That which we esteem too lightly.

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”

Tom Paine, from ‘The Crisis,’ December 19th 1776.

In the dimming days of 1776 the young American republic faced defeat. Its troops had been driven from New York by the British. They were poorly fed, poorly clothed and poorly paid. The cold of that harsh winter bit all the more savagely for that.

On December 23rd ‘The Crisis’ was brought, ink barely dry from the press, to George Washington’s headquarters. The General ordered it read to his troops. Two days later, on Christmas Day, Washington led his men as they boarded a flotilla of small boats, crossed the Delaware River and surprised the Hessian mercenaries garrisoned in Trenton. They took the town, liberated New Jersey and changed the course of the war.

For men who lived as subjects of the British crown in a colony thousands of miles away from a legislature in which they had no voice ‘so celestial an article as freedom’ was indeed so precious that thousands were prepared to endure every privation and risk their lives in its pursuit.

Yet today surely we esteem our freedoms too lightly for we seem prepared to give them away like little-valued baubles handed down from our forebears; objects that meant much to our parents and grandparents but that in our care have become dusty and neglected, kept together with glue and twine, no longer the source of pride they once were.

Perhaps it’s a mark of our ‘success’ as a society.   In recent times democrats have taken heart from the fact that since the disintegration of the Soviet Union democracy has spread.  Peoples who once lived in fear of their governments can now choose to reappoint or remove them through the ballot box.

Perhaps reasoning that the world’s richest and most powerful nations share a commitment to democratic government we assume that democracy will survive.  Today we’re told that the greatest threat to democracy is terrorism, explicitly terrorism inspired by radical Islam.

This is turn has surely added to the complacency because, while the events of September 11 2001, the Madrid and London bombings were terrible, democracy has survived and surely will survive far worse.

Between September 1940 and May 1941 German bombing raids on Britain killed some 43,000 people, the equivalent in death to a September 11 every two weeks for eight months.  An estimated one million people were injured.  Britain stood alone in Europe, the continent occupied by the Nazis.  Even the then US Ambassador, Joe Kennedy, declared in an interview with The Boston Globe; “Democracy is finished in England. It may be here.” It wasn’t.

And in this knowledge people heed no warning but hear only a hollow cry of ‘wolf’ as they turn in their beds and sleep once more.

Sadder still by looking to external threats, real or contrived, we are distracted from those threats from within that have proved fatal to democracy more often than war or invasion.  And notable amongst these is the ability of rich men and their corporations to purchase not just influence, but to secure for themselves a measure of power which rightly belongs not to them but to each and every one of us, equally, as the people and citizens of these islands.

So though this blog I’d like, among other things, to raise a debate about the state of democracy; what democracy is and should be in the 21st century and whether it is in sufficiently robust health not just to survive for our lifetimes but for it to remain a legacy we can pass on to those who live after us.  The truly terrible alternative is that we, like the citizens of that ancient democracy in Athens, are eventually eclipsed by the autocratic might of some new Imperial Rome.



One Response to “That which we esteem too lightly.”

  1. well written, well thought out. i thoroughly enjoyed reading this hope the debate is started

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