[June 22, 2003]

(Published on June 4, 2003 in Capitalism Magazine)

Building a Free Nation that Lasts in Iraq

by Wayne Dunn

Pundits say creating a free Iraq means "democratically" divvying up political power among its various religious and ethnic factions. "[We need] to make sure all the different groups get a fair shot," said Senator Trent Lott recently.

That just goes to show how far conventional "wisdom" has deviated from the wisdom conventional back when some brave souls met in Philadelphia to create a free nation.

Even in its infancy, America was home to a variety of ethnic groups and religious views, comparable in that respect to today's Iraq. Indeed, the doctrinal divide separating, say, Unitarians and Presbyterians is much greater than that separating Sunnis and Shiites. And there are greater cultural differences between, say, Irish and German immigrants in 18th-century America than between Kurdish and Arab residents of 21st-century Iraq.

So given the mixture of religious and cultural backgrounds, how did America's Founders lay a foundation of freedom? Was it by "celebrating diversity" that is, by glorifying and institutionalizing people's differences?

For example, did Founding Father Thomas McKean, of Scots-Irish stock, seek liberty only for those of like heritage? Did John Adams, a Unitarian, want X number of senate seats allotted to fellow parishioners?

No, our Founders were actually educated. Students of history and offspring of the Enlightenment, they grasped something today's nation-builders apparently haven't: that fusing religion or ethnicity to the mechanisms of State leads inevitably to tyranny.

"Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry," wrote Thomas Jefferson. "Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together," said James Madison.

Perhaps they were thinking of the inquisitions, crusades, and Salem witch trials.

And "all men,"-not "all groups" states the Declaration of Independence, possess "certain unalienable rights." Such rights are "natural, inherent" not "chosen, earned," says the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution. Perhaps the signers were thinking of evils committed not only by monarchs but also majorities, such as the democratic Athenians who voted Socrates to death.

Indeed, anyone wishing democracy on Iraq should heed John Adams: "Unbridled passions produce the same effects, whether in a king, nobility, or a mob.... It is therefore as necessary to defend an individual against the majority (in a democracy) as against the king in a monarchy."

Rights don't spring from one's spiritual outlook or genetic lineage. They aren't a gift of the ballot box. Rather, they stem from man's foremost attribute: the ability to reason.

"Reason is the only oracle given you," wrote Jefferson, "[...] call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion." And Thomas Paine held reason, "the most formidable weapon against errors of every kind."

Reason logical argument and persuasion, not force and coercion is how civilized people deal with one another. Socially, it means respecting others' rights.

"Government," by contrast, "is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force," wrote George Washington."

What then is the proper relationship between State, which is force, and Man, who enjoys reason and rights? Answers the Declaration of Independence: "[T]o secure these rights, governments are instituted among men."

Simply, government's role is to defend individual rights. But this truth is foreign to politicians eyeing Iraq. Obsessed with "democracy," with insuring every minority group gets a "fair shot" in a new Iraqi government, they would doom borrowing from Ayn Rand the smallest minority of all: the individual.

If a government protects everyone's rights, one needn't worry about identifying with some group or other; a person is protected by virtue of being a person. And that ideal is precisely what's kept America a beacon of liberty for over 220 years. One would think this shining example might spark the imagination of nation-builders in Iraq.

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© COPYRIGHT 2003 by Wayne Dunn