Happy birthday, America! Why I admire the United States and the principles for which it stands
Ever since the remarkably charismatic and eloquent Barack Obama assumed the presidency of the United States, pro-Americanism has become almost trendy here in Canada.
Yet I am one Canadian who was pro-American long before Obama. In fact, I would say that I was, and still am, more pro-American than most Americans I know.
Why do I have such a strong affection for our neighbours to the south?
For one thing, I have always been impressed by the American people’s spirit of generosity. And I am not talking here about U.S. government-sponsored aid. I mean Americans, as individuals, are generous.
According to a recent Fraser Institute study, the average U.S. donation to charity was almost three times that of the average Canadian donation.
But it’s not just the people; I also admire what America stands for.
Indeed, ever since the American Revolution of 1776, the United States has been an inspiration for people like me who cherish the idea of individual freedom and personal responsibility.
That revolution, unlike other subsequent revolutions that ultimately ushered in periods of terror and oppression, gave birth to a republic dedicated to defending the liberty of its citizens.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, governments derive « their just powers from the consent of the governed » and America’s government was instituted to secure the rights of « life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. »
And to preserve those rights the Americans created one of history’s most important documents – the United States Constitution.
The framers of the constitution, realizing that the biggest threat to freedom came from government itself, specifically designed a document to check and therefore limit state powers.
As Patrick Henry, one of my favourite political figures, wrote: « The constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government. »
America, in other words, was built on the noble idea that the individual is sovereign.
This was a radical notion in the 18th century; America was a bold experiment.
But as it turned out, the experiment worked; freedom worked.
Over the next 200 years, the United States – thanks to its economic and political freedoms – became the most prosperous, most powerful nation in contemporary history.
And fortunately for the world, America’s vision and strength ultimately prevailed over the twin evils of the 20th century – fascism and communism.
For all these reasons, and many more, I am unabashed fan of the United States.
Yet as much as I admire America for what it has done, I am also concerned about where it is heading.
To be blunt, Americans of late seem to have lost their desire to restrain government in the name of liberty.
Just consider the actions of Obama. Throwing fiscal responsibility to the wind, he has embarked on a spending and borrowing spree unlike any other in modern history. Obama is dramatically expanding the role of government in just about any way you can think of.
But it should be noted that this trend toward bigger, more intrusive government actually started with his supposedly conservative predecessor, George W. Bush.
So is the American ideal of « government is best which governs least » dying? Some think so. U.S. conservative commentators frequently lament their country’s « march towards socialism » as if there is no turning back.
But as someone looking at the United States from the outside, I am still (cautiously) optimistic about that great nation’s future.
I still believe that an important number of Americans’ love of freedom, and their suspicion of big government, is deeply ingrained in their natural inclinations. I am confident that sooner or later these traits will reassert themselves.
On that note, I would like to wish all my American friends a happy Fourth of July. Let’s hope for them, as well as for us, that they will renew the entrepreneurial and libertarian spirit on which their nation was built.
Michel Kelly-Gagnon est président et directeur général de l’Institut économique de Montréal.