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The Civic Sentinel The Price of Liberty
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"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

- Wendell Phillips

Years ago, I sat wedged into an uncomfortable plywood desk in the middle of my high school Government class, glaring at the clock. I was surrounded by sleepy-eyed teenagers, sheets of loose leaf paper, and number two pencils. While dreams of lunch period danced impishly through my mind, our teacher shared the above quote. At seventeen years old, this string of words held little meaning for me.

I encountered this quote again during my early twenties. At the time, it was obvious to me that Phillips was referring to a strong national defense. Vigilance, it seemed, meant that we must build a robust military and guard our borders against incursion.

Today, I know better. The vigilance Phillips invokes is not militaristic, but civic. It is not the communal vigilance of military force, but the personal stewardship of democracy.

Democracy is a rare thing in history. It existed among the Phoenicians as far back as 2,000 BC, and in Athens between 400-500 BC. With the rise and fall of Rome, democracy had fits and starts throughout Europe and the Middle East, but never quite caught on. The Magna Carta was penned in 1215 and marked the beginnings of modern democracy in England, but it was going to be 561 years before anyone got it right.

American democracy is an ambitious experiment. Nowhere else in history can be found a similar animal. Our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and separated powers mark a profound shift away from the centralized authority found in myriad forms across the world and throughout history.