The Myth of Independence 5

The Myth of Independence 5

Yesterday we discussed how the Major Myths, and in particular the Myth of Independence, cause Mythers to misunderstand justice.

Today we will see that their inability to understand justice cuts to the quick of the American way of life.


The Myths infect the heart of society, which is justice

In The Federalist, James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, writes that the entire purpose of government is justice. “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been, and ever will be, pursued, until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.” (Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, The Federalist, No. 51 [Indianapolis: The Liberty Fund, 2001], 271.)

Those who care about justice—those who have an imagination active enough to think about themselves equitably in relation to their fellow citizens—try to protect their own rights together with the rights of others. Those who do not care about justice—those who aim only at getting and keeping their own rights over against the rights of others—retard the progress of justice by refusing to admit any advantage they might have, and by clamoring to reinstate any advantage they used to have that may have been diluted by advances in the direction of greater fairness, more inclusion, or increased assistance for their fellow citizens.

They act this way because they believe the Myths, which make them impervious to the demands of justice. Instead, they preach freedom, or liberty, or personal happiness, or economic security, or industriousness, or self-sufficiency, or some other virtue as their highest good. According to Madison, however, and to decent people of good will everywhere, it is justice—not happiness or self-sufficiency, and certainly not selfishness or independence—that is the highest good of society. Those who impede the advance of justice by their intransigent adherence to Self-interest or Independence, together with those who actively obstruct it out of bad will, are contaminants in the body politic. Citizens of good will can and must find ways to minimize the contamination, for the sake of social well-being.

In the Prologue to the Constitution of the United States, the Framers listed six reasons for composing the document: 1. to form a more perfect union than the one that was created by the old Articles of Confederation; 2. to establish justice; 3. to insure domestic tranquillity; 4. to provide for the defense of the nation; 5. to promote the general welfare of the citizens; and 6. to secure liberty for the people. All six were worthwhile aims.

But no decent person would really want to live in a country that was united, tranquil, well defended, solicitous of its citizens, and free—if justice were unattainable. Nor could they, since injustice undermines all those blessings.

The Myths are extremely dangerous to society because they tend to produce people who are blind to the demands of justice. The more success we have in eliminating the influence of the Myths, the greater will be our progress toward extending the reach of justice for all.

The Myth of Independence also contradicts the fundamental principle of American justice

The distinctive character of American justice, the mark that distinguished it from all political attempts to attain justice prior to the American revolution, is that it is grounded in the central ideal of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal. According to this conception of human relations, we come into this world on an equal footing. None of us is born “better” than anyone else; no one has a birthright to superiority over anyone else; no one is “owed” a position of wealth, power, or influence just because he may have been born to parents who had wealth, power, or influence.

America tries to preserve this ideal in its justice system. We hope to be a nation of laws, not men—which means that everyone, no matter how wealthy, powerful, or influential, is supposed to be treated in exactly the same way under the law. Now we all know that in practice the ideal is habitually violated. But it remains the ideal, and that ideal—which repudiated justice based on a distinction between natural nobility and natural humility—was peculiarly American when we adopted it. If we should ever drop it, we would instantly cease being Americans.

Unless we can eradicate the Myth of Independence, the peculiarly American form of social structure that the Framers established will fall victim to extreme individualism and egotism, and the great experiment in self-governance they initiated will have failed.


This completes our consideration of the Myth of Independence. As we have seen, this Myth is an antisocial belief. Although it is true that self-sufficiency can be a virtue, excessive reliance on it makes people think that they can do without others, and without a society that aids and protects them.

As a substitute for society, many Mythers rely on Religion to provide them with a sense of security. To some extent, the instinct toward Religion is healthy: as we said earlier, any religion worth its salt should lead people to the insight that all human beings are connected and interdependent. But, as is usual with the Myths, the religious instinct has been tainted by mistaken beliefs. The result is yet another powerful and dangerous Myth—the Myth of Religion.

We’ll begin to take up this Myth in the next installment.

Until tomorrow, then.

1 comment (Add your own)

1. Tom Rossen wrote:
Just discovered this thanks to DailyKos. Nice work. I wonder if you're familiar with Philip Agre's writings, specifically http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/pagre/conservatism.html; more at http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/pagre/.

4 December 2012 @ 12:13 PM

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