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240 years ago today, in the midst of the American Revolutionary War,  one of the greatest and most inspired documents of all time was adopted by the United States Congress: The Declaration of Independence. It hardly requires an introduction, being one of the most well-known statements on human rights. The English philosopher John Locke is usually recognized as one of the biggest influences on the language that the Declaration uses, and it’s hard to miss the connection when you know about Locke’s idea that we have natural rights, namely life, liberty, and property.

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.

These words are monumentally bold—to declare that all men are equal, and what’s more, to say that to a king, whose very status is deeply rooted in inequality. The Declaration’s words echo through time, igniting a flame in the breast of millions of people. This flame is the flame of liberty, the flame which has breathed life into the peoples of nations all around the world–whether their countries are founded on liberal democratic principles or not. As inheritors of the flame, it is our duty to ensure its survival. And make no mistake, this flame will be extinguished if there are no torchbearers. The fight is never over, so we must never hide, and never rest.

On this day, as on all days, keep the flame of liberty alive. Have a happy Fourth of July!


hancockWe tend to think of them as a monolithic force. “The Founding Fathers” we say, “would have wanted this.” We say that “they” would have been opposed to that. With fire in our eyes, we declare that “they” must be rolling over in their graves.

In the United States, we speak of them so often that it has become a sort of shorthand for a particular worldview. One might call it American conservatism, or conversely, classical liberalism. One could call it libertarian, or republican, or democratic. Like so many terms in the modern political discourse – thought police, social justice, neoliberalism, even capitalism ‒ we use the Founding Fathers to signify many different things depending on our aim. All at once, the phrase means everything and nothing. This imprecision of language, whether applied to this or other terms, is understandable. It’s easier to use buzz words that evoke “the kind of thing we’re getting at” than to state precisely the political or philosophical argument we’re trying to make. (more…)