Between June 24 and July 22, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Attorney General William Barr, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a series of speeches on the China challenge. In mid-July — after the national security adviser’s and FBI director’s speeches but before the attorney general’s and secretary of state’s speeches — the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights released a draft report.
The report examines the implications of the American Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the place of human rights in American foreign policy. Focusing on principles rather than concrete policy controversies, the report provoked considerably more partisan rancor than the series of speeches by high-ranking administration officials about the need for the nation to address the Communist Party of China’s resolute efforts to marshal its dictatorial powers to undercut American interests and transform world order.
Perhaps the relatively restrained reception of the four speeches is a good sign: It may suggest an emerging national consensus about the urgency of the China challenge. Yet awareness of a daunting problem does not guarantee the capacity to deal with it effectively. The controversy over the commission’s report — indeed, the indignation and scorn directed by many politicians, pundits, professors, and NGOs at the very idea of allocating taxpayer dollars to regrounding U.S. diplomacy in America’s founding principles and constitutional responsibilities — reflects the nation’s disunity, a disunity that thwarts the planning and implementation of foreign policy.
Understanding the nation’s founding principles along with its governing structures and its international obligations is crucial to developing a prudent appreciation of the nation’s vital interests and the practicable means for achieving them. In a time of severe political polarization, moreover, such understanding can contribute to the reinvigoration of the social cohesion and political consensus, the civic concord, on which developing and executing a demanding foreign policy has always depended.
The administration’s recent series of speeches about China stresses the connection between governing ideas and foreign policy, for China as well as for the United States.
In his June 24 speech at the Arizona Commerce Authority in Phoenix, O’Brien ascribed “the greatest failure of American foreign policy since the 1930s” — the failure “to understand the nature of the Chinese Communist Party” — to the refusal to “pay heed to the CCP’s ideology.” The CCP’s ruthless indoctrination of its own people and promulgation of deceitful propaganda abroad, along with its purchasing and stealing of personal data about Americans and hundreds of millions around the world, flows from communist convictions: “Under communism, individuals are merely a means to be used toward the achievement of the ends of the collective nation state,” said O’Brien. “Thus, individuals can be easily sacrificed for the nation state’s goals.” In contrast, the United States, “will stay true to our principles — especially freedom of speech — which stand in stark contrast to the Marxist-Leninist ideology embraced by the CCP… and above all, continue to proclaim that all women and men are entitled by right of God to liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness.”
In his July 7 remarks at the Hudson Institute in Washington, Wray focused on the threat posed by China’s counterintelligence operations and economic espionage. American citizens, according to Wray, “are the victims of what amounts to Chinese theft on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history.” By means of a “whole-of-state effort,” China uses technology to steal personal and corporate data “to become the world’s only superpower by any means necessary.” Because communism erases the distinction between government and party, public and private, and civilian and military, the CCP can concentrate prodigious resources to exploit U.S. freedom and openness to erode American competitiveness and prosperity. The United States, maintained Wray, must redouble its commitment to enforcing criminal laws and upholding international norms: “The FBI and our partners throughout the U.S. government will hold China accountable and protect our nation’s innovation, ideas, and way of life — with the help and vigilance of the American people.”
In his July 17 speech in Michigan at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum, Barr summarized the predatory commercial practices by which China has cornered markets, induced economic dependence, and transformed the international order to advance its hegemonic interests. In particular, Barr emphasized that Beijing has impelled American enterprises to toe China’s party line. Hollywood alters the content of its films to avoid offending the CCP. Apple removed a news app from the phones it sells in China because of CCP displeasure over the app’s coverage of the Hong Kong democracy protests. Under pressure from Chinese influence campaigns threatening the loss of access to China’s enormous markets, American business leaders of all sorts “put a ‘friendly face’ on pro-regime policies.” And American higher education and research institutions face, and in many cases have succumbed to, China’s determined efforts “to infiltrate, censor, or co-opt.” To counter the China challenge, Barr calls on corporate and academic leaders to appreciate “that what allowed them to succeed in the first place was the American free enterprise system, the rule of law, and the security afforded by America’s economic, technological, and military strength.”
