Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at intelligent and rational individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

"Observe that the 'haves' are those who have freedom, and that it is freedom that the 'have-nots' have not." Ayn Rand

"The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not 'selflessness' or 'sacrifice', but integrity." Ayn Rand

05 July 2011

American Exceptionalism in the Moral Foundation of the Declaration of Independence

The United States of America is unusual in that it became a nation comparatively recently and  its People have maintained a similar philosophy of government, at least implicitly, throughout its lifetime.  For decades, however, the Progressive Elitists have been working hard to change that philosophy to one more like that of most nation-states and their societies.  What is the keystone of the American philosophy of government and why would Progressive Elitists want to change it?

The Declaration of Independence clearly spelled out the central fact of the exceptional American Principle of Government.  Without this great and noble document, our Constitution cannot be viewed in its proper context and becomes a much weakened limit on the scope and powers of government.  The United States of America were declared independent of Great Britain on 4 July 1776 with a very exceptional purpose in the annals of nations.  Other nations simply had a government controlled by aristocrats, commonly in an alliance with high-level clergy, who were empowered to protect the people and take care of them, at least in theory.  Our first founding document, The Declaration of Independence, clearly and emphatically states that a legitimate government is the tool of the People as the holders of sovereign, equal individual rights to protect and defend their rights.  This is the first part of the exceptional American Principle of Government.

Let us read this straight from the Declaration of Independence:
WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.  Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are surfferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed.  But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.
Legitimate government secures our individual unalienable rights.  Government cannot take our rights away from us and it certainly cannot give them to us.  Our rights are the result of our nature as thinking individuals who must use our independent minds to survive and to choose the values that we will act to gain or to keep.  At that time, it was assumed that the nature of man was given to man by a god, so therefore God was the giver of rights.  Prior to the French and Indian War, or the Seven Years War in Europe, Americans had long been neglected by the government of Great Britain.  They had developed their own legislatures and had taxed themselves very lightly under local governments of very limited scope for a long time.  When Great Britain awoke to the fact that the Colonies had become rather well off and could be taxed to help pay off the huge war debt from the Seven Years War, they levied new taxes and sent of a swarm of new officers to the Colonies to tell Americans what they could and could not do.  By the standards of Americans then, the government of Great Britain had become illegitimate because it was violating the individual rights of the People.

The Constitution was ordained and established by the People as our second form of government in 1789 after they had found that the first form of government under the Articles of Confederation was somewhat too weak.  The People wanted a federal government more capable of providing defense, without too heavy a dependence upon the states.  They found it necessary to prevent the states from violating the property rights of the People and from prohibiting or impeding their trading with one another in commerce.  They needed a government more capable of dealing with foreign powers.  They needed a government to help them establish courts to handle disputes across state lines, nationwide postal service with post roads, patent laws, provide a common coinage, and common weights and measures so that the People in the various states might have some basic rules and means to develop more commerce with one another.

This was still a government of very limited scope and with a few, carefully enumerated powers.  This was not a government that gave the People certain rights.  It was the People, with their rights already in hand, who ordained and established the government.  That government had such limited powers precisely because the People knew that strong governments with wide-ranging powers become the greatest threat to individual rights.  Such governments always seek to expand their powers.  The People knew from history that freedom was lost in Greece and in Rome, for  instance, to  governments which had acquired too much power.  They knew of many other abuses of government power from British history.  The Americans were fortunate to know these things and fortunate to generally have escaped the indoctrination of government-run schools.

The Constitution has its moral foundation in the Declaration of Independence.  The Constitution had to provide for a government with no more than minimal powers and scope or the government operating under it would necessarily become an instrument to violate the rights of the individual to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  This is the second part of the exceptional American Principle of Government, which was explained in the Declaration of Independence somewhat and enacted in the Constitution.  This must happen because the Rule of Law must apply to all, but few laws can be written to accommodate the highly differentiated and complex natures of thinking Men.  The Rule of Law requires that every law apply equally to every Man.

There are only a few laws that can comply with this requirement, however.  For instance, a law might say that no Man may initiate the use of force against another.  Such a law is consistent with the General Welfare since it is necessary for the protection of each and every Man's rights.  But once government takes on powers beyond the protection of the rights of every man, then every law becomes one to promote a special interest rather than the General Welfare.  For instance, a law of the form: Every Man with an income greater than $250,000 will pay a higher tax rate on his income than any Man with a lower income, is a special interest law, which violates the General Welfare by only addressing the welfare of those making less than $250,000 of income a year.  A law that requires a doctor to treat a patient who does not have enough money to pay for his treatment is another such special interest law which does not satisfy the condition that it provide for the General Welfare.  The doctor's right to his own Life and how he will spend the hours of it is violated.  He is not at Liberty to Pursue his own Happiness under such law.  This is a clear violation of the doctor's equal and sovereign individual rights.  The requirement by law that one must purchase a health insurance plan approved by government is a clear violation of the right of every Man to own his own life and to manage his own health care needs.  Some, for instance, might rationally be wealthy enough to be self-insured.  Others might have no need for a low-deductible policy or for mental health care.  Some may not need pre-natal care.  Individuals have differing needs and their values will differ accordingly.  Government laws under progressive governments deny these basic facts of reality.

The Constitution recognizes the importance of the Rule of Law applying equally to everyone many times.  It refers to the General Welfare as a requirement that must be provided for whenever any of the limited powers of government are executed.  The government is authorized to build military facilities, but it is not authorized to have the Speaker of the House give the construction contract to his son-in-law at three times the lowest responsible bid cost.  For him to do so, would be a violation of the General Welfare and of the Rule of Law.  The many laws that apply to all Americans except the members of Congress and/or their staff, are another example of special interest law in violation of the General Welfare and the Rule of Law.  Similarly, the award of government contracts only to those paying union wages is another obvious violation of the moral rule stated in the Declaration of Independence.

