The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Lessons from the Declaration of Independence

I used to like to read the Washington Examiner, a free paper which, however, provided all the features one might expect in a real newspaper, without the cost of the two main newspapers in this area. Unfortunately, they ceased publishing last month, which I bemoan. They do, however, still maintain a presence on the Web, and the July 3 virtual issue contained a column by Philip Klein, entitled “What the Declaration of Independence can teach Congress,” which I would like to quote:

As the nation's founding document, the Declaration of Independence produced a number of immortal phrases: “When in the course of human events;” “all men are created equal;” “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But one phrase that tends to be overlooked in popular celebrations is the most important: “To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.”

Each year, July 4th offers Americans an opportunity not only to celebrate but to reflect upon the nation's founding — particularly the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress.

What's amazing about primary author Thomas Jefferson's writing in the document is that it not only lists the grievances that colonists had with England, but it concisely defines the core purpose of government.

At a revolutionary time, with colonists rebelling against a distant tyranny that overtaxed them and meddled in their lives, it would have been quite understandable if they rejected the idea of government altogether.

But what Jefferson's words instruct us is that even at a time of revolution, the nation's Founders viewed some limited measure of government as not only tolerable, but necessary.

That is, in a state of anarchy, rights couldn't exist. There wouldn't be a military to protect individuals from foreign threats; there wouldn't be police forces to prevent people from harming one another; and there wouldn't be a court system to resolve disputes and exact justice on those who harm others.

Certain functions must be delegated to government because it simply isn't feasible for individuals to handle them by themselves. It doesn't make sense, for instance, that every individual would subscribe to his or her own private army or walk around with a personal bodyguard.

The Founders didn't see much of a role for the government beyond securing the most basic, unalienable rights.

In his First Inaugural Address, Jefferson called for “a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

In the intervening centuries, Americans' concept of the purpose of government has grown dramatically, and the Founders themselves are a part of the reason.

Nothing in this nation's history was a more egregious affront to Jefferson's words than the brutal institution of slavery, in which which many of the Founders, including Jefferson, participated. Furthermore, some of the largest expansions of the federal government's role in American history stemmed from the need to end slavery and to deal with its stubborn legacy. In the process, valid arguments about state sovereignty became tainted by those who used them to justify preserving an inhumane practice and continued racial oppression.

Obviously, at this point, there would be no way for the U.S. government ever to return to the limited purpose articulated in the Declaration of Independence. It would require cutting the federal budget by 75 percent or more and scrapping popular programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

On July 4th, however, Americans can still reflect on Jefferson's words and the vision for government that they conveyed, even if his own deeds — and those of his generation and succeeding generations — did not live up to them.

Members of Congress should take some time to reflect, as well. And before passing new laws to expand the size and scope of government, they would be wise to ask themselves, “Would this help secure the unalienable rights of American citizens?”

Noble words. But many of the “conservatives” who claim allegiance to Jefferson find it necessary to pass laws restricting abortion, which certainly do not protect anyone's rights (unless you believe an unborn fetus is a “person,” which they claim to do, though I've never seen a one of them hold a funeral for a miscarried fetus, for example!) but do infringe upon the rights of many people, or laws restricting marriage, which again do not protect anyone's rights but seriously restrict the rights of same-sex couples who want to marry. It isn't only Congress who needs to take these words to heart — it is the “conservative” part of the public.

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