By: Naomi Wolf From the Book "Give Me Liberty"

Freedom Is Intended As A Challenge

We have to change our understanding of what our legacy is if we are to renew the revolution that is America.

Is the American promise a greeting card? Hardly. We are meant to sign our contract with American liberty in a kind of existential blood.

We tend to assume that our American legacy promises us liberty and the pursuit of happiness-no questions asked. But I learned from my reading of the founders' work that just as you aren't promised freedom in the American contract without the reciprocal expectation that you will risk yourself to defend freedom, so you aren't promised happiness or even the purely self-regarding right to pursue happiness. That's a myth.

The Declaration Of Independence:

Your Contract As Liberty's Warrior

The American contract is codified in Thomas Jefferson's short but stunning Declaration of Independence. Jefferson wrote it as a distillation of sentiments that were common among his fellow colonists:

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.- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.

This language, while beautiful, is quite difficult; it is the formal language of a very formal century far removed from our own. Most of the "fake patriotism" bullet points we get from the Declaration focus on its first sentence and an early clause in it, the famous "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." (Or as a Svedka vodka ad has it, "Life,

Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happy Hour." Or as a Cadillac ad puts it, "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit.")

Since our attention is usually called to that opening shot, most of us think of the Declaration as being no more disturbing or personally demanding than a nicely lit HBO special about 1776. We tend to think that the Declaration intends something pleasant and benign: people like to pursue their individual pleasures, God wants it to work out this way, and everyone's interests are best served by our having the right to do so. Out of context, this phrase evokes a smiley-faced, non combative, self-absorbed version of the American task.

But it turns out that the Declaration of Independence is about our continual duty as Americans to rebel-not so much about our continual enjoyment as Americans of the pleasures of shopping and team sports. Indeed, historian Pauline Maier points out in American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence that the Declaration of Independence's first long sentence asserts above all the "right of revolution."

What Is "The Pursuit Of Happiness?"

The founders saw two ideas, individuality and happiness as in "the Pursuit of Happiness" above--as being closely related.

But again, our contemporary understanding of both these terms is far distorted from how the founders intended us to interpret them: we tend to think of both as lifestyle opportunities--scope for personal preferences to play out upon. A whole marketing wavelength around us is all about this predicate of "individuality" and "happiness": MySpace, My Tunes, My Favorites, my personal checking, my monogram, my pet, my cubicle, my retirement goals. In contemporary America, "happiness" is what you get when you activate your "liberty" to express your "individuality." "Happiness" today is often defined as personal satisfaction that stops with the individual, and even personal pleasure and joy.

But to Jefferson and his Enlightenment contemporaries, the "individual" and "happiness" had different meanings than what we assume they do today. To Jefferson, "happiness" would not have been the opposite of the eighteenth-century term "melancholy," which today we would call sadness or depression. Rather, to many of the founders, "happiness" was a fortunate state of enfranchisement in the context of an open, just society. This sense of the word descended to the revolutionary generation from Greek literature: to the founders, "happiness" meant the development of one's full power as an individual, and one's respecting of the "sacred rights" and consciences of others in a condition of freedom. (Robert Kennedy picked up this definition when he wrote, "Long ago the Greeks defined happiness as 'the exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope.")

For instance, Jefferson wrote in 1787: "Happy for us, that when we find our constitutions defective and insufficient to secure the happiness of our people, we can assemble with all the coolness of philosophers & set it to rights, while every other nation on earth must have recourse to arms to amend or restore their constitutions.:'" In 1803 he defined the nation's well-being in terms of people's "liberty" and "security," which in turn make them feel "at ... ease" and lead them to act on behalf of a whole. In 1814, he wrote to a friend, Miles King, using "happiness" in the context of honesty, kindness, and respect for others' personal and religious freedoms: "He [God] formed us moral agents .... he is far above our power; but that we may promote the happiness of those with whom he has placed us in society, by acting honestly toward all, benevolently to those who fall within our way, respecting sacredly their rights, bodily and mental, and cherishing especially their freedom of conscience, as we value our own."

So the right to "the Pursuit of Happiness" we inherit is not a pleasure pursuit such as catalog shopping or an indulgence in a personal lifestyle choice, whether a doll collectors' convention or an S&M gala.

To most of us, nonetheless, the first clause alone is the Declaration of Independence. We remember it because our civics textbooks and politicians stick to this section; but we also remember it because the modern ear can more easily understand the words of the opening clause than those of the second half.

But then--the rest of the text! If you read to the end and translate into contemporary English-=which I bet your middle school civics textbooks never did for you--you will find that Jefferson put together a most radical document with most challenging implications for everyone of us. And Pauline Maier points out that what Jefferson was doing by constructing his paragraph as he did--using an eighteenth" century way of building a set of ideas so the most important one comes last--makes it all the more indefensible to take the first famous clause out of context.

So the rest of Jefferson's passage is just as crucial for us to understand--Maier would say even more crucial. And it illuminates a completely different role for us.