In his July 22 capstone speech at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in California, Pompeo distilled the China challenge: “China is increasingly authoritarian at home, and more aggressive in its hostility to freedom everywhere else.” Stressing that America’s quarrel is with the Chinese Communist Party, which governs dictatorially, and not with the Chinese people, whose human rights the CCP systematically violates, Pompeo maintained that the United States must change China’s behavior. To do so the U.S. must fully understand Chinese communism, which drives the regime’s quest for global hegemony. To be sure, “the only way to truly change communist China is to act not on the basis of what Chinese leaders say, but how they behave.” But how Beijing behaves becomes intelligible in light of what the CCP says at party gatherings and in official documents about the imperatives for totalitarian rule at home and the establishment beyond China’s borders of a worldwide tributary system with Beijing at the center. Because of China’s hegemonic ambition, formidable economic power, and unremitting military buildup, Pompeo asserted, “securing our freedoms from the Chinese Communist Party is the mission of our time, and America is perfectly positioned to lead it because our founding principles give us that opportunity.”
But will we seize that opportunity? Can an angry and divided nation draw on its founding principles and constitutional traditions, as the secretary of state asked the Commission on Unalienable Rights to do? Can citizens across the political spectrum take pride in, preserve, and carry forward America’s great achievements in respecting the nation’s founding principles while learning from the country’s flagrant deviations from them? Can people throughout the nation recover the conviction that the practice of American constitutional government and the belief that inspires it — that all are by nature free and equal — provide the common ground on which citizens of diverse persuasions can air their differences, accommodate competing perspectives, make their cases, and instruct and be instructed, and so rededicate themselves to the shared enterprise of self-government?
To rise to the China challenge, we must.
I remember this one teacher. To me, he was the greatest teacher, a real sage of my time. He had such wisdom. We were reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and he walked over. Mr. Lasswell was his name….He said:
“I’ve been listening to you boys and girls recite the Pledge of Allegiance all semester and it seems as though it is becoming monotonous to you. If I may, may I recite it and try to explain to you the meaning of each word:
I – me, an individual, a committee of one.
PLEDGE – dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self-pity.
ALLEGIANCE – my love and my devotion.
TO THE FLAG – our standard, Old Glory, a symbol of freedom. Wherever she waves, there is respect because your loyalty has given her dignity that shouts freedom is everybody’s job.
OF THE UNITED – that means that we have all come together.
STATES OF AMERICA – individual communities that have united into [our] great states. . . individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose, all divided with imaginary boundaries, yet united to a common purpose, and that’s love for country.
AND TO THE REPUBLIC – a state in which sovereign power is invested in representatives chosen by the people to govern. And government is the people and it’s from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.
FOR WHICH IT STANDS.
ONE NATION – meaning, so blessed by God.
INDIVISIBLE – incapable of being divided.
WITH LIBERTY – which is freedom and the right of power to live one’s own life without threats or fear or some sort of retaliation.
AND JUSTICE – the principle or quality of dealing fairly with others.
FOR ALL – which means it’s as much your country as it is mine.”
Since I was a small boy, two states have been added to our country and two words have been added to the Pledge of Allegiance – “under God”.
Wouldn’t it be a pity if someone said, “That’s a prayer” and that would be eliminated from schools, too?
This essay is part of a RealClearPolicy series centered on the American Project, an initiative of the Pepperdine School of Public Policy. The project looks to the country’s founding principles to respond to our current cultural and political upheaval.
The Declaration of Independence served a dual function at the momentous occasion of its adoption, July 4, 1776. The first was that it was the issuance of a statement of political independence containing within it a rational defense of our dramatic break with the government of Great Britain and its unaccountable king. The second, however, was the annunciation of the principles animating that declaration. According to the Founders, it was the violation of these principles that justified separation; their defense demanded the birth of a new nation.
These principles are outlined in the document’s most famous line: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The rights to life and to liberty suggest the autonomy of the individual, whereas the statement that men are created equal highlights the universal dignity of all. The dynamic tension between these two principles, liberty and equality, underlies the ongoing left-right dialectic that has characterized American politics from the beginning. For this reason, it may be easy to overlook the last phrase in this statement, “the pursuit of Happiness.” It reads to modern eyes, perhaps, like a poetic after thought to the weightier philosophical statements that precede it. Yet it is in the pursuit of happiness that we are called upon to exercise the virtues needed to weave the fabric of a nation.
