It takes an outsider to tell us who we are

It takes an outsider to tell us who we are

Independence Day 2018: 242nd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

As Independence Day rolls around again, it is time to pause and reflect on what it means to be an American. This year it seems especially important given deep divides in the body politic. Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to see things that escape us, being perhaps too close. In the 1840s, it was Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville; this year it is Briton Steve Hilton.

Who is Steve Hilton?

Hilton may well be the most influential British conservative you’ve never heard of. His parents fled to Britain during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Their original surname was Hircsák. On arriving in Britain, they anglicised their name to Hilton.

Just like many immigrants coming to Ellis Island.

Steve Hilton: I didn’t get the true genius of America’s founders till I moved here.

Hilton studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at New College, Oxford. Of his experience at Oxford, Hilton writes, “Living in the U.S. today, and learning more about America every day, I now see the power of those distinct American virtues, and the vital role they play in politics and government, in a way that all those smart professors somehow never managed to teach me at Oxford University.”

He was a strategy advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron. He hosts a weekly show on Fox News called “The Next Revolution.” He remains, at this point, a British citizen.

Why do we celebrate on the 4th of July?

It is telling that we celebrate the founding of our country as July 4, 1776, commemorating the announcement of the Declaration of Independence—the formal signing by delegates didn’t occur until August 2nd.

On July 4, 1776 we were still at war with Great Britain. We were not recognized as a country until France—and shortly after, the Netherlands—formally recognized the thirteen colonies as a country on February 6, 1778. (Morocco had informally recognized us in a trade treaty in 1777.)

The treaty of Paris concluded the war in 1783 and the Constitution was not ratified until 1789. By all measures of international law, then as now, we were not a country in 1776.

What are we celebrating?

We are not celebrating our founding. Constitution Day is September 17th and we barely notice it.

What we celebrate tomorrow is aspirational: our declared intent to become an independent country. The opening paragraph of the Declaration, often glossed over in favor of the second paragraph, says “…to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them…”

What does all that philosophy really mean?

The Declaration famously declares our political philosophy—the grounds on which we claimed the right to be a free and independent state. But what does that really mean? How did we build those ideas into our Constitution?

Hilton has an idea:

“the beautiful idea at the heart of America: liberty under the law, an idea that had never before been expressed and guaranteed by any nation. The melting pot; decentralized government; a republic of equals; a Constitution enshrining the precious ideal of people power. It is all under threat this Fourth of July – and we need to fight for it.”

Ordered liberty, as the Founders would have described it. Not a nation based on ethnicity, as in Hilton’s native Hungary or Germany or any number of European nation-states. All you need to become an American is to subscribe to those beliefs, no matter where you were born or what ethnic group you belong to.

As Hilton notes, the very idea of America is under attack. “Multiculturalism” destroys the unity created by the melting pot and the national motto E pluribus unum: Out of many, one. Today it is “divide and conquer.”

Decentralized government threatened by an ever-expanding federal Leviathan.

A republic of equals balkanized by granting special rights to “protected classes.”

A Constitution debased by Progressivism into a “living document,” capable of being re-written by the edicts of an unelected judiciary and the bureaucrats of an administrative state.

What is to be done?

As Hilton notes, we must fight if we are to save the America we began on July 4, 1776.

So tomorrow, celebrate our Independence with parades, flags, fireworks, games and barbecues. Sing patriotic songs. Read the Declaration publicly, out loud.

Celebrate what we have built together and individually. Yes, we did build that.

Practice virtue. Be proud to be an American.