Weren’t We Always Extremists?

But over the years, I’ve had to disentangle my pride in my family’s work ethic and character, which so closely align with the American ideals I was taught and still vigorously believe in, from our government itself.

The Fourth of July was always a big deal in my family. Most years, we traveled back “home” to Alabama for a large family gathering at my Aunt Linda’s house. When I was very young, the highlight of the day came at the end when we would head to the Oxford Lake (which I must emphasize was actually a pond) and watch fireworks the local fire department set off over it. My Uncle Dennis was one of those firemen, and I took such pride in knowing one of my relatives was responsible for that magical display.

As I aged, that same pride always coursed through me on this holiday. In analyzing it in hindsight, so much of my pride in my country was entwined with pride in my family, who I think to this day embody the American Dream. 

I come from humble roots. My Dad’s father had an eighth-grade education and worked in a pipe factory to provide for his family. They were poor, even hunting opossum to eat at times, but he always met their needs and gave them a solid upbringing. When he graduated, my Dad became the first person in his family to go to college —working multiple jobs and running track, which he hated, on scholarship to put himself through. 

My mom’s parents were similarly poor. That grandfather went to college on a GI Bill scholarship, attending in the evenings while he worked to provide for his young wife and three daughters. He went on to build a successful career in the grocery business, owning a chain of stores in Alabama that my parents met while working in.

There are countless other stories like this in my family tree. Stand-up people of character, working hard and taking advantage of the opportunities afforded to them in this country—slowly building a better life for the generation that comes after them. I’m proud of them, and thankful to live in a country where those stories have been possible.

But over the years, I’ve had to disentangle my pride in my family’s work ethic and character, which so closely align with the American ideals I was taught and still vigorously believe in, from our government itself. It would be easy to bury my head in the sand and lean into blind nationalism. There’s no question this country has greatly benefitted me and my family. But I now know that all Americans are not given the same opportunities or treated equally under the law. For that and many other offenses, it would also be easy to curse a country whose government has done so much wrong and seek to burn it all down. 

What’s hard is finding a way to live with both of these things being true. America is the greatest country the world has ever known, and yet it has been responsible for gross injustices, horrific violence, and terrible violations of the inherent, God-given rights it claims to uphold.

For the latter, the US receives a great deal of scrutiny and condemnation, both globally and at home. And I would agree that rebuke is deserved. But I always find it odd that America alone is criticized for injustices such as slavery, racism, inequality, and civil rights violations. It’s as if the vast majority of people are truly under the impression these injustices only ever happened here. [wpdiscuz-feedback id=”e3wyh4z7vi” question=”What are your thoughts on this?” opened=”0″][/wpdiscuz-feedback]

In truth, the entirety of human history is marred by these evils, and in many places, you’ll find much worse conditions for civil liberties to this day. 

The US is criticized more heavily for its failures to uphold human rights because it was the first to come along and allege that we had them. Therefore, its hypocrisy when it fails to live up to the values it professes makes those failures all the more glaring. And again, I’m not coming to the government’s defense. I merely want to point out that before the US, poverty, inequality, indentured servitude, slavery, racism—all of these evils and more were the status quo, and no one really expected differently.

When we said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” the reality is that this principle had been self-evident to practically no one throughout thousands of years of history. When we said that all men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” it got people’s attention, and suddenly others began to agree. When we said humans are entitled to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” it became a violation to impede such things. But make no mistake. These notions were not mainstream when our founders threw down the gauntlet with the Declaration of Independence.

We were founded by a bunch of extremists who were willing to die for the sake of their radical views.

And the preponderance of those views we now enjoy throughout large parts of the world belies just how fringe they once were. The founding of the US turned the world upside down—not because we eradicated injustice with these words, but because by alleging them we created a new standard by which governments and countries are now judged.

We have always failed to live up to our ideals, there’s no denying that. But we keep alleging them. We keep striving for them. And our history is filled with other extremists who have sought to continue the work our founders began.

We went to war with ourselves to uphold these views. Thousands of our fellow citizens have died to ensure others continue to have a shot at the world we proclaim to be possible. Americans like Edward Snowden and even citizens of other countries like Julian Assange have given up their liberty to protect these ideals. Many of these names you will never know. But we are surrounded by common, everyday American heroes who continue to risk their lives, their liberty, their fortunes, and their names for the sake of the radical ideas written down in our constitution.

We have always been extremists. It is in our blood. It is our heritage. And we cannot stop now.

As Barry Goldwater once said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Nowadays, this is where I find pride in my country—in knowing there are so many other “extremists” defending liberty and pursuing justice. America may never truly live up to the values we proclaim, but if we do, it will be because the extremists persisted in the face of improbable odds.

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Hannah Cox
Hannah Coxhttp://based-politics.com
Hannah Cox is a libertarian-conservative writer and co-founder of BASEDPolitics. She's also the host of the BASEDPolitics podcast and an experienced political activist.


