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Bono, Jefferson, and the American Idea

Here’s a letter of mine from today’s New York Times:

Bono writes that America is “a great idea about opportunity for all and responsibility to your fellow man.” He confuses consequences with causes.

The American Idea is one of individual freedom — as Jefferson put it in the summer of 1776, the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” From this freedom comes widespread economic opportunity, a cosmopolitan respect for the rights of strangers, and both the willingness and the material means to be generous toward others.

What distinguishes the American Idea from the superstitions, stifling traditions and the various forms of collectivism that have historically cursed humanity is its confidence in individual freedom. Without that freedom, opportunity is a mirage and “responsibility to your fellow man” is simply a slogan used to justify harnessing the populace to serve those in power.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Fairfax, Va., Oct. 18, 2009