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Friday, July 04, 2008

Pierre Lemieux: The Idea of America

Americans are busy celebrating the 4th of July today, but do many of them really know what the idea of America was? What were the revolutionaries -- the signers of the Declaration, the men and women who abandoned their old ties to call America home -- doing all of this for? What was that glorious idea?

Pierre Lemieux, our firebrand libertarian columnist, has produced a monograph entitled "The Idea of America," (PDF) published by the Western Standard, to answer this and related questions. His analysis is, in my judgment, accurate and cutting. Once upon a time, Americans (and Canadians) wouldn't even think of the government when presented with a problem.

Once upon a time, no American worth her salt would ever stand for identification papers, gun control, nanny state regulations, and so on. What happened to those Americans? Maybe they lost their grip on the idea of America, and were coddled and pacified by unparalleled wealth and prosperity. Or maybe they were flummoxed by the snake-oil salesman cum politician, insisting that they could get something for nothing, or frightening them with tales of bogeymen under every bed.

"...consider the first decade of the 20th century," writes Lemieux, "[i]n general, anybody could start a business, find investors, and sell his product without any government license and oversight. There was no SEC, no IRS, no FCC, no FDA, no OSHA, no USCIS (formerly INS), no EPA. The absence of regulation did not prevent the development of vibrant capital markets, and New York City was on its way to becoming the top financial place in the world. The right to keep and bear arms, so typically American in the 20th century, had survived relatively unscathed. There was no witch-hunt and, in a legal fight between an individual and the government, it is the latter that felt handicapped. Writing in 1910, Lord Acton could confidently say that the American people are “more free than any other the world has seen.” In her celebration of American liberty in the early 20th century, Rose Wilder Lane could exclaim: “That is what Europeans meant when, after a few days in this country, they exclaimed, ‘You are so free here!’.”

Once, maybe, there was America. But what happened to that idea?

"Americans are now caught in the “network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform” that [Alexis de] Tocqueville forecasted. Virtually all activities—even those protected by the Bill of Rights—are regulated in some way, and most often in many ways. Just at the federal level, there are probably 4,000 statutes, although it’s hard to tell the exact number, notes a Wall Street Journal reporter, “because the statutes aren’t listed in one place.” And this does not include the regulations. “We continue to claim that nobody is supposed to ignore the law,” wrote French legal theorist Georges Ripert in 1949, “but those who know it are certainly to be commended.” In 2001, federal prosecutors brought more than 80,000 cases. To this must be added the laws, regulations and prosecutions at the State and local levels. It is stimated that 15 per cent of all Americans have an arrest record. France has come to America."

Read the monograph. Pass it on. It's the 4th of July, and the idea of America is still worth fighting for.

Posted by westernstandard on July 4, 2008 in Western Standard | Permalink


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Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-07-04 11:12:58 AM

Kudos to Pierre for an excellent exposé. I agree with him on the huge difference between Canadians and Americans of days past and those of to-day. It seems that what happened is like the story of putting a frog in water and slowly heating the water with the frog not realising the danger until too late. It should be clear to every thinking person that big government always equals loss of freedom (increased regulations, taxation, etc.). The jump from small government to what we have to-day in both countries did not occur overnight. It was a gradual process, but now some of us wake up to discover we have an uncontrollable monster with a never ending appetite for money and power. To make matters worse we also have a large percentage (bigger here in Canada) with an addiction to dependency on government and unwilling to opt for personal responsibility.

Posted by: Alain | 2008-07-04 11:43:46 AM

"It seems that what happened is like the story of putting a frog in water and slowly heating the water with the frog not realising the danger until too late."

Alain, I think you might like this comic: http://anarchyinyourhead.com/2007/12/28/frogs-on-preheat/

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2008-07-04 12:05:51 PM

Alain, right on the money. I would only add that goverment's appetite is insatiable from the very inception. That must be recognized and our freedom's protected aggresively from the beginning

Posted by: TM | 2008-07-04 12:14:26 PM

Thanks Kalim. Right TM for freedom lost is seldom regained.

Posted by: Alain | 2008-07-04 1:53:31 PM

No one says it like Lemieux. How does a country with intellectuals like him, Block and Narveson go to shit. Democracy

Posted by: recondo | 2008-07-04 2:15:49 PM

One more comment I would like to make is that I find it sad that we find eight posts of individuals reflecting on American Independence Day, and this on a Canadian blog. One does not need to be anti-American in order to note the lack of interest concerning Dominion Day or the revised Canada Day. I was happy to see that Pierre comments on both which is why I did not include his post among the eight.

One can be proud of what Canada used to be and work to regain her greatness without being anti-American.

Posted by: Alain | 2008-07-04 3:33:12 PM

Stellar piece Pierre! You drew some interesting comparisons between the State apparatuses of the arbitruary political boundaries of the US and Canada, as well as the mindset of folks that live within them.

Keep fighting the good fight!

Posted by: Pete | 2008-07-05 8:33:15 PM

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