Of why I celebrate the Fourth of July (in my own way)
"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. [...] That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government [...]"
Today is the Fourth of July, 2005 AD. The Fourth of July, 1776 AD, fifty-six men reunited in what became known as the Hall of Independence in Philadelphia, PA, signed a chart that changed the course of history and politics.
Among these men, particularly notable were Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Hancock. Franklin, in particular, was a scientist. Jefferson, a biologist and philosopher. All of them were sons of an era that we, as human beings, should be grateful to.
The era was that of Enlightment.
The Enlightment is also known as the age of Reason. The laymen of course were not particularly versatile in reasoning (they never were and they will never be in the course of history). Those who were remarkably Reasoning were the philosophers. Where were they coming from?
History is grounded upon history of course. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe was precipitated in the Dark Ages, and it took the continent 1000 years to finally emerge from its stagnation, mostly thanks to the contribution of the Arabs. As Europeans attempted to re-discover civilization, the ever-opposing force of the Catholic Church, afraid of losing its power and its wealth, increased its pressure over the population, creating institutions such us the Inquisition to condemn those who sought freedom of thought. Then, in the middle of the 1700's, thanks to a revolution started by the scientific discoveries of the late seventeenth/early eighteenth century, philosophers, in particular French philosophers, began to Reason.
They actually began to use their rationality to analize things, giving birth to modern Europe and its revolutionary civilization.
In an era when people had the guts to fight for their ideals and turn them into practice, a number of wise and intelligent men living in the English colonies overseas, deeply influenced by the theories of French masterminds like Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau, revolted against the British motherland.
Just think of it, in our cynical, depressed, inertial world. Think to a group of poorly armed idealists that embraced their muskets and dared challenge the greatest Empire of the world. Think of how desperate their effort was. Think of how small the chances to win. In the likeliest outcome, Benjamin Frankling, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, George Washington, would be hung for treason.
I always feel a thrill of pride, of admiration, of sincere awe, when poorly armed people, the Weak, dare challenge the Strong, the Empire. Isn't it like Luke Skywalker battling the Death Star? Isn't it like little Frodo struggling to destroy the Ring against all hopes? The Weak, driven to despair, have nothing to lose and become daring. They dare.
They were inspired by beliefs that 50 years ago were unconceivable: that men are "equal" (equal? When the Church spent so much time explaining they are NOT equal, that some are good and some are evil and some will go to Heaven and some will not, and that the Pope and the King have much more rights than the laymen?)
That men have the right to liberty? Liberty? The RIGHT to LIBERTY? In an era when Kings put people in jail for the simple pleasure of doing so? the Right to Life?
Do you realize how revolutionary, how incredibly daring these words are? What kind of demotion of the established governments they would imply, were they to be taken seriously?
Fighting for ideas like this in the 1700's is not simple bravery. It is awesome. It is an example for all the people of all ages, especially for those that never dared challenge the established beliefs.
Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau. And Jefferson, Franklin, Adams.
They challenged the Empire. They fought the immense forces of the Brits. They sought and found help in the French people, to whom so much they owed.
They fought, and against all odds, they won.
The idealists, the people that dared upturn the rules of what so far was the only possible concept of civilization had it their way.
In Congress united, the People of what became known as The United States of America declared their Independence by signing a chart, on the 4th of July 1776. A chart that stated the right to upturn governments. The right for the governed to decide who's in charge and whether it's for the good of the people or not.
The right for the governed to revolt against the government, to upturn it.
The right to Revolution.
The American Revolution is not just an American thing. The American Revolution is the first, awesome manifestation of what Reason can accomplish if only people dare to trust it. It is a proof that ideals can be put into practice, that they can become the foundation of a new course of history. The American Revolution is a beacon for all those that believe in Reason.
It didn't take long before the French companions of the newly created American people started their own Revolution. It must not be forgotten that Thomas Jefferson contributed to the Declaration of the Rights of Man signed in Paris after the French abolished Monarchy.
The World was about to change. Western civilization was about to change.
We recently signed a 500-page "European Constitution", most of which has to be changed and was rejected for its lack of attention on Welfare, but in the part we should be proud of, it is stated that Europe grounds its history and philosophy on The Greek/Roman Antiquity and The Enlightment. The two, greatest moments of glory of this continent, when Religion didn't cast its obscure darkness on the mind of people. When superstition was fought by our greatest minds. When Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and Rousseau, Diderot, Voltaire lived and changed history.
When the culture of Europe led the greatest minds of the United States to challenge the Empire and win. To sign one of the greatest, most daring documents of the world's history.
The Declaration of Independence.
This is why, even today, when the USA have turned into a shadow of what they were meant to become, when cynical people forget the importance of fighting for the ideals, for Reason, when bald dictators try to topple the very foundations of European democracy, when everything seems to be precipitating in a turmoil of Darkness, of Superstition, of Despair and Obscurantism, still, I dare recalling the 4th of July 1776. Because if we, the People of this Western Civilization of ours, managed to challenge the establishment once, and again, we can't be doomed. We will rise again, when the time comes, for the next revolution. Because Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire and Jefferson were human beings like us, who lived in a dark age like we do today, and still they dared. Still they lived. Still they fought. Still they signed the Declaration and the Rights of Man.
The American Revolution, as much as the French Revolution, make me proud of being human. I am thrilled by the words signed in the Chart:
The Triumph of Reason.