With translation for a modern reader, it means something like this:

That to guarantee these rights for themselves, men create governments that derive their rightful [or "proper"] power from the consent of those who are governed; that whenever any form of government starts to be destructive to the goals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the people have a right to change or even destroy that form of government; and the people have a right then to create a new form of government-one that is founded upon the kind of principles, and that takes the kind of shape, that seems to them to be most likely to guarantee their safety and good fortune. It is obviously not prudent to change or to destroy long-established governments for superficial reasons, or in response to [difficult] circumstances that are transient; and experience shows that it is human nature for people to put up with suffering if the suffering is bearable. But when a long series of abuses and violations of their rights appears to be directed at one primary goal-that of reducing a given people to having to live under conditions of absolute despotism-then it is the people's right ¬indeed, it is their duty-to throw off this kind of government, so as to establish new forms of protection for their security in the future.

This part of the declaration is not saying: "Hurrah, you are born free, enjoy your bingo or your yoga as you see fit." Nor is it simply justifying in ringing terms the domestic political decision to separate the fate of the young North American colonies from the oppressive "protection" of mother England. Rather, it is saying something darker and more personally demanding: you have a sacred obligation to take the most serious possible steps and undergo the most serious kinds of personal risks in defense of this freedom that is your natural right; and you must rise up against those who seek to subdue you-wherever and whenever they appear.

Did Mrs. Jones in eighth grade put that on your test? I didn't think so. My own civics class had no such focus on personal resistance. Was that mandate in the shaded box in your textbook? Or was there, much more likely, a photo of the actual unexplicated and illegible parchment document? Maier makes the point that the document itself, starting at the fifty-year anniversary after the Revolution, became and remains today a kind of sacred relic for a secular nation-but that the relic has itself been promoted and publicized often at the expense of anyone explaining the more rebellious message it intended to convey to us, the heirs of Jefferson's revolutionary manifesto.

The pretty but illegible scroll that had become so iconic was in my textbook in middle school. That translated man­ date to protest and confront abusive power? Didn't make it in. The Fourth of July gives us fireworks and speeches­ not, usually, a reminder that we inherit a sworn duty to rebel at injustice.

If we actually learned this entire passage as the nation's and our own personal manifesto, would we tolerate today the state spying on us illegally? Would we tolerate the passage of laws today that allow the executive to bypass the people's representatives entirely giving Americans effectively a condition of being subject to taxation and other commitments without representation? Would we be okay with our rights and liberties being chipped away? Would we change the channel?

The more I read the Declaration, the more unsettled I became. Did this mean that I was not free to sit by, check out, scan the catalogs, go on a long vacation, tend my own garden when I was sick of the mess on the home front? Did this mean that I personally had to step up to confront abusive power?

How altogether different and more difficult an experience of oneself and one's country it would be if a "declaration of independence" for Americans means accepting a personal commitment to defend liberty. Jefferson left us not a guarantee of a life basking in a lawn chair, but rather a guarantee of a life of personal upheaval and sacrifice when necessary.

I kept going over and over Jefferson's language. I was looking, I realized, for a loophole. Did the philosopher of Monticello make any allowance for my personal complacency? Didn't the language somewhere let me off the hook? Didn't he know I was busy?

No, I was forced to conclude, not anywhere. Thomas Jefferson implicated me.

And you too.

"Liberation" is not only about a historical moment in the past.' It is, as African-American slaves knew for centuries, a destination of the mind. Jews who were not alive during the historical liberation from Egypt understood this too, as have many others. So the Declaration's specific call to liberation from George Ill's tyranny is also a timeless contract that implicates each one of us forever, bestowing upon us certain rights but charging us too with certain responsibilities, and not at one moment of time but continually. This meant I was going to have to feel more outrage and less detachment, do more fighting and less settling And there wasn't a time when my commitment could expire; it wasn't "one revolution" or "in your college days that we were asked to fight. It is whenever our country, meaning, liberty--needed us. Even when we are old. Even when we are sick of it. Even if we have done it before.

Jefferson and Adams both lived long, productive lives. Both men fought for and won the first revolution and served their country as leaders; in old age, both longed to be left in peace, the former at his farm in Monticello and the latter at his estate in Massachusetts."

But both stepped up again and again to aid the nation when called to, very much against their personal inclinations, because they understood the status of "being an American" existentially, that it means that one has signed on to fight the permanent revolution.

So real patriotism means understanding that the Declaration of Independence charges us categorically and always as Americans to rise up in person against threats to liberty. A friend remarked that the words in the Declaration seemed to force one to ask of oneself, ''Am I a revolutionary on behalf of freedom?"

I realized that he was right. That is the question that the Declaration demands that each of us ask ourselves.

Well, am I willing to be?

Are you? is here to inspire the sovereign People of the united States to learn about the de jure common law grand jury. People have the right to act as a balance of power against a corrupt government that tries to usurp their Constitutionally limited powers.

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