An Anniversary Exhortation
A speech delivered in celebration of the two hundred and forty-sixth birthday of the United States:
We are here to reflect on a nation, but let us take a moment to regard the manner in which we are gathered this evening: as a congregation of free persons, unencumbered and unafraid, the heirs of a fragile peace and a delicate order.
None of these conditions obtains naturally, and in most of human history, and in the prevailing balance of the world today, they still do not. If you would believe many of your acquaintances, or take on the opinions of the internet as your own, then your heart already breaks, your sympathies already weep, at America’s entropic fall back into the void.
Worse yet is that swarm of individuals who, like conniving vultures in sight of vigorous youth, delight in the prospect of America’s death—in the destruction of liberty’s last great hope, of that great engine of material abundance, of the light that could spread throughout the stars.
They are, of course, responding to something real. Carrion birds only gather when the stag stumbles, and the America we all share today lurches between crises, from unnoticed wound to unforced error. But the question is not how to palliate the declining nation. The question is how to recover our strength, and straighten our step.
How, then, are we to proceed? For what, then, do we endeavor? To whom, then, are we obliged?
The happy enumeration of our woes is the last refuge and barbaric sport of those who long ago forfeited their own agency. So I ask you to be the shining, brilliant exception—the proud American who not only believes in renaissance, but works with their fellows to achieve it. To unite our ideals with our nation. And in the face of every, “Even though…” to answer, “Even so.”
America is not only its worst crimes, or its most serious failings. America is, and has only ever been, what we are willing to do next. A beautifully imperfect alloy of present action and future vision.
The task isn’t easy, but it is straightforward, and if you don’t work with anyone else, work with me. Join the others who, at this moment, are standing among you. The burgeoning citizens of a new civic society, the bedrock of America’s future and the would-be founders of New York’s golden era.
We work, think, experiment, and combine together to create a city and nation of abundance. Where the farm boy can dream of skyscrapers, and then find himself living among them as a man. Where any young woman can seek adventure unconstrained by threat. Where we honor and befriend individuals based on their character. Where the ambitious are free to create, where industry is free to thrive, and where everyone is secure in those basic human needs that, once acquired, enable us all to reach for other worlds.
We, you, I, must build a place where people from all over the nation and planet can make a home and carve out a life of their choosing; where every family can enjoy the fruits of their labor, and smile at the realization of their plans.
We do these things because life and nations do not stand still. Because there is no stasis, only decline or invigoration. And because the Athenian warning to Melos remains: ennobled citizens build what they can, others suffer the decline that comes otherwise.
This means we must all become, if we are not already, people of action, citizen architects of the country that we will leave to our children, and to the worlds that will be Earth’s—and America’s—progeny.
Embrace the good art of politics, and the noble science of government. In all of human history, those two alone have been the foundation upon which progress has stood, the substrate in which life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been guarded, or not. The Fourth of July is, indeed, the celebration of political and governmental attainment.
As much as private enterprise can provide wealth, and our modern era the pleasures of individual distraction, recognize what supports both of those things and more, and ask yourself whether you are willing, any longer, to merely be a witness to the slowly spreading fractures within it.
Take up Liberty’s torch, that imprisoned lightning, the Promethean flame, and cultivate again the ideals that are the birthright of any individual willing to claim them. America never has belonged to itself; it is for all humankind, and the highest achievement yet of our species. We will not be Icarus. We will fly beyond the sun. This is the marker I lay down.
Long live These United States, and
God Bless America.