  1. […] I’m grateful to have been born in this great country, there is nothing anyone can say to make me change my mind about that. I’ve always noted that you can lose everything and pull up your bootstraps and begin again in the United States of America. It is a nation of invention, a nation of growth and a nation that rewards if you work hard. Weren’t We Always A Nation Of Extremists? […]

  2. The reason there is racism, discrimination, crime and violence in this country is the same as why there is worse in almost every other country and that is that people are inherently fallen. Everyone is born with the selfishness and lack of self control that can lead to evil no matter who they are or where they live.
    The great thing about the US is that we have devised a system and a set of ideals that has helped to limit these base impulses while not falling into authoritarianism in order to do so. In the US we have always expected citizens to live up to a high standard and while some did not, most have.
    The problems are, by and large, not in the system but in the individual. The destruction of the “mythic bonds” that bind us to that system are responsible for much evil.

  3. “the reality is that this principle had been self-evident to practically no one”

    Absurd. Don’t you realize that Jefferson was just doing a riff on Galatians? “”There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Jefferson may have been a Deist, but he was also a student of Scripture who considered himself a Christian.

    For two millennia, Catholics had taught all men were created equal. Even the Pope was just a man who required confession and absolution. Aquinas’ Summa demonstrated all human law was a reflection of the Divine Law under which all men were equally liable.

    The idea of equality before the law is a CHRISTIAN concept. Jefferson could write the Declaration and have everyone accept it PRECISELY BECAUSE Christianity had trained Western Europe to believe it. Non-Christian cultures didn’t teach that idea, but it is the bedrock of Christianity.

    “The US is criticized more heavily for its failures to uphold human rights because it was the first to come along and allege that we had them. ” More absurdity. The idea that Native Americans had human rights was championed by the Catholic Church for centuries before Jefferson was born.

    Spanish and Portuguese explorers, who had been contaminated by six centuries of Muslim slave culture, tried to enslave natives, but the Catholic Church insisted this was not acceptable precisely because the unbaptized natives were human beings with an inherent right to be free. The natives might need to be evangelized and taught how to interact with Europeans, but they could not be enslaved.

    In order to read this essay, the reader must assume Hannah Cox is either completely ignorant of the history of Western civilization or a deliberate liar.

    • It’s not disingenuous at all. Yes, the church had been alleging this – though notably also falling far short of upholding it in practice – for some time. But prior to the US these views were not recognized by governments or governing authorities. I don’t disagree that the church’s teaching paved the way for our founding, nor that the founders were heavily influenced by it. But to pretend that the church had made tremendous headway in seeing these views recognized broadly before the founding of the US is just not true.

  4. Eye opening.. The Truth at last…A wonderful read from Gov. Mike Huckabee news Letter… As A young man I put on the Uniform of my country, served proudly in Vietnam . Came home went to work married raised a FAMILY an at 78 if my country called do it all over again….. I’ve had a great life would gladly go in so young man so he can have the same.. Thank you…

  5. PLEASE let me know how I can get a reprint of this excellent article. I want to give a copy to each of my 4 grandchildren and ,due to the black background on this version, I can’t print copies on my computer.

    • Hi Shirleen Becker, thank you for those kind words! At the very top of the article, there’s a button called “Print” next to the “Facebook” share button. Click on that, and it should give you a printable version. If that does not work, you can send me an email at [email protected] so that I can send you a printable version.

  6. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s about 60 miles from Boston. My childhood was filled with field trips to Bunker Hill, Boston Harbor, the Old North Church. We studied it year after year. My ancestors came to this country in 1625 and fought in the Revolutionary War. I was always taught to respect those who came before us, because they gave much to us. Freedom. They were men and women who were human. Who had great triumphs and horrible failures. Regardless if they failed, they always believed they could start anew and be better for their mistakes. They remembered their mistakes because it reminded them of their humanism. They remembered they’re capable of mistakes. They strived to be better but realized they would make mistakes again, just not the ones that they made before.

    America has never been perfect nor do I think the founding fathers had the illusion that it would be. It is, however, a place where you can come to follow your dreams and are allowed to do so without repercussions. Where you can try this 10 times and the only time that matters is the 1 success. Where if you have not a penny to your name and the loving people of this country will give you a start and you’re allowed to make of it what your willing to do. There is no other country on this planet that allows you to come, give you a chance to be apart of the country, willing to adapt it’s language so you understand, and give you the privilege to go where you want and do what you want.

    America was never meant to be perfect. The founding fathers knew that. But, they created a place for people to come and have the opportunity to try. I love this country and there’s no other place on earth that you can go and do this.

  7. I cannot help but notice that those who complain the loudest that the United States doesn’t live up to their ideals, want to tear down the very systems created in an attempt to live up to those ideals, and create a system that would not be friendly to those ideals at all.

    Too much of America’s falling short is caused by America rejecting the very principles created to live up to those ideals: things like civil asset forfeiture, violation of free association via Jim Crow laws, the destruction of the right to petition government about our grievances via Qualified and Absolute Immunity, and so forth. If we want to fix America, rather than reject these institutions and protections altogether, we need to do better to live up to those ideals.


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