We live in a time of transition, an uneasy era which is likely to endure for the rest of this century. It will be a period of tensions both within nations and between nations -- of competition for scarce resources, of social political and economic stresses and strains. During this period we may be tempted to abandon some of the time-honored principles and commitments which have been proven during the difficult times of past generations.
We must never yield to this temptation. Our American values are not luxuries but necessities -- not the salt in our bread but the bread itself. Our common vision of a free and just society is our greatest source of cohesion at home and strength abroad -- greater even than the bounty of our material blessings.
Remember these words:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
This vision still grips the imagination of the world. But we know that democracy is always an unfinished creation. Each generation must renew its foundations. Each generation must rediscover the meaning of this hallowed vision in the light of its own modern challenges. For this generation, ours, life is nuclear survival; liberty is human rights; the pursuit of happiness is a planet whose resources are devoted to the physical and spiritual nourishment of its inhabitants.
Carter understood all too well the evils that were plaguing America and the obstacles that stood in the path of liberty. But this fading leader's parting words could not stop the thirst for power and control that has plagued this planet since the beginning of human civilization in various forms of government and religion. He could not stop the wrath of unfettered capitalism.
Carter openly left office fearing what was to come, and although he emphasized the need for the next generations to renew the foundations of an unfinished democracy, rather than heed his warning, some willingly, and others more unsuspectingly, actually helped transform our American democracy to a system that thrives on consumption and materialism. A government that Abraham Lincoln once said was created by the people, for the people, into a system, by the people, for these people.
While these past American leaders were separated by roughly a century, both Carter and Lincoln emphasized the importance and meaning of one powerful word in their addresses that many people seem to have lost sight of in such a shallow and materialistic society: Liberty.
Webster defines Liberty as the quality or state of being free; the power to do as one pleases; freedom from physical restraint; freedom from arbitrary or despotic control; and the power of choice. According to Wikipedia, Liberty is a concept of political philosophy and identifies the condition in which an individual has the right to act according to his or her own will. Liberty is synonymous to Freedom.
“Misunderstanding arising from ignorance breeds fear, and fear remains the greatest enemy of peace." - Lester B. Pearson
Our history has demonstrated that many of us have been easily misled and controlled through the use of words like Liberty and Freedom (See Operation Iraqi Freedom). If you disagree, I suggest you just watch a film like Manufacturing Consent or take look at my last blog to see how the powers that be effectively control the masses through the imposition of ignorance and fear.
The misuse of these powerful words within logically flawed beliefs and values is how so many Americans have been able to escape responsibility for their actions; how many have been able to simply ignore whether or not a proposed fear is real or an illusion, and to justify action without any reasoning or common sense. (Updated 3/27/2010: See "Be Scared and Don't Ask Questions")
Historian Lord Acton highlighted this powerful term more than a century ago in the beginning of his address titled, "History of Freedom in Antiquity," which was delivered to the Members of the Bridgnorth in 1877:
Liberty, next to religion has been the motive of good deeds and the common pretext of crime, from the sowing of the seed at Athens, 2,460 years ago, until the ripened harvest was gathered by men of our race. It is the delicate fruit of a mature civilization; and scarcely a century has passed since nations, that knew the meaning of the term, resolved to be free. In every age its progress has been beset by its natural enemies, by ignorance and superstition, by lust of conquest and by love of ease, by the strong man’s craving for power, and the poor man’s craving for food. During long intervals it has been utterly arrested, when nations were being rescued from barbarism and from the grasp of strangers, and when the perpetual struggle for existence, depriving men of all interest and understanding in politics, has made them eager to sell their birthright for a pottage, and ignorant of the treasure they resigned.
At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has been sometimes disastrous, by giving to opponents just ground of opposition, and by kindling dispute over the spoils in the hour of success. No obstacle has been so constant, or so difficult to overcome as uncertainty and confusion touching the nature of true liberty. If hostile interests have wrought much injury, false ideas have wrought still more; and its advance is recorded in the increase of knowledge as much as in the improvement of laws. The history of institutions is often a history of deception and illusions; for their virtue depends on the ideas that produce and on the spirit that preserves them; and the form may remain unaltered when the substance has passed away.
What he's saying is what we're dealing with today isn't something new. Words like Liberty and Freedom have been used and abused for centuries, warped to fit the needs of various institutional beliefs and values, to control, divide, and destroy people; the exact opposite of the very meaning of these words. Knowledge is the only force that can restore and protect the true meaning of these words.
"Rationalism belongs to the cool observer. But because of the stupidity of the average person, they follow not reason, but faith. This naive faith, requires necessary illusions and emotionally potent oversimplifications, which are provided by the myth maker to keep the ordinary person on course." - Reinhold Niebuhr
When the dust had cleared after the American Revolution, our Founding Fathers sought to design a Constitution centered around these very principles that many American patriots had fought and died for. One of the most famous Founding Fathers, James Madison, wrote in Federalist No. 51, one of his essays that pursuaded the states to ratify the Constitution:
"It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part."
Over two centuries later, it's no secret that throughout American Government, from the electoral process and the lobbying in Washington, to the 5-4 split decisions by our Supreme Court on issues critical to protecting us from predatory corporations, has allowed for a small segment of the population to control and exploit a powerless majority (See Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances). The meaning of Liberty and Freedom ultimately varies across the spectrum that is the social ladder; from the lowest on the todem pole having little if any, to the fat cat corporations at the top who wield nearly absolute power.
The government officals have established and used political parties with labels like Democrat and Republican to force Americans to take what they believe to be sides, while instead they've elected a bunch of representatives whose ideologies and interests are far from transparent or aligned with those their constituents. Then like a bad broken record that won't stop playing, a corporate controlled media slants issues (and when necessary facts) in whichever favor their controlling corporate interests demand to gain the favor and support of the unsuspecting and uninformed public, while Congress proceeds to bicker over the type of Band-Aid it should use to cover a gaping wound that needs major reconstructive surgery. Let's not forget how often they use words like Liberty and Freedom to gain popular support.... It's obvious Washington has become a tight-knit fraternity where everyone is much more concerned about who's hosting the best house parties and getting the best lobbying jobs than ensuring Liberty by eliminating corrupt officials and unjust, outdated, or ineffective legislation.
It's time for major reform, particularly in the way we elect representatives, and how they are allowed to represent us. Term limits need to be restructured, if not eliminated, and restrictions on age limits and social status to run for office must be removed. There is no reason why any American, regardless of physical attribute or social class, shouldn't have the ability to be on the ballot or chosen by the will of the people. Campaign contributions need to be regulated properly so that no candidate's voice can be drowned out and suppressed by the power of the corporate news media and the vast wealth of corporations.
America is in need of major Constitutional reconstruction to undue decades of malfeasance. Each branch must change how it does business, and every single law, treaty, and regulation needs to be reviewed, and changed or removed if necessary, to restore and ensure Liberty; to make just what's been long unjust, and properly address the realities that the majority of the people are faced with. The purpose of the American government cannot be to solely cater to the needs of never-ending consumption, particularly that of 1% of the population. It's time for a government that it is truly for the people, with modern consitutional safeguards and checks and balances. It's time to redesign and renew the foundations of our democracy to meet the challenges of today.
Lawrence Lessig: Ctrl+Alt+Del
Is America A Corporatocracy?
For These People, By The People: The Corporate Takeover of U.S. Democracy
America's Invisible Slavery