What Is America?

by Harry Browne

January 24, 2002

Politicians love to tell us how special America is. But what is it thatís special?

It canít be the scenery ó the "purple mountain majesties" or "thy rocks and rills." Dozens of countries have beautiful scenery.

It canít be the people. Citizens of other countries can be just as generous, courteous, fun-loving, or anything-you-might-want.

It canít be bravery. People have fought and died for their countries since the beginning of history.

And yet, there most certainly is ó or was ó something singular about America. What was it?

In my view, Americaís uniqueness rested on three pillars.

The Bill of Rights

The first is the concept that government is limited to a few specific, clearly defined functions. The Bill of Rights makes this clear. The 9th and 10th amendments specify that the federal government may not do anything that isnít spelled out in the Constitution.

And to drive that home, the Bill of Rights specifically guarantees your freedom to speak, worship, write, assemble, protest, or protect yourself. There are no exceptions allowed ó even when the politicians claim to have a "compelling interest" in limiting your liberty.

Before America, no country was ever governed by such a document. It put government in a small, confined compartment.

Voluntary Association

The Bill of Rights frees you to engage in any kind of activity you want with consenting adults, provided you donít forcibly impose upon the person or property of others.

Mark Skousen has said, "The triumph of persuasion over force is the sign of a civilized society."

The American way was for commerce, personal relationships, and religion to be voluntary. No one was forced to participate in something he didnít want.

So an individual could better his life ó not by appealing to government force, but by offering other people incentives to do business with him.

Civilization reached a new high by the maximum reliance on voluntary persuasion and the minimum reliance on government coercion.

The Free Market

Voluntary association produces the free market ó where each person can choose among a multitude of possibilities.

The free market empowers the most effective regulator in the world ó you.

You donít have to deal with a company you donít like. You donít have to buy something if you donít want it ó or if the price is too high ó or if you arenít sure the product is safe. The seller must satisfy you that he has what you want at a price youíre willing to pay.

With tens of millions of individual regulators like you, companies are pressured to provide what people want and need in the real world ó not what bureaucrats think would be best in a utopian world. In the free market, you are the King because you arenít forced to buy anything you donít want.

The free market brought us the greatest prosperity the world has ever known ó the easiest road to escape from poverty, the widest distribution of goods and services, the wealth that permits lavish generosity.

What Is America Today?

Unfortunately, all three pillars of that unique America have been torn down.

The Bill of Rights is now overruled by nine judges and ignored daily by politicians and bureaucrats.

Voluntary association has been replaced by the governmentís forcible imposition of discrimination laws, monopoly suppliers, and subsidies financed with money confiscated from you.

Youíve been replaced as the regulator of the free market by people like Teddy Kennedy and George Bush. Now companies have to please Washington before they can even think about pleasing you.

The Revolution Is Over

Those who say we could lose America are looking in the wrong direction. Weíve already lost it.

Those who think immigrants will change America overlook the changes already in place. Our government, taxes, and ideas of freedom are already duplicates of the Old World. Our politicians determine how we should live our lives ó and our individual liberties are sacrificed for the benefit of the Fatherland. What is unique thatís left to lose?

Those who fear a "loss of American sovereignty" to international agencies donít realize how little such agencies could bring about that we donít already have. Are they afraid someone will impose coercive health-care regulation on us? Or government schooling? Or regulations dictating the size of your toilet? What could happen that our own government hasnít already done?

What to Do

If you devote yourself to fighting against the latest political proposal, you may be wasting your time.

The growth of government is inevitable because the major issue has already been decided: there is no longer an America of tiny government, voluntary association, and the free market. So the only arguments now are over how the politicians will run our lives ó the Republican way or the Democratic way.

Our one hope is to persuade our fellow Americans that a return to the Bill of Rights could bring us much smaller government, much greater personal income, access to more low-cost products and services, and the freedom to live your own life as you think best ó not as the President or Congress wants.

Every battle is trivial compared to the fight to restore that unique America.


Harry Browne is the Director of Public Policy at the American Liberty Foundation, producing libertarian ads to run on national TV. 

You can read more of his articles at HarryBrowne.org.
His books are available at HBBooks.com.
You can hear his weekly radio show via the Internet.