What is it that “Made America Great?”

My previous article identified the fact that Donald Trump does not know what “made America great”. His rejection of individual rights implicit in his antagonism to free trade and open immigration, and his support and exploitation of eminent domain, reveals this.

Individual rights, i.e. the principle of every man’s right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” paved the way for the constitution that restricted the power of the government. This restriction kept the government out of people’s private lives and out of people’s economic activities. It freed men to own property, produce material values, and trade with other productive people on an open market.

But have you ever asked yourself what is the root of individual rights? Individual rights are not self-evident (if they were the human race would have had and maintained freedom long ago); they depend on an underlying philosophy. America was the product of the philosophy that dominated the eighteenth century known as the Age of Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was centered on reason as the source of knowledge, as against the religious mysticism of previous eras. It is the Enlightenment acceptance of reason that produced the political freedom of the era as well as the great scientific discoveries mentioned in my previous article.

To understand this one must understand what reason is and distinguish it from the mysticism of previous eras. Mysticism is the acceptance of allegations apart from or against the evidence of the senses. This leads to the notion of an alleged supernatural dimension that is revealed to an elite group and withheld from everyone else.  It results in a society where individuals are forced to be submissive to a higher authority -they must obey the edicts that emanate from this supernatural dimension as interpreted by those elite individuals having mystical insight.

Reason, on the other hand, is specifically the faculty that identifies and integrates the data provided by man’s senses, and as such it underscores the reality of this world, as against some alleged supernatural dimension. It also underscores the reality of each individual as an end in him or herself, not a means to some higher end emanating from this alleged supernatural dimension.

Implicit in the Enlightenment values of reason, liberty, and limited government was the idea that force is antithetical to the exercise of reason.  If force rules (as it does in mystical cultures), thinking becomes irrelevant since individuals are unable to act on their thinking. Force renders reason irrelevant.

But, if reason is potent, and the faculty of reason is possessed by everyone, the thinkers of the Enlightenment concluded that each individual must be left free to act on their own thinking. Individuals are capable of acquiring knowledge, of thinking for themselves, of running their own lives. This is the root of the individualism, self-reliance, and freedom that made America great.

So what happened to America? Why did an anti-intellectual bully like Donald Trump ascend to the presidency?  I will explore this in a future article.

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