This Memorial Day, Americans remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice so that the great American experiment in freedom might be carried on another day. The greatest honor we can offer those brave souls is to cherish our freedom, and protect and preserve it for our children and their children.
The American Revolution was the first truly universal revolution in the worldany people anywhere can adopt the principles of freedom. But freedom comes at a price. It requires enlightenment, risk, dedication, sacrifice, and usually, fortune. That is why the practice of freedom has never been universal, even though its principles are.
Nothing is more revolutionary about the principles of America, and nothing has been subjected to greater attack, scorn, and misinterpretation, than their claim to be universal, to apply equally to all mankind. Even in America, the most decisive points in our history have turned on the question of whether the proposition that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with equal rights really means all men, or some men. That is why nothing reveals the character and challenge of America more than the question of race.
May 2004, was the 50th anniversary of the famous case, Brown v. Board of Education. The aim of the Supreme Court was correct: American law ought not divide citizens based on the color of their skin. But the Court's reasoning left its conclusion on shaky ground. In effect, the Court said there is nothing wrong in principle with color-based law and racial segregation; they are problems only so long as the latest social science suggests they are problems.
The forthcoming issue of the Claremont Review of Books features two important essays on Brown, by Claremont Institute Senior Fellow Edward Erler and Claremont Graduate University Professor Michael Uhlmann, which explore the rationale and legacy of the decision, and point to the right way of thinking about matters of race and justice.
May is also the anniversary of another important though far less known event in the history of American race relations: the Kansas-Nebraska Act, signed into law 150 years ago on May 30, 1854. Perhaps more than any other single act, Kansas-Nebraska ignited anti-slavery and pro-slavery forces into heated conflict, leading ultimately to the firing on Fort Sumpter and the American Civil War.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act reveals to Americans the awesome challenge of seeing one another not in racial terms, but simply as fellow human beings and fellow citizens. We also see in it the problem of self-government: combining government by consent with the equal protection of the equal rights of all the governed. Freedom and justice require nothing less.
Claremont Institute Vice President Thomas Krannawitter has written a provocative essay on the Kansas-Nebraska Act. We invite you to read it at our website, www.claremont.org, and reflect this Memorial Day on the noble principles of the American founding, shining as a beacon for freedom loving people around the world.