It is the role of virtue in realizing happiness through community — especially a community of free and equal citizens — that conservatism should remind us of today.
What is virtue? Before offering an answer, it is worth noting that it is a term that exists in our moral vocabulary today largely as an artifact of classical literature and our Christian heritage — rather like a poetical term sapped of substantive meaning. We think of moral questions today predominantly in deontological or consequentialist terms, rather than in terms of the virtues. Deontological ethics holds that an action is right or wrong depending on whether it conforms to some rule or maxim (“It is always wrong to do X,” “It is my duty to do Y.”). Consequentialism, by contrast, holds that we should evaluate an action based on its outcomes or consequences. In the political sphere, we often waver between these two, incompatible approaches to moral questions.
Take just about any debate in the realm of policy. The right to own a firearm or the right to health care is often met with arguments about why such alleged rights may or may not be practical. The right to bear arms makes it too easy for bad actors to buy guns; universal health care is too expensive or will have other harmful consequences, etc. Some oppose abortion on the basis of the right to life for unborn children, whereas opponents object with practical arguments about the difficulty of raising children in certain conditions. These disagreements, however legitimate, leave us speaking conflicting moral languages that offer no path to resolution. More importantly, both moral languages overlook the importance of moral character, which is what yields meaningful happiness and establishes the basis of flourishing community.
The virtues are habits of moral character. In the classical tradition, these include such qualities as fortitude or courage, prudence, temperance, and justice. The Christian tradition adds the “theological virtues:” faith, hope, and charity (love). We might easily add qualities such as honor, nobility, fairness, equanimity, and wisdom (the cornerstone of the good life, according to Aristotle). According to the tradition of virtue ethics, we should aspire to cultivate these habits, which conduce to lives of human flourishing, rather than basing our actions on rules or consequences.
This classical understanding informed the founding of the United States. Though the empirical orientation of the Enlightenment had much to do with setting us on a course away from virtue as the ground of morality, the founding fathers nevertheless recognized the indispensability of moral virtue in securing the project of liberty, representative government, and the pursuit of happiness. As Benjamin Franklin put it: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” Or Thomas Jefferson: “A nation as a society forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society.” Or, finally, George Washington: “There is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists … an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness.”
This is not to downplay the glaring vices present in American society at the founding. The point is that the Founders were at least minimally aware of the vital role virtue plays in establishing a political society capable of securing individual liberty and the common good. Whence the motivation for John Adams’ saying: “Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics.”
American society today has reaped the benefits of a prosperous economy aided by a political system that is the legacy of previous generations of Americans bound by more than the pursuit of riches. Indeed, the political liberalism of the Enlightenment has had much to do with the quest for a more egalitarian society in America, rooted in the dignity of the individual. However, the moral basis not merely of the Founding but also many of the great periods of moral progress in our history since the Founding can be traced to a religious consciousness that has stirred popular demands for social reforms, expressed through a moral language preserved by a Christian culture far older than classical liberalism.
Examples of this include the Abolitionist Movement, the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. William Lloyd Garrison, apart from Frederick Douglass perhaps the most well-remembered figure of the late abolitionist movement, might be described as less orthodoxly Christian than some of his peers in the movement. Yet, he could not have been more Christian in the framing of his moral arguments against slavery and the institutions that abided it, decrying both South and North in the years preceding the Civil War for their complicity:
The reason why the South rules, and the North falls prostrate in servile terror, is simply this: with the South, the preservation of slavery is paramount to all other considerations above party success, denominational unity, pecuniary interest, legal integrity, and constitutional obligation. With the North, the preservation of the Union is placed above all other things-above honor, justice, freedom, integrity of soul, the Decalogue and the Golden Rule-the infinite God himself.
Such language leans heavily upon conceptions of virtue harvested from Christian ethical teachings. Similarly, the sermons of Quaker minister and women’s rights activist Lucretia Mottemphasized the ethical substance of New Testament teachings against dogmatic interpretations that justified the subjugation of women, emphasizing religious behavior over rigidity of doctrine.
