Editor’s Note: This is part of a series examining the Constitution and federalist documents in America today.
The preamble to our Constitution was a last minute addition to the document which the courts say has no substantive legal significance. Yet it contains the noblest articulation of the mission statement for our country. America exists not only to secure the rights of her people or to enable them to move forward in life, but also to “secure the blessings of freedom for ourselves and our posterity.”
From the outset, the Constitution distinguishes between freedom and its blessings and in doing so teaches us that not all uses of freedom will produce blessings. The Founders would find ludicrous libertarian and liberal claims that unbridled sexuality, legalization of drugs, obscenity, and the celebration of evil are blessings of freedom. They would be appalled to see their own language invoked by people like David French to defend “Drag Queen Story Hour” at the local library as a blessing of freedom.
With the Preamble, the Constitution also teaches us to see ourselves not only as individuals holding rights, but also as guardians responsible for transmitting to our posterity the benefits of freedom that we have inherited from our ancestors. “We haven’t worked hard to acquire or establish them,” Lincoln observed a long time ago. “They are a legacy handed down to us by a race of ancestors who were once strong, courageous and patriotic, but now lamented and deceased.”
So these blessings do not really belong to us, but to our posterity. We are not free to waste them, but must pass them on in full to the next generation, who in turn must do the same for their children. Americans are thus linked through time in an intergenerational pact between the living, the dead and the unborn.
If we are to fulfill our solemn duties, we must first make sure that there will be posterity. It has become a problem in our time. Not only has the fertility rate hit a new all-time low of 1.64 children per woman, it is also well below the replacement rate (2.1). Like the rest of the developed world, we seem to lose the will to live.
Among these births, a disproportionate share are children of immigrants. Since 1965 America has experienced the greatest migration in human history (exact numbers are hard to come by, but 65 million newcomers are a reasonable estimate). To quote former President Bill Clinton, “No other nation in history has experienced a demographic change of this magnitude in such a short time.” Unlike previous European immigrants, these newcomers come from cultures more different from our own.
Many will surely assimilate and become part of our posterity. But the incentives to do so weaken year by year. Modern technology allows everyone to stay connected to their homeland, as our elites ruthlessly denigrate America, urging newcomers and natives to despise it.
In the end, it is not enough to have posterity. Our children must be brought up in such a way that they too can live as free citizens. “When we plan for posterity,” warned Thomas Paine, “we must remember that virtue is not hereditary. “
Who today can look to future generations and have confidence in the future of our country? Generation Y and Generation Z are not only the most “awake” generations, they are also the most physically and mentally fragile. They went to school but their teachers mostly failed to instill in them love for their country and appreciation for its complicated but nonetheless triumphant past.
The fault ultimately does not lie with them, but with previous generations. When the domestic assault on America began in the 1960s, those to whom the country had been entrusted surrendered. They fought well and some of the old blessings of freedom have not been extinguished (we still have a First and Second Amendment). Overall, however, the silent generation and baby boomers presided over the country’s decline and imposed unreasonable levels of financial and moral debt on subsequent generations.
The task now falls on the growing number of “unawakened” young people to revitalize this great nation. As ill-prepared as they are, they realize that the current course is not sustainable. They see that freedom can disappear in their time. In fact, all it takes is a new, relatively mild variant of COVID-19 to shut down businesses, churches, and schools. They are already feeling the crushing boot of censorship and seeing the persecution of political enemies by the regime and its corporate allies.
The chances are long, but the cause is not lost. The regime is powerful, but also incompetent and hated by a growing number of people. The backlash is brewing. It just needs to be mobilized, deepened and exploited to reconstruct the benefits of freedom for posterity.
• David Azerrad is Assistant Professor at the Van Andel Graduate School of Government at Hillsdale College in Washington, DC