There is a presumption of liberty for the individual in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  The long list of grievances against the interferences of Great Britain make this clear in the Declaration of Independence.  The entire effort to limit the powers and scope of government in the Constitution makes this clear in that document.  The long list of rights the government acknowledged in the Bill of Rights is another recognition of this fact, especially given the 9th Amendment which says:
The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
This amendment clearly states that the government is not the source of individual rights.  The government has the duty to recognize and honor the unalienable rights of the every individual to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  The Declaration of Independence even implied that there were other rights not covered by that very broad combination of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness when it precedes that list of rights with "among these are."  I am not sure what rights are not covered by that list, which does cover many rights not listed in the Bill of Rights, but this is another strong example of the presumption of liberty which legitimate government must not violate.

The Declaration of Independence is a critically foundational document of the exceptional American Principle of Government.  Its moral principles provide the real backbone to the Constitution.  If one can eliminate the Declaration of Independence from our understanding of our moral duty as citizens and as a definition of legitimate government, then the Constitution is greatly weakened and becomes more subject to changing interpretations and tortured mutations of constitutional law and precedent. 

The central purpose of the Progressive Elitist is to make government much more powerful and to put it to the endless task of providing goodies for an endless list of special interests.  That list presently includes government employees, labor unions, big financial and car outfits with special protection by government against their bad business decisions, trial lawyers, government-run school teachers, non-competitive energy providers, ethanol refiners and blenders, farmers with subsidized crops, tariff-protected industries, low income housing users, high income housing owners who want green space, zoning laws, and building codes to keep lower income people away from their neighborhoods, and the unemployed who like sitting at home on unemployment benefits.  None of this is consistent with the General Welfare or the Rule of Law.  It is just faction against faction to win special interests at the expense of violating the individual rights of others.

Obama very clearly explained that he does not like the Constitution which is a barrier to his central purpose of redistributing the wealth by taking some of the People's time, money, and property and giving it to others of his choosing.  Vice President Biden explicitly stated that there are no such things as Natural Rights.  Rights are given to People by the government he says.  Of course, this means that People do not have unalienable rights.  If the Declaration of Independence is wrong about that, then it is also perhaps wrong in claiming that the People have equal rights.  It is certainly wrong in the minds of such Progressive Elitists for the Declaration of Independence to define legitimate government as that government that protects the equal rights of the individual to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  These two men are very aware that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution form a very strong front against their idea of government.  Indeed, Progressive Elitists very often claim the Declaration of Independence has no standing in the law.  How odd a claim this is given that it is the moral foundation upon which the Constitution rests.  But, as with a fortress, the Constitution is no stronger than its foundation.

The 9th Amendment has been virtually struck from the Constitution by Progressive judges.  Even the explicitly enumerated rights of the individual in the Bill of Rights have been split into categories which deserve strong protection and those which are mere after-thoughts.  Any right to pursue one's happiness through commerce is now completely subject to the whim of the government.  That means that the People have lost all of their economic rights, which most people spend many hours a day pursuing.  Clearly, such rights must be denied by a government that presumes to choose the People's values and to micromanage their lives with Central Planners.  This is the goal of the Progressive Elitists.  Obama is particularly derogatory about people who pursue their happiness in part by making money or creating wealth.  This predilection against commerce explains why he has proven so effective in destroying the jobs many Americans once had in the private sector.

Note also that the Declaration of Independence says the People have a moral duty to change the form of their government if it becomes illegitimate by violating their rights.  This is a very scary idea for a Progressive Elitist who desperately wants to dictate our values to us and force us to live in accordance with those mandated values.  He believes the People are generally unable to wisely choose their values and are not up to managing their own lives well.  He lacks the faith of the Declaration of Independence in the People.

It is interesting in this light to note the study by two Harvard University professors, David Yanagizawa-Drott and Andreas Madestam in which they found that

The political right has been more successful in appropriating American patriotism and its symbols during the 20th century. Survey evidence also confirms that Republicans consider themselves more patriotic than Democrats. According to this interpretation, there is a political congruence between the patriotism promoted on Fourth of July and the values associated with the Republican party. Fourth of July celebrations in Republican dominated counties may thus be more politically biased events that socialize children into Republicans.
There are plenty of Progressive Elitists in the Republican Party, but they tend to be less radical than those in the Democrat Party and fewer in percentage.  The impact of 4th of July parades on the People that pushes them toward the Republicans is due to there being less resistance among Republicans to the ideas of our Declaration of Independence.  These ideas are still more in sync with those of the Tea Party.  It is these ideas that make Americans exceptional.  The Democrats have a great deal of difficulty seeing American principles as exceptional because they have dismissed all of our American principles and hold none that are unique to America.  Their core values all hinge on an aristocracy of college-indoctrinated elitists running the country by controlling its all-powerful government.  This is a variant of the Medieval concept of government that long-preceded the Scottish and French Enlightenment philosophy found in the Declaration of Independence.  The peasants in their society are the many who received just enough indoctrination in the government-run schools that they will be docile in obeying the government they are told has only their best interest at heart.  Such docile peasants bear no resemblance to the Americans of our founding period.

It is a fine thing to remember the great deeds of our veterans on the 4th of July, but let us also remember that we are celebrating the great and critically important ideas of the Declaration of Independence on that wonderful day.  They are the moral foundation of our Constitution and they inform of us of when our government is legitimate and when it is our moral duty to reform it.  It is clear that our present government is not legitimate and that we must reform it.  We must carry this realization with us into the election of 2012 and do our duty as defined by the most exceptional and moral American Principle of Government.  It is time to stand for that American Principle of Government as the Winter Soldiers did in our Great American Revolution.

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