Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Founders Would Have Been Proud

The UD in DC community had their second annual Constitution Day celebration at Quincy last night. It may have been one for the ages. Quincy alumnus Sean Lewis gave the opening address and lead this music with a variety of piano, guitar and banjo. By the time Battle Cry of Freedom came along the assembly was giving new meaning to the term "gusto."


For those interested, the keynote address is reproduced below:

During my recent travels in the Middle East I was able to visit Syria for a couple days. The Syrian Arab Republic holds the somewhat dubious distinction of being the first police state I’ve ever visited. Needless to say, this was an interesting experience.

Our Syrian adventure began by spending five or six hours waiting at the Syrian-Lebanese border in order to obtain entry visas from the Syrian government. This was partly an effort to spite the Americans – all other nationalities got through in a matter of minutes – but, as a friend in Lebanon explained, this delay also allowed the border guards to fax our information to Damascus, where surveillance could then be organized before we got there. In the short two days we were in the capital we found ourselves repeatedly approached by friendly Syrians who seemed to materialize out of nowhere and who were quite inquisitive about our travel details. Overly-friendly locals? Perhaps. Or Syrian security agents? Perhaps. We had, after all, been warned ahead of time that anyone might be working for the government.

Our paranoia went further. On arrival at the hotel our passports were confiscated. There was “paperwork” to be filled out, we were told. When asked if we could see the form, the answer was an emphatic “no.” Between our first and second nights there, the hotel encountered “issues” with our room and, after a considerable delay, we were relocated. To a bugged room? Perhaps. You see, we had been warned about this as well. To be on the safe side, my traveling companion and I spoke in code regarding touchy subjects, never naming President Assad, the Syrian regime, the State of Israel or anything else that might get us in trouble.

Was this paranoia all in our heads? Perhaps it was. But then again, maybe that was precisely the point: creating a climate of fear. Biographers of and commentators upon the late John Paul II – of happy memory – point out that his 1979 visit to Poland was extremely significant because it destroyed a crucial myth of the Communist regime: the myth that you are alone.

By silencing dissent and flooding the nation with propaganda supportive of the regime, the Communist Party had managed to control all social dialogue above the most minute levels, creating the impression that dissidents were utterly alone in a sea of support for the state ideology.

On his June 3 visit to Gniezno, a town of 60,000 people, John Paul drew a million Poles to himself; a week later the mass at the Krakow Commons was attended by the largest crowd in Polish history, between two and three million people. All told, some thirteen million Poles, more than a third of the population, saw John Paul in person. For the first time in decades, Poles discovered in a powerful way that they were not alone, that the ‘us’ of society far outnumbered the ‘them.’ It was the beginning of the end for European Communism.

What I learned by study in regards to Poland and by personal experience in Syria, is that regimes are about far more than political parties or tax law or the latest public opinion polls. A political regime is both a product and a source of the society that surrounds it, imbues it and in turn is imbued by it.

Thus, what we celebrate tonight is not simply a form of government. Nor do we even celebrate the fact that this particular form of government is one of the most stable and long-lasting of the modern age. Rather, we celebrate the free society that this regime has allowed. We celebrate a society were men may pursue justice by mutual consent, where the truth may be sought in open dialogue and where a false imitation of virtue is not imposed, but men are free to seek true virtue in accordance with the laws of Nature and Nature’s God.

This is what we celebrate. But our gathering this evening is more than celebration. As we begin to glimpse on the horizon the prospect of a quarter millennium of American government, let also recommit ourselves to upholding this Constitution. For just as it allows free expression, governmental checks and balances, and the consent of an informed citizenry, so too does it require these things in order to last. And thus we find ourselves entrusted with the future of this nation. In the way we live and work, study and teach, write and vote and dialogue with one another, it is we who must now defend this Constitution of the United State of America.

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