistic prejudices.

This is hardly a new phenomenon, but it has become more pronounced as the present era of progressivism reaches a zenith and invites what history suggests will be a correction in a more conservative direction. The latest example of this unattractive tendency was submitted by Vox.com’s Dylan Matthews who, in a sprawling tome, contended that the American Revolution was a mistake, an unfortunate accident of history, and that mankind would be better off had it never occurred.

Matthews based this contention on three pillars. The first is that the practice of African slavery in North America would have been abolished perhaps twenty years earlier and perhaps without any bloodshed had the colonies continued to fly the British flag. This claim is easy to make for someone who has so consciously determined to ignore the rebellious and individualistic nature of the American character. If Americans were so passive that they would simply accept British abuses in the late 18th Century, surely the planter class in the American South would have been equally servile in the early 19th Century. In Matthews’ fantasy, Southerners would have given up on the practice of slavery peacefully in response to an edict drawn up by an unrepresentative parliamentary body in London.

Matthews’ second contention is that, like American slaves, Native American tribes preferred the British to the American colonists and fought on their behalf during the Revolutionary War. What’s more, he contends that they were right to do so. “Absent the revolution, Britain probably would’ve moved into Indian lands. But fewer people would have died,” he averred. Matthews ignores or is simply unaware of many tribes who fought on the behalf of the Colonists. George Washington personally requested and was provided with Maine’s Passamaquoddy warriors. Massachusetts passed a resolution calling for the employment of 500 Malisset and Micmac Indians by the Continental Army. Indeed, those tribes that did side with the rebellious Americans did so because they believed siding with the devil they knew would better preserve their political neutrality. There was and remains no monolithic Native American position on the Revolutionary War, and to suggest that there was is nothing short of misinformation.

But the many paragraphs Matthews devoted to his self-flagellating sop to identity politics are a mere smokescreen that disguises his true aim: the condemnation of republicanism itself. “In the UK, the Conservative government decided it wanted a carbon tax. So there was a carbon tax. Just like that,” Matthews remarked. “Passing big, necessary legislation — in this case, legislation that’s literally necessary to save the planet — is a whole lot easier with parliaments than presidential systems.” He goes on to insist that the American governmental system is lamentably democratic insofar as it gives “Wyoming the same power as California” in the upper chamber of Congress, and that the need to craft national consensus in order to advance his policy preferences is a lamentable millstone around the neck of “progress.”

It is tempting to dismiss Matthews’ self-loathing tract as just the latest example of ham-fisted provocative “takes” written and published only in order to attract views; a modern example of Barnum’s American Museum, a low form of entertainment in which oddities and curiosities violate taboos and titillate the intrigued. But this would be a disservice to Matthews and the tyrannical progressivism he represents. Though his is supposedly a sermon in praise of constitutional monarchy, he only celebrates the British system’s least democratic elements. Matthews wrote in praise of undiluted authoritarianism. On the left, he is not alone in this impulse. His admiration for anti-democratic governance is not all that dissimilar from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s desire to see America be “China for a day.”

“One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks,” Friedman graciously conceded. “But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.” Among those disadvantages Friedman underemphasized is the persistent historical fact that one-party autocracy tends not to surrender its power after that one productive day in the absence of considerable social upheaval and, often, butchery.

But Matthews and Friedman shouldn’t be dismissed as mere click-seekers. Their honesty in admiration for the authoritarianism that our enlightened Founders sloughed off in favor of revolutionary democratic republicanism is admirable. Conservatives would do well to note often and frequently that their opponents on the left are not fans of the messy and inefficient process of seeking public approval for their policy preferences. The left’s most honest voices openly concede that they would prefer you be made to accept their edified fiat at gunpoint.

A less toxic example of this grotesque self-assuredness was demonstrated by President Barack Obama’s White House this week. In keeping with this president’s desire to see every holiday politicized and to foist upon exhausted families one of his true believers who will ceaselessly proselytize in favor of the president’s policies, the administration asked its devotees to praise and promote the Affordable Care Act over the Fourth of July weekend. In a blog post, the Department of Health and Human Services provided administration supporters a script that they can recite for the unbelievers in their midst. “With greater access to affordable, quality health insurance, the Affordable Care Act is helping individuals and strengthening our economy!” HHS invited its backers to exclaim. “Now would you like more corn?”

This suggestion is in keeping with past administration behavior. It is, however, almost more unseemly for the secularists in this government to infringe upon the solemnity of the celebration of America’s birth than it is to invite Obama’s backers to spoil overtly or inherently religious affairs like Christmas or Thanksgiving. At a time when Americans should be reflecting on the sacrifices of the Founders and those subsequent generations who sacrificed so much to preserve freedom and self-determination, the administration’s narcissists prefer that you revel in their own accomplishments. This sentiment is of a kind with that expressed by first lady Michelle Obama who remarked that she had never been prouder of the United States than when it appeared set to elect her husband to the presidency. Rather than reflect on the sacrifices of those Americans who toiled so that we might enjoy our present comfort and security, those like Matthews, the first lady, and this administration prefer the reflection in the mirror.

Most Americans still know that the Founders who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor were not penning some frat house oath; in revolt against the Crown, those things were truly in the balance. Most Americans do not pine for the legislative efficiency of dictatorial government; they have voted for a divided Washington consistently since 2010, and only the most arrogant would contend that the voters simply don’t know what they want. Most Americans value the country that is still the shining city upon the hill, the golden door besides which Emma Lazarus eloquently noted the lady in the harbor lifts her lamp. Most Americans give thanks that their nation is the Arsenal of Democracy, and know innately that other less altruistic powers would fill that vacuum in her absence. Most Americans – left, right, and unaffiliated — are not as infatuated with themselves as are those who populate pro-administration blogs with content.

Most Americans do not cringe when they hear their neighbor unashamedly wish them a happy Independence Day, and they do not recoil when that is followed by the appeal to heaven that seeks God’s blessing on America. That was so for 239 years, and may it ever be thus.

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