IN THE SUMMER of 1985, I was one of a million visitors to pay my respects to Thomas Jefferson by walking up the marble steps of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. Like hundreds of others on the humid July day when I visited, I looked up to the four inscribed panels on the walls and murmured the famous phrases to myself. The first panel contains the most famous and familiar words in American history: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that amng these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." These are the core articles of faith in the American Creed.
It is doubtful that the American Republic, if founded in the 21st century, would ever produce the explicit claim that the individual is the sovereign unit in society. What politician today argues that the natural order of things is man's natural state is freedom from and equality with all other individuals? Who still believes that individuals interact harmoniously without the guiding hand of external discipline?
Yet this wild idealism still excites millions of visitors to the Jefferson Memorial each year. Perhaps some of them have anarchy on their minds. More likely, most of those who read Jefferson ardently have deep yearnings for personal freedom. They strive to attain that freedom while stifling the inherent mutual exclusiveness in the vision.
When I stood in the shadows of the Jefferson Memorial, I felt the magic of his vision. It worked on me because I did not have to make a real-life choice. And that is what makes Jeffersonian philosophy truly timeless. Go stand at the Tidal Basin in the American Capitol and feel the enduring nature of the man and his vision. For me, Thomas Jefferson is an integral part of the values I hold in highest regard, especially the sanctity of self.