The nonviolent philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr., should be understood as the application not only of the methodology of Gandhi but also the moral substance of the Gospels. “Christian love” demanded more than a belief in equality. One of the most important and distinguishing elements of nonviolence, according to Reverend King, was that it “avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love.” Love was not only the preeminent value but also the preeminent virtue of the Nonviolent Civil Rights Movement. The embrace of love as a virtue required the embrace of attendant virtues such as patience, courage, forgiveness, humility, and the suite of moral attributes that lent such ethical force to the work of King and those who followed his moral path.
If the importance of virtue is evident in great social movements it is also visible in the ideational edifice of America’s long-standing institutions. The United States Armed Forces is not merely as a functional organization that safeguards our national security, it is also, at its best, an institution that models and cultivates in its soldiers many of the virtues that we associate with what is most admirable in the American character. “The Army Values” lists seven key virtues that soldiers are trained to adhere to: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. In a similar way, the judicial oath taken by every judge or justice of the United States requires that they “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and the rich,” and to do so “faithfully and impartially,” clearly implying the virtues of faithfulness and impartiality as necessary to the moral character of a proper judge or justice. Even the traditional etiquette of reference that attends the addressing of members of congress (‘the honorable senator…’) expresses the hope that our elected officials possess, or should be held accountable to, the virtue of honor.
It may not be an exaggeration to say that virtue alone serves as the enforcer of all social contract and civic obligation. There are practical arguments that may justify the existence of our institutions, and there are rules, more or less reasonable, that might compel certain behavior from individuals or groups. But if the inward motivation to act in accordance with these rules or to seek the common good through participation in these institutions is lacking, what prevents any of us from subverting our institutions and social relationships for our own gain or becoming altogether alienated from them and one another?
The institution of marriage requires its participants to practice the virtues of selflessness and fidelity in order for it to be sustained. To be a proper friend, one must exhibit the qualities of understanding, patience, and helpfulness. To be a good parent, educator, or really anyone in a position of authority, one must be temperate, fair-minded, and balanced. To be a good student, employee, or soldier, one should be humble and coachable. To be a good leader, one ought to have courage, integrity, and, perhaps, even nobility.
Virtue, as opposed to legal compulsion or mere rationality, forms the basis of genuine interpersonal and social trust. The more we are able to see in and demonstrate for each other those habits of character necessary for flourishing, the more we find ourselves able (as both a reflection of our own virtues and those of our fellows) to collaborate with others, bear with each other’s faults, accept each other’s legitimate authority, and refrain from doing one another harm, whether out of fear, contempt or ambition.
Individual virtue breeds communal virtue, and vice versa, making virtue the great nourisher of our social fabric. If virtue seems to be vanishing from our social, political, and cultural spheres — if it is no longer something that we even pretend to demand of our politicians — this may be because virtue is vanishing from our moral language. At a moment when our political discourse is increasingly limited to our commitments to equality or individualism, and the policies they may seem to imply, American conservativism would do well to reintroduce the virtues into our moral vocabulary — those inward qualities of moral character have always formed the basis for our national excellence and our political community.
President Obama has dangerously surrendered the nation’s global leadership, but it can be ours again—if we choose his successor wisely.
By Dick Cheney and Liz Cheney • Wall Street Journal
In 1983, as the U.S. confronted the threat posed by the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan explained America’s unique responsibility. “It is up to us in our time,” he said, “to choose, and choose wisely, between the hard but necessary task of preserving peace and freedom, and the temptation to ignore our duty and blindly hope for the best while the enemies of freedom grow stronger day by day.” It was up to us then—as it is now—because we are the exceptional nation. America has guaranteed freedom, security and peace for a larger share of humanity than any other nation in all of history. There is no other like us. There never has been.
Born of the revolutionary ideal that we are “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights,” we were, first, an example to the world of freedom’s possibilities. During World War II, we became freedom’s defender, at the end of the Cold War, the world’s sole superpower. We did not seek the position. It is ours because of our ideals and our power, and the power of our ideals. As British historian Andrew Roberts has observed, “In the debate over whether America was born great, achieved greatness or had greatness thrust upon her, the only possible conclusion must be: all three.” Continue reading
HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY! LET FREEDOM RING!
