The Fourth of July holiday is not just America’s Independence Day. In many respects, it marks the beginning of independence for the world. Reviving the dream of Athenian democracy, the British colonies, that would become the world’s most influential and powerful nation, not only rejected the traditional rule of a monarch, they put forth a philosophy that resonates throughout the entire world today. As such, we always need to spend a little time on the Fourth of July contemplating the meaning of democracy and freedom.
Freedom is the power and responsibility to make one’s own choices in life. Through their Declaration of Independence, America’s Founding Fathers rejected the notion that all people are born subjugated to those endowed by their creator to rule and nations exist solely to serve the powerful elites. In doing so, they laid the foundation for our modern understanding of society. We know recognize nations are built on a balancing of interests while we believe our governments solely exist to serve the interests of their People.
When society fails to adequately address our needs and wants, it is our inherited right, and responsibility, to demand that our society recognize our interests are not being met and to seek improvements to our society. With economic disparity suppressing freedom and civil unrest provoking few constructive results beyond violence, the many Peoples of the world are struggling to assert their most fundamental rights as human beings.
To truly understand the value of democracy, however, people must first recognize that democracy is not about freedom. Democracy is about establishing limits. By placing limits on the authority of government on the national, provincial, and local levels, the citizens of a nation enjoy protections from the harms of oppressive, self-serving governments. By placing limits on small and large businesses, workers, consumers, and communities are protected from business decisions that cause great harm. By placing limits on individual behavior, citizens can be protected from crimes and crippling bigotry.
The limitations imposed by democratic governments help ensure all citizens enjoy the same protections. In doing so, individuals are given a large degree of freedom to act without undermining the freedoms of others. In contrast, dictatorships ensure absolute freedom for those strong enough to impose their rule; whereas, democracy harnesses the strength of the community. Where anarchy is the natural state of the human animal that provides absolute freedom to the point there is no government to protect the interests of anyone and might-makes-right becomes the law of the land, democracy balances the interests of citizens, so all can enjoy freedom and dictatorship cannot seize control.
The strength of democracy is rooted in the fact that it is the system of governance most capable of allowing people to express their needs and wants over time, so their interests can be balanced and society can be strong. It is not, however, a guarantee that our interests will be met. For that, people must continually struggle to balance our interests with our neighbors’ interests. On the negative side, the struggle for democracy runs counter to the interests of the powerful and egocentric extremists. This means there is constant pressure in our society to suppress the interests of majorities and vulnerable minorities, which creates conflict.
On the positive side, all democracies are rooted in this notion that governments exist to serve their People and the People have the right protest when their interests are not being met. In short, the principles behind America’s Independence Day are alive and well in every struggle for freedom around the world. From Syria to Brazil, Ukraine to Mexico, Iraq to China, the eternal fight for democracy may be long and often disparaging, but it is one that is won and enjoyed moment by moment, day by day. This is why the Fourth of July is a day all the people of the world should reflect on as they make their mark on this world.
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