What a heritage

By Jack Kemp

Copley News Service

Just think over this upcoming 4th of July that 224 years ago there was a Holy Roman Empire, Venice was a republic and France was ruled by a king, China by an emperor, Russia by a empress, Japan by a shogun and Great Britain by a monarch. All of these systems have passed into the pages of history, but over two centuries later the only liberal democracy in the world to retain its constitutional framework is the United States of America.


With all our faults, failures and frailties, we the American people have overcome a civil war, world wars, recessions and depressions, inflations and deflations, the twin evils of Jim Crow and black codes, as well as scandals in and out of government. The one thing we could not withstand is for good people to do nothing in the face of adversity, evil and challenge.

Americans carved out of a raw continent the single most prosperous, entrepreneurial and influential system in the history of the world. Built on Thomas Jefferson's belief that "educating the common people" is the only "sure foundation ... for the preservation of freedom and happiness," we have publicly and privately educated more of our people than any nation in history.

The purpose of our experiment in freedom was not to guarantee happiness, but to guarantee its free pursuit; not to guarantee equality of outcomes, but to guarantee equality of opportunity and a shot at the American dream for all people.

The American dream was not that people were free to be homogenized into the faceless, nameless ranks of mediocrity, but that all children, as their God-given birthright, have the freedom to rise to the top of the ladder. In this country, if you're born to be a mezzo soprano or a master carpenter, an entrepreneur or an engineer, a school teacher or pro football quarterback, nothing can hold you back; you could be born in a log cabin in Kentucky and become president or a truck driver who buys out the trucking company.

Now, we enter this new century standing alone as the world's greatest force for good and freedom. Yet, for all the good we have done and continue to do in the world, we must remain ever vigilant, not only against tyranny, but also against the temptation to overreach in pursuit of doing good in the world, lest our quest to do good leads us into error. For along with the wealth and the power to do good comes the temptation to hubris that would lead us to do harm, such as when we choose bombs over diplomacy and bullets over ballots in our quest to influence other nations toward democracy.

In the bloody century through which we have just come, we helped defeat Nazism, fascism, communism and apartheid. Socialism and central planning have been debunked and defeated everywhere they were tried. While it is true that they still exist today in Cuba, North Korea and other poverty-stricken places around the globe, the intellectual challenge of central planning to free markets and free enterprise is over.

We have both the living example that freedom works and the ability to use our technology, our wealth and our influence to help spread the message. It is the end and the means to the end. It is the ideal and the most practical way of organizing a political economy.

Where does government fit into this picture? Thomas Jefferson said it better than anyone: "With all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow citizens - a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities."

Wow! What a heritage to pass on and teach to our children this July 4th.

Jack Kemp is co-director of Empower America and Distinguished Fellow of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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