“Taxation without representation!” was the battle cry in America’s 13 Colonies, which were forced to pay taxes to England’s King George III despite having no representation in the British Parliament. As dissatisfaction grew, British troops were sent in to quell the early movement toward rebellion. Repeated attempts by the Colonists to resolve the crisis without military conflict proved fruitless.
On June 11, 1776, the Colonies’ Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and formed a committee whose express purpose was drafting a document that would formally sever their ties with Great Britain. The committee included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson, who was considered the strongest and most eloquent writer, crafted the original draft document (as seen above). A total of 86 changes were made to his draft and the Continental Congress officially adopted the final version on July 4, 1776. Continue reading
by Peter Roff
On the morning of July 3, 1776 John Adams, delegate to the Second Continental Congress from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote his wife Abigail:
“Yesterday the greatest question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony ‘that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, and as such they have, and of right ought to have, full power to make war, conclude peace, establish commerce, and to do all the other acts and things which other states may rightfully do.’ You will see in a few days a declaration setting forth the causes which have impelled us to this mighty revolution and the reasons which will justify it in the sight of God and man. A plan of confederation will be taken up in a few days.” Continue reading
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Continue reading
In a 2006 interview, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said the Constitution is “basically about” one word — “democracy” — that appears in neither that document nor the Declaration of Independence. Democracy is America’s way of allocating political power. The Constitution, however, was adopted to confine that power in order to “secure the blessings of” that which simultaneously justifies and limits democratic government — natural liberty.
The fundamental division in U.S. politics is between those who take their bearings from the individual’s right to a capacious, indeed indefinite, realm of freedom, and those whose fundamental value is the right of the majority to have its way in making rules about which specified liberties shall be respected. Continue reading
“America needed to define its interests. . . . The first, foremost obligation is defense of the homeland. . . . (2) We are a trading nation. We need access to our markets and we need for those markets to be reasonably secured. . . . (3) We are a communicating nation which needs access to space, access to the seas. (4) We are a studying nation. Scholarship from science is important to the whole world and those people need to be able to be safe and secure in what they do. (5) Our hemisphere is quite important. If there’s not security in our hemisphere, there’s not security in the homeland. (6) Finally we are a nation with some conscience. It means alliances are extremely important when they’re based on a national interest. We have to have the ability to sustain our presence within those alliances.”
by Rick Henderson & William H. Mellor III*
November 1, 1995
In the introduction to The Almanac of American Politics 1996 , Michael Barone asserts that the election of 1994 signaled that the nation seems to be returning to a “Tocquevillian America, to something resembling the country that French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville visited in 1831 and described in his Democracy in America. Tocqueville’s America was egalitarian, individualistic, decentralized, religious, property-loving, lightly governed.” Continue reading
From the beginning our nation was charged “with a responsibility to all mankind.”
by Scott L. Vanatter
In one of this first public speeches Ronald Reagan offered the Commencement Address at his alma mater, Eureka College. It was June 7, 1957, four months before Sputnik was put into orbit by the Soviet Union. America was in the height of the Cold War and Ronald Reagan was already speaking of American as a land of destiny, a theme he would return to again and again throughout his career as an elected official. “This is a land of destiny and our forefathers found their way here by some Divine system of selective service gathered here to fulfill a mission to advance man a further step in his climb from the swamps.”
He characterized the Founding Fathers as “a group of disturbed men,” who “met in the small Pennsylvania State House [as] they gathered to decide on a course of action. Behind the locked and guarded doors they debated for hours whether or not to sign the Declaration which had been presented for their consideration.”
So disturbed were they, that they risked all. “For hours the talk was treason and its price the headsman’s axe, the gallows and noose. The talk went on and decision was not forthcoming.” Continue reading
by Kathrine Kersten
On Nov. 6, Americans will vote in an election whose importance rivals that of the election of 1912 — 100 years ago. That election, which put Woodrow Wilson in the White House, ushered in the progressive movement, of which President Obama is the heir and today’s leader.
Progressivism views the roles of citizen and state very differently than our founding fathers did. The founders anchored the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in three principles. They believed that human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inherent in nature and human dignity, and preexist the state. They believed that government should be limited, and that its primary purpose is to protect these rights. Finally, they crafted our Constitution to disperse power and curb its abuse through mechanisms such as checks and balances, and federalism. Continue reading