All Commentary
Wednesday, July 1, 1992

The Rifle by the Door

Mr. Smith, a frequent contributor to The Freeman, lives in Santa Maria, California.

The history of liberty is the history of resistance.

—Woodrow Wilson

Our Founding Fathers were not saints. In spite of the Fourth of July oratory that tends to put them in the holy robes of the anointed, they were not this at all; nor would I want them to be.

The truth is that the men who shaped our nation were a feisty and cantankerous lot who weren’t about to play by rules they didn’t like. They were uprooted Europeans who came here because they didn’t like what was going on in England, Germany, Poland, Sweden, or wherever, and wouldn’t put up with it. I like being the descendant of someone who walked off in a huff. There’s nothing wrong with a good huff now and then.

The men who stood in ranks at Lexington Green, and forced the Declaration of Independence, and sat out that terrible winter at Valley Forge, were the kind of implacable hard-heads who made American civilization possible. These people planted the seeds of free-market capitalism.

We live with an economic system that grew from a demand for political freedom, and this is its strength. In order for it to exist, however, it had to breed in the right environment. It wasn’t just our leaders who made it work but also the recalcitrant farmer who kept a nile by the door and was prepared to go down fighting to protect his property. It was the Green Mountain Boys and the Sons of Liberty, with a healthy dollop of Molly Pitcher. These people were imbued with a strong passion for defending what was rightfully theirs, and the economic system grew out of this.

One can only wonder if capitalism can flourish, or even exist, when that environment isn’t present. The newly independent Soviet republics, for example, have no tradition of private property, nor can anyone look back upon an ancestor who picked up a rifle and marched to keep government out of his life. It just isn’t there, and we shouldn’t misread the signs, because surface Westernization has precious little to do with freedom.

Our system, both political and economic, was born in the fierce and unyielding spirit of personal independence. For capitalism to succeed there must be a remnant of free-thinking, free-acting, sometimes difficult individuals who prize personal freedom above all else. This is what our system is about and why it works.

Our founders held to a philosophy of human worth and the right of an individual to function as just that—an individual. Even in our outward displays of unity, such as World War II, the driving force was individual freedom. The G.I. who stormed the beaches at Normandy was not there to die for the fatherland but to finish a war and become a civilian again. Totalitarian nations have never understood that the best fighting man in the world is the one who wants only to get back home, burn his uniform, and do something with his life.

Although we don’t like to admit it, the spirit of America is the spirit of resistance, a negative force that says “I won’t” more times than “I will”; “No way” more than “Yes, sir.” There is a lot of Minuteman in the best of us and none of it in the worst of us—a certain irascibility that is a becoming trait when galvanized into an overall spirit built more upon the parts than the whole.

This is our heritage, America, and we should love and respect it—every crusty, ill-natured, obstinate, hard- nosed piece of it.

  • Mr. Smith, a frequent contributor to The Freeman, lives in Santa Maria, California.