Thoughts for 4th July
On this 4th of July I’d like to share these thoughts from Ayn Rand written almost 45 years ago.
It is in this context—from the perspective of the bloody millennia of mankind’s history—that I want you to look at the birth of a miracle: the United States of America. If it is ever proper for men to kneel, we should kneel when we read the Declaration of Independence.
The concept of individual rights is so prodigious a feat of political thinking that few men grasp it fully—and two hundred years have not been enough for other countries to understand it. But this is the concept to which we owe our lives—the concept which made it possible for us to bring into reality everything of value that any of us did or will achieve or experience.
This is the key—and the only key—to the problem of national unity. If men seek peaceful coexistence, they must accept the principle that every man has rights which other men may not infringe—that he has the right to exist for his own sake and to pursue his own happiness—that he is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others, not of any others, big or small, strong or weak, neither as cannon fodder nor as unrewarded drone toiling to support the Feudal Lord, or the King, or the Emperor, or the children of welfare recipients.
I shall not repeat here what rights are, how to define them, and how to implement them. (I refer you to my book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.) I shall merely remind you that the only rule of conduct men must accept—if they wish to achieve peaceful coexistence—is the rule that none may initiate the use of physical force against others. The rest is a matter of consistent implementation—the first step of which is to delegate to the government the right to use force in retaliation, and only in retaliation. (This is necessary in order to take the homicidal power, force, out of the reach of human whims and human irrationality, and place it under the control of objective laws.)
Individual rights is the only proper principle of human coexistence, because it rests on man’s nature, i.e., the nature and requirements of a conceptual consciousness. Man gains enormous values from dealing with other men; living in a human society is his proper way of life—but only on certain conditions. Man is not a lone wolf and he is not a social animal. He is a contractual animal. He has to plan his life long-range, make his own choices, and deal with other men by voluntary agreement (and he has to be able to rely on their observance of the agreements they entered).
National unity, like love, is not a primary, but a consequence and must come voluntarily or not at all. Just as one cannot order a child to love his mother, and if one does, one will make him hate her—so one cannot order or urge a nation to unite. When a politician’s demands for unity violate your convictions, when he claims that unity supersedes your judgment, when he urges you to support policies which you oppose, to participate in actions you regard as evil, to join your own destroyers, or to leap into a sacrificial furnace—all in the name of national unity—then pretense, hypocrisy, corruption, hatred, and national disintegration will be the only results.
— Ayn Rand, A Nation’s Unity—Part II, The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. II, No. 2 October 23, 1972.