Volume 17, Number 2, Spring 1999

The Society of the Future

July 4, 1776—For more than a century, moral philosophers have discussed the possibility of a society founded upon the great principle of liberty. Such writers have ever looked back to the golden ages of the past: to the Roman Republic, to Israel under the Judges, or further afield, to the Vikings of Iceland or the Moors of Spain or other remote and little-known lands.

But today, the latest news hints that freedom may be seen more clearly, not in the past, but in the future; not looking backward, but looking forward.

The North American colonies of His Majesty George III of England have enjoyed a great measure of freedom for many years; but it has been an accidental freedom, as freedom mostly is in this world. The very remoteness and backwardness of these lands has preserved them from the firm hand of the State, whose arm cannot easily reach across the breadth of the Atlantick Ocean. The colonists have indeed grown accustomed to their light and easy yoke, and have been restive as the State's reach grew long and a heavier burden was made ready for them to bear; and a spirited protest has arisen from them against those who would break them to harness once again.

But that protest has now taken on a new character. In their Declaration of Independence, made public today, the people of North America have set aside the name of colonists, claiming instead that of Americans, and the standing of a free people fit to treat as equals with other peoples; and they have justified this claim in the most philosophical of terms, appealing to "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God" as the fountain head of liberty. Their demand thus shows itself founded not alone in the spirit of the youth, but in the man's firm conviction of truth and right founded upon principles as universal as those of Euclid and as certain.

Whether this claim can be pressed against the might of England, remains to be proven. But what if it be secured? Why then the world will see a new order of society, founded not upon rank, but upon equality; not upon authority, but upon consent. lf such a thing can be, then the future will hold a kind of freedom not know in the past, and will bear witness to the greatest triumph yet of the Moderns over the Ancients.

In Israel, it is written, the people clamored to be "like all the nations" and had a king set over them. Now that cry has been reversed, by a people who aspire to the freedom that was then set aside, when, we are told, "there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes." Surely all friends of liberty must join in wishing that they shall attain that freedom and make America a new Promised Land.

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