American optimism is legendary. This land was settled by people who left the security of their native lands to brave the uncertainties of the American wilderness in hopes of a better life; thus, one has to wonder if this heavy concentration of positive thinkers has influenced the American gene pool. On the other hand, the privations experienced by the early settlers to this land – anything but a tropical paradise – should have made them adopt Job’s outlook: “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” They experienced starvation and death from disease and exposure in staggering numbers. Yet they persisted.
While our optimism today might be expected, it is also paradoxical – both at the same time.
We have much more to be thankful for on this anniversary of the Declaration of Independence than we often take into account. Two hundred and thirty years removed, our native optimism makes us take much of our history for granted, as though the results of this country’s settlement and the revolution to secure our independence were bound to succeed. But careful study of the facts indicates that the freedom and prosperity that we enjoy today were anything but certain at the time.
The war for independence itself was characterized by more retreats than victories.
The uncertainties of what would follow the war are best understood by noting the outcomes of other revolutions.
For example, the French Revolution, which occurred just a few years after the conclusion of our own. It brought on 1793’s Reign of Terror, during which thousands of citizens – suspected of harboring the wrong sentiments – were put to death by the guillotine. Little wonder that by the end of that century, Napoleon was able to seize power. But far from ending the bloodshed, his conquests saw upwards of a million French soldiers die in battle or from other war-related causes. A historical parade of “bad” revolutions, which brought even more disastrous loss of life, followed: Russia, China, Cambodia, to name a few.
Reaping freedom from a revolution is a perilous endeavor. The military leadership that makes for a successful revolution is usually not the best-suited to establish a government that will ensure the liberty of the people. George Washington, first among the Founding Fathers, deserves enormous credit. As one historian put it, “If Washington would not be king, no one could be king.” Those who signed the Declaration of Independence and framed the Constitution understood the perils of power and did their best to set up a system of government that would give us the best odds of escaping the emergence of a despotic governmental regime. I say “best odds” for there were no guarantees then, nor are there now.
It is doubtful that the Founders fully comprehended what they were assenting to when they affirmed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” From the vantage point of history, they clearly were planting seeds that would eventually bear the fruit of a civil war that would root out slavery from this country. The price would be horrendous. Better than 600,000 men, Union and Confederate, would die in that bloody conflict – more than died in World Wars I and II combined. From 5,000 to 7,000 died in the Battle of Gettysburg alone.
What the signers did perceive were their grievances as free men who had been subjected to tyranny by the King of England. To throw off his rule, they pledged one another their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honors. In less than 50 years, the ideals inspiring this revolution would morph into the Abolitionist Movement and bring yet more struggle and division. The ultimate fruit of the war was the end of slavery and the beginning of one hundred years of additional struggle to gain equal civil rights for Black Americans.
As that struggle was reaching its apex with the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, another revolution was beginning. Mario Savio and others at the University of California at Berkeley were launching what became known as the Free Speech Movement. Its content was equal parts radical leftist ideology and sexual liberation, with a huge helping of vulgar, obscene profanity. Careful examination of their rhetoric in light of the realities of their time suggests that, unlike the Founding Fathers, the tyranny they perceived was less a matter of their circumstances than simply their outlook on life.
The sexual revolution that came into full flower beside the Marxist-fueled anti-war movement during the second half of the 1960s brought with it a host of pathologies. Idealistic rhetoric (most of it only a matter of slogans to the average undergraduate) was and still is used to try to dignify what happened during this period. But the driving force behind the radical groups that sprung up right and left was simply an immature anger. The youth sought a cause to justify their desire to rebel, and to mingle it with the forbidden pleasures of drugs and sex.
As these forces came together, an explosion of hedonism was unleashed on campuses and ubiquitous rock concerts, such as the infamous Woodstock Festival in 1969. The burning question pressed on students returning from a demonstration or concert was, “Did you get laid?” So much for anti-war idealism.
The free sex didn’t go unchallenged for long. While the defenders of Judeo-Christian moral standards had little effect, another group sprang up. Radical feminists, many of them avowed lesbians, declared war on males in general for their history of patriarchal oppression. They decried the family as an instrument of women’s oppression. A new order had to be constructed so that men and women were indistinguishable and interchangeable. The sexual revolution and women’s liberation now morphed into the feminist revolution with its dual keystones of no-fault divorce and abortion on demand. Like the river of blood from the Reign of Terror and the destruction attending Napoleon’s maniacal wars, this revolution is destroying millions of families and killing millions of unborn infants.
The results are staggering:
35 million children affected by divorce since 1970; Young adults experience 15 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases a year; One-third of all children born out of wedlock; 50 million women live alone; Cohabitation increased tenfold since 1960; 43 million abortions.
The West offers better medicine, more productive agriculture, labor-saving machines and material goods. Have we nothing more to offer than materialism and a philosophy that says people are mere physical beings, that morality and justice place no limitations or boundaries on liberty? Thomas Jefferson reminded the nation in 1774, “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.” Likewise, James Madison admonished the nation that liberty would be endangered as much by abuses of liberty as by the abuses of power.
Is it not an abuse of liberty that all those aborted little ones lacked even the basic dignity of a funeral service and burial?
Likewise, Judeo-Christian morality is not an abstract concept; instead, its principles are the foundation on which freedom is guaranteed. Those who deny religious freedom to others will not long enjoy those freedoms themselves.
Dr. Janice Crouse is Senior Fellow for Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute.
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