George Washington’s Farewell Address

George Washington’s farewell address has now become a masterpiece of American political literature, alongside writings by other founding fathers such as Benjamin Franklin, Tom Paine and Thomas Jefferson. It is even comparable in significance to the farewell address by President Dwight Eisenhower, who famously forewarned about the dangers of “military-industrial complex” dominating the political landscape.

Washington suggests that the US should avoid long-term military alliances with other nations, a principle which led him to issue the Proclamation of Neutrality during his Presidency as well as enacting the Neutrality Act of 1794. But the political realities of today are the opposite of neutrality. For example, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization which was formed by Western Democracies in the wake of the Cold War, continues to function and expand even today, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, an often repeated tenet of the Bush Doctrine is “You are either with us or against us” in the aftermath of the September 11 terror strikes. These posturings and proclamations are quite the opposite of what Washington wanted his country to stand for.

Similarly, Washington’s emphasis on the role of religious faith in the realm of politics has been hijacked by the extreme right-wing and has resulted in greater polarization within American society. There is no hint in the farewell address that fundamental Christianity in the form of evangelical and televangelical propaganda is what he was hoping for. Washington intended that his successors to the Presidency and other public offices would peruse religion for moral guidance during times of distress. But nowhere in the address does he refer explicitly to Christianity, an extreme variant of which has now become an integral part of the American right-wing politics. This situation would have deeply bothered Washington, for in the same address he states the importance of maintaining the integrity of the Constitution, which clearly divorces Church from the affairs of the State.