Why the Best Sign from Yesterday was the Best
Here are a few of the ideas encapsulated by the best sign from yesterday desperately needing some public discussion.
1. What exactly is it that happened, in 1776, when a new nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” was born? (OK, so I threw a bit of 1863 in there too). Did something truly exceptional occur in the founding of the United States of America, or were the ideas of democracy and limited government just historical quirks made possible by favorable geography, access to natural resources and good luck?
2. 1984 is George Orwell’s classic warning of the possibility of a totalitarian future. The events of 1776 occurred, obviously, long before the publication of 1984 (in 1949, to be exact) and before totalitarian ideas had gained traction in human affairs, as carrying out 1984-like repression requires the modern bureaucratic state that didn’t exist as of 1776. The question is: is it reasonable to believe that the modern state, which we know can be a powerful force for taking things in the wrong direction, can also be a force for strengthening the ideals of 1776?
3. And is it even agreed upon that people have an actual choice at all? The Marxists (Orwell’s target in 1984) tell us that the progress of history is dictated by material forces, that our forms of government move inevitably through different stages (although the stages seem to change, when the predictions of “scientific socialism” don’t quite work out). Even more cynical schools of thought hold that regular people don’t have the capacity to make the choices to navigate the modern world and that they are better off having their lives managed by a technocratic elite — though government may need to maintain the appearance of democracy for psychological reasons.
Are the cynics right? Have the ideals of 1776 in the minds of too many become a remnant of a pre-modern past that must be abandoned in order to get on the right side of history and modernity? Or are we the people willing and ready to re-choose those ideals today?