For the Christmas party we had over the weekend, we decided to do a gift exchange. When we had to tell everyone what we wanted several weeks ago, I explained that I wanted a Gadsden Flag for my basement. That caused quite a bit of a controversy. I did end up getting the flag, but it brought on even more comments. One of our friends (the liberal lawyer, a former libertarian) said that she thought it was the kind of thing “someone in a militia would have”. Efforts to explain that I’m not a violent person, even with uses of terms like “gentle giant”, didn’t really get across why I love this flag.
For me, the Gadsden flag elicits an emotional response. To me, the American flag is a symbol of our nation, but it’s the refined, socially acceptable version. The Gadsden flag, however, seems like a symbol of our national spirit. And it is a distinctly American symbol. The rattlesnake is ours alone. “Don’t Tread On Me” could very well be an American motto. But I take the idea of “Don’t Tread On Me” and internalize it.
It is a personal issue. Eric’s essay on the Sovereign Individual explains it very succinctly. “Don’t Tread On Me” is a personal statement. It is the statement that I truly am a sovereign individual. It is the statement that I recognize myself, not the government, as the ruling authority in my life. And that recognition extends farther. My parents are not the ruling authority, although I look up to and respect them. My wife is not the ruling authority, although I usually defer authority to her most of the time. I follow my own ethical and moral code, and I believe that I’m a generally good person in doing so. But I do so for my own self-worth, not because society, or government, or the world tells me what to do. “Don’t Tread On Me” says that if you treat me like a servant or a subject, your commands carry absolutely no weight with me.
But it serves a different purpose at the same time. It is a reminder. Every person in this world makes a choice whether to be a sovereign individual. Most of them make the negative choice, and most of them do not make that choice consciously, they adopt it as a default position. They abdicate responsibility for their own lives and their own decisions, and when something like Katrina comes along to shock them into the reality that they alone are responsible for themselves, their world crashes down around them. My new Gadsden flag is a personal symbol that I have made that choice deliberately, and made it in the affirmative. It is a symbol that will hang proudly and prominently on the wall in my basement. As much as it is a reminder to me, it is a signal to all who enter that America is more than just a nation, it is an idea.