Editor’s note: This is one in a series examining the Constitution and Federalist Papers in today’s America.
The preamble to our Constitution was a last-minute addition to the document that, according to the courts, has no substantive legal meaning. Yet it contains the noblest articulation of the mission statement for our country. America exists not just to secure the rights of its people or to allow them to get ahead in life, but also to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
From the outset, the Constitution distinguishes between liberty and its blessings, and in so doing, teaches us that not all uses of liberty will yield blessings. The Founders would find laughable the libertarian and liberal claims that unbridled sexuality, drug legalization, obscenity and the celebration of perversity are blessings of liberty. They would be appalled to see their own language invoked by the likes of David French to defend “Drag Queen Story Hour” at the local library as a blessing of liberty.
With the Preamble, the Constitution also teaches us to think of ourselves not just as rights-bearing individuals, but also as custodians tasked with transmitting to our posterity the blessings of liberty we inherited from our forefathers. “We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them,” Lincoln long ago observed. “They are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors.”
These blessings, therefore, do not really belong to us, but to our posterity. We are not at liberty to squander them, but must transmit them whole to the next generation, who in turn, must do the same for their children. Americans are thus bound together across time in an intergenerational compact among the living, the dead and the not-yet-born.
If we are to discharge our solemn duties, then we must first ensure that there be a posterity. This has very much become a problem in our time. Not only has the fertility rate hit a new historic low of 1.64 children per woman, but it is also well below the replacement rate (2.1). Like the rest of the developed world, we seem to be losing the will to live.
Of these births, a disproportionate share are the children of immigrants. Since 1965, America has witnessed the largest migration in recorded human history (precise numbers are hard to come by, but 65 million newcomers is a reasonable estimate). To quote fomer President Bill Clinton, “No other nation in history has gone through demographic change of this magnitude in so short a time.” Unlike earlier European immigrants, these more recent arrivals come from cultures more dissimilar to ours.
Many will surely assimilate and become part of our posterity. But the incentives for doing so grow weaker with each passing year. Modern technology allows all to remain connected to their homelands, while our elites mercilessly disparage America, inviting newcomers and natives alike to despise it.
Merely having posterity is ultimately not enough. Our children must be raised in such a way that they, too, can live as free citizens. “When we are planning for posterity,” Thomas Paine warned, “we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary.”
Who today can look to the next generations and feel confident about our country’s future? Millennials and Generation Z are not just the “wokest” generations, they’re also the most physically and mentally frail. They’ve been to school but their teachers have, for the most part, failed to instill in them a love for their country and an appreciation of its complicated, but nonetheless triumphant past.
The fault ultimately lies not with them, but with previous generations. When the domestic onslaught against America began in the 1960s, those to whom the country had been entrusted capitulated. They did put up some good fights and some of the old blessings of liberty were not extinguished (we still have a First and a Second Amendment). On the whole, though, the Silent Generation and the baby boomers presided over the country’s decline and saddled subsequent generations with an unconscionable level of both financial and moral debt.
The task now falls to the growing number of “unwoke” among the young to revitalize this great nation. However ill-prepared they may be, they realize that the current course is unsustainable. They see that liberty may disappear in their own time. In fact, all it takes is a new, relatively mild COVID-19 variant to shut down businesses, churches and schools. They already feel the crushing boot of censorship and see the persecution of political enemies by the regime and their corporate allies.
The odds 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 harnessed to rebuild the blessings of liberty for posterity.
• David Azerrad is an assistant professor at Hillsdale College’s Van Andel Graduate School of Government in Washington, D.C.