Saturday, July 5, 2014

America the Undemocratic

What kind of nation did the Declaration of Independence create? That is a question that is too often answered wrongly.

For example, the New Jersey Star-Ledger editorialized in its Independence Day tribute that the point of our July 4th celebrations is

simply [to] reinforce the true meaning of what the Founding Fathers envisioned: a society that refused to be subject to the rule and whims of another country, but one that would govern itself.

“We the People” run this place.

The Star-Ledger titled its tribute, "Let's celebrate our imperfect American way". Trying not to put too negative a spin on the editors’ tribute, I commented:

I would add that by “We the People,” the Founders understood the people to be, not a supreme collective, but a collection of sovereign individuals. The fundamental principle of America is not that “‘We the People’ run this place,” but that we as individuals are free to run our own lives under a government created solely to protect our unalienable individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In this respect, in its Founding Principles, America is patently undemocratic. The power of “The People”, as “We”, to run the place is limited to choosing who works for government and how the government protects rights. “We” have no power to grant government the authority to violate individual rights—to run our lives—no matter how large a voting majority represents “The People”.

Today, our elected officials violate rights in innumerable ways through our regulatory welfare state. As we reflect on the Declaration of Independence, we should reflect on what that sacred, revolutionary document actually says and means, and how far America has strayed from Jefferson’s words.

That said, I’ll second the editors: “But the one thing we all agree on is that our
independence . . . is worth celebrating.”

America is "imperfect" because it is not consistently true to its Founding principles. The most relevant part of the Declaration of Independence states:

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 . . .

So much said, in so few words! What this means, in its essentials, is:

  • Rights are held equally and at all times by all people.
  • Rights belong inextricably to individuals by virtue of his nature as a human being.
  • Rights are guarantees to freedom of action; to the pursuit of happiness, not to happiness guaranteed by the labor or wealth of others.
  • Rights precede government.
  • Government is created exclusively to “secure”—i.e., protect—rights.
  • Government’s “just powers” being authorized by the people, through a popular vote.
  • “Just powers” being only those powers required for government to fulfill the purpose for which it was created to begin with—to legally protect the people’s unalienable individual rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

Of course, each of these points requires extensive philosophical backup. None of these "truths" are in fact "self-evident." They must be learned and validated scientifically. But these are the essentials, as I see it. The entire theory of proper government encapsulated in 55 beautiful words. Breathtaking!!! This is why philosopher Ayn Rand, an atheist, felt deeply compelled to say, "If it is ever proper for men to kneel, we should kneel when we read the Declaration of Independence."


July 4, 1776: Words that Will Never Be Erased

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