Volunteerism is touted as a celebration of the American spirit of community involvement. “Citizen service belongs to no party, no ideology,” said President Clinton. “It is an American idea, which every American should embrace.” His sentiment is shared by Presidents Bush, Ford and Carter, and conference leader, General Colin Powell.
Even most of the summit’s few critics endorse as “American” the idea of service to others. Writing in the conservative Freeman, Andrew Barsnikis, said
“Voluntary civic and charitable effort is an American tradition.”
There is certainly no more suitable place than Independence Hall to celebrate the philosophy of America.
Independence Hall is a symbol of American freedom from the tyranny of England. It is a symbol of the founding of this country, and of all the values America represents, for it was here that the Declaration of Independence was signed.
What exactly is it about America that Independence Hall symbolizes?
Historically and politically, it represents the struggle for independence from an oppressive state. But the Founding Fathers were concerned about more than just excessive English taxes. The Declaration and the Constitution were written to protect the right of each individual to his own life, liberty, property and the pursuit of his own happiness. Those documents were written to protect the moral principle that each man is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. Because King George’s government refused to recognize this, Americans rebelled. But neither document argues solely for “independence from England.” They uphold the idea of independence from any tyranny.
America is unique. No other country in the history of the world has upheld the right to pursue your own happiness, i.e., the right to pursue your own goals and values, unbound by the demands of the community, the state, the race, or the tribe. From the Founding Fathers, to the frontiersmen who tamed the West, from the inventors such as Edison and the Wright Brothers who pursued their own vision of the truth, to the industrialists such as Ford and Carnegie who made new businesses and wealth possible, the mark of the American is that he pursues his own goals, independently of others.
President Clinton, however, has described “Americanism” as the “idea that we meet our challenges not through heavy-handed government or as isolated individuals [emphasis added], but as members of a true community, with all of us working together.” The summit manifesto is a “call to commitment — for Americans to pledge to serve; for each of us to put our individual gifts to work for the common good.”
Thus, in the eyes of our political and intellectual leaders, Americanism is now dead. The spirit of independence that not only made this country, but made this country great, has been supplanted by a commitment to dependence. We are now told our lives belong to others, that a man is not an end in himself, but only a means to the ends of his neighbors. We are now told that America is the country not of the individual but of the collective.
The summit’s moral philosophy — altruism — the doctrine of service to others as the highest moral ideal — is the idea that has justified all the tyrannies of history, particularly the most vicious ones in this century. Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Communist China were or are based on the moral premise that man is his brother’s keeper, that he has no life of his own, that his duty is to serve others, that he must work for the “common good” of the collective.
America’s political leadership — following its intellectuals — is now trying to pervert the foundations of this country and force this morality upon us. That they have chosen Independence Hall to launch their crusade for collective dependence is more than a vicious irony. It is an all-out attack on the very ideas that made this country the freest and therefore the richest country in history.
“Voluntary service” is not — contrary to Mr. Clinton — an “American idea,” but a thoroughly un-American idea, and to uphold it is to attempt the murder of the truly American idea: independence.