Liberty and Justice
I pledge Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Most of us learned these words before we could write very well. They were written by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister. Ironically, he was a Christian Socialist. Originally, although he was a minister, he did not include “under God” in his pledge. Congress added those words in 1954 after an extensive campaign by the Knights of Columbus. Earlier, in 1924, the National Flag Conference, under the leadership of the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, changed the Pledge's words, “my Flag,” to “the Flag of the United States of America.” Bellamy disliked this change, but his protest was ignored.
It’s fairly short. But it is pretty packed. There is the “Republic” idea for which the country stands. There is the “one nation under God, indivisible” thing. I’m not about to touch that. And then, there is the “liberty and justice for all” thing. It is said the Bellamy would have added “equality”, but at the time of the writing, women still did not have the right to vote.
Since most of us learned these words before we really thought much about anything except maybe how much more attention our younger brother was getting than we were, it’s likely that you haven’t thought much about it since.
I would offer that this country is founded on liberty and justice. These are the two great pillars of the Republic. But, the pillar metaphor is not really a good one. For it seems that liberty and justice come out of the same bucket so to speak. Liberty and Justice are two constituents of a single pillar. They are more like the yin and the yang of the Tao.
Liberty would hold that we should be free to drive down the freeway at whatever speed we choose. Justice would hold that we must drive at a safe speed so that innocent drivers are not injured or killed by your need to drive like an Indy want-to-be. Liberty would hold that we should be free to live as we choose; justice asserts that we must abide by laws that protect us all.
Liberty would hold that we should be able to discharge whatever we want into our air or waters with impunity; justice maintains that these emissions should be regulated to protect the health of those who breath the air and drink the water. Liberty would defend the right to use our private property any way we choose; justice says you can’t build a chemical plant next to an elementary school or a hospital.
Lovers of Liberty value their right to own guns. Lovers of Justice believe that gun manufacturers should be responsible somehow for the natural result of the use of their product. (or should just the bullet manufacturers be responsible?)
Whether the issue is States Rights, a woman’s right to choose, corporate behavior, universal health care, the environment, or the way we choose to build our homes, there is always a tension between liberty and justice.
It is this tension that has made the two party system function so well in this country.
In general, although it has not always been this way, the Republican Party represents Liberty, and the Democrats represent Justice. It is within this tension that good law and good public policy is conceived and implemented. Big business likes the Republicans because they want to be free of regulation. Big labor likes the Democrats because they want justice for their membership. Republicans don’t like big government. Democrats are not supposed to like unregulated corrupt corporations that pollute and steal, and then bribe our leaders to look the other way.
Look at any list of issues and see for yourself. The tension between liberty and justice is the foundation of our two party system and the Republic itself. Those groups outside of the margin on the right are called Libertarians. Those on the left are concerned with environmental justice, social justice and other justice issues. We just don’t call them Justicians.
And, like the yin and the yang of the Tao, one is constantly turning into the other.
To "not be able to use your land the way you intended when you bought it" turns into a justice issue. The justice of equal opportunity turns into a liberty issue for those who suffer from discrimination. It turns into a loss of liberty for those who wish to discriminate (Sometimes for justified reasons)
Republicans view the right to life as a justice issue for the unborn. Democrats see abortion as a woman’s right to choose, a liberty issue.
The tension between Liberty and Justice is the lifeblood of this Republic. The constant turmoil of these two basic rights makes our system work.
The system, however, does not work when those who should be arguing the virtue of their principles argue instead based on their desire to maintain power. Then, the system breaks down.
The President says he wants to “get to the bottom” of a leak from the White House that has revealed the name of a CIA operative. Yet, he has not publicly called for the resignations of those who participated in the crime. He has not called on those journalists who know the names of the perpetrators of the crime to help him preserve the rule of law in his own administration. His sense of justice is therefore subordinated to his need to maintain power.
When Democrats do not pursue justice for fear of the loss of power, we all lose.
When Republicans condone the loss of civil liberty in the name of national security in order to maintain their grip on power, they are abandoning their basic principles. When both sides of the aisle choose to confuse liberation with occupation, we are truly lost.
When we are no longer guided by our great principles, truth becomes a prisoner to the mendacities of power.
And the Republic is endangered.