We often don’t think of Calvin Coolidge when we think of the greatest American speeches of all time. If you do, pat yourself on the back for recognizing Coolidge offered up one of the nation’s very best speeches delivered on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1926.
I bring it up now because his words are extremely relevant today given that so many crazed ideologues have a desire to discount or rip apart the fabric of America’s founding ideals. It’s a special kind of lunacy if you believe any good will come out of that endeavor. What will replace it? One only has to study history and look around the world to see all the examples of tyranny and genocide. Coolidge’s main point was that you can’t progress past America’s founding principles. Just read a portion of this great truth from his notable address:
If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.
Coolidge was dealing with the rise of progressivism and other alien ideas that threatened America’s Founding in his era too. Remember, Coolidge’s presidency coincided with the tail end of the bloody Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Coolidge saw himself as a civic educator, working to strengthen and solidify the ideals that brought forth unprecedented blessings and national prosperity. He also noted in the same address:
If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it.
This line seems especially prescient given all that is going on with attacks against Enlightenment thought so prevalent at America’s beginning. And by Enlightenment thought, I mean critical thinking, reason, tolerance, an understanding of history and human nature, and a vibrant liberal order. The tearing down of monuments and other systemic attacks against the Founding, whether in schools, the media, or popular culture, points to the rise of gross intolerance and something more akin to anti-reason. It shows no ability to nuance or contextualize history, but only leads to an insatiable appetite to silence any dissent. We are reaping the whirlwind right now of neglecting to teach several generations of Americans these essential truths. A person of reason can clearly see why the actions of mobs are so insidious and dangerous.
I believe one of the most important tenents of conservatism today is to defend America’s founding principles. While our nation and even the founding period is not a perfect model of existence, it remains the best blueprint for not only resisting rising tyranny but offering Americans a kind of system where we remain masters and not servants of the government. Never forget it was the Western world and our principles enshrined at the founding that played a decisive role in not only ending slavery but expanding equality to all citizens. To go backward from that only leads to chaos and despotism.