Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Notes, and Myths, on American History - 2

[This is the second of a series briefly examining myths about American history. Part 1 was published on 7/6/10.]

Part 2

America was founded on the rights of the individualall individuals. That principle led directly to the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, and the eventual recognition of equal rights for all, including American Indians(mischaracterized as “native” Americans).

Fisher states that “the native people certainly had no rights”. Of course they didn’t, by the accepted customs of their own culture. After centuries of a brutal, collectivist, primitive Stone Age existence, the American Indians’ rights were finally recognized – by Enlightenment ideals imported to the New World and enshrined in America’s Founding. Before that time, they engaged in genocide, slavery, cannibalism, perpetual tribal warfare, literal human sacrifices, and lived lives of unending destitution and stagnation, “in harmony with nature”, under the rule of witch doctors and tribal dictators. No individual rights, including property rights, were even conceived of. Ignorance and superstition, not reason and science, reigned.

The issue of suffrage needs to be examined here. The right to vote, it must be understood, is not a primary right. It derives from the individual’s right to direct his own life, which includes choosing his political leaders. But, the right to vote is not primary because democracy is not primary under the original American system. Regardless of whether one can vote or not, in a limited republic one’s fundamental rights are protected by being constitutionally lodged outside of the powerscope of elected politicians to effect. So, in a rights based society, any non-voter does not have to worry about voters attacking his rights.

This does not mean that all non-incarcerated, legally sane American citizen adults should not have the right to vote. They should, in my view. What it does mean is that the method used to establish voting rights must be objective and uniformly applied. For example, in early America, only landed property owners could vote. That restriction was not in principle any different from today’s rules limiting voting rights to those 18 years or older. It was a procedural rule. Since voting is not a fundamental, unalienable right, this method cannot be considered a violation of American principles as long as everyone has equal freedom to pursue property ownership, and thus the corresponding right to vote. What this method meant in practice was quite different from the common perception that only the rich could vote. In reality, wealthy people who didn’t own property could not vote, while the dirt-poor small farmer who lived in a one room dilapidated shack, could. Of course, that system had many holes, including the fact that women's voting rights were severely restricted even if they held property, and the slaves were denied the freedom to acquire property in the first place. Another hole is that only land property counted. But property takes many forms, and includes such things as personal effects, patents, and a bank account. But, as long as the rules are fair and objective, and the social conditions are open to every adult to meet them, then any voting method is technically valid.

To go back to Fisher’s and Paulson’s original assertions, the fact that women could not vote does not change the fact of America’s rights-based Founding. As I said, voting rights are not and can not be a primary right, and the fact that most adults were legally barred from voting in colonial America does not contradict that fact. Women’s fight for suffrage was successful because of America’s rights-based Founding.

The mid-twentieth century civil rights crusade against segregation in America was built on the very ideas that Fisher and Paulson deride, and succeeded because of them. Despite devastating contradictions in his political premises, the philosophical underpinnings of Martin Luther King’s civil rights crusade rested firmly on the Founding Fathers. This is quite instructive, in light of Paulson’s dismissal of the Declaration as mere “poetic flourish”. King’s most famous speech contained these words uttered on August 28, 1963 before a massive march on Washington, DC that he helped to organize:

“In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

“I have a dream today.”

Martin Luther King recognized that the injustices levied against Black people (and others) were not a failure of America’s Founding ideals. Rather, he saw American ideals as the solution to the ills he was fighting against. Unlike Paulson, King emphatically believed that the Founding Fathers did, indeed, give all Americans “the gift of liberty”.

The modern … or more accurately the postmodern … Left wants you to forget those words, and that one of their alleged icons spoke them, because America’s individual rights ideals conflict with their statist agenda. Racism, a form of collectivism, is thoroughly compatible with socialism, but not the individual rights based capitalist system. The very same is true of the institution of slavery.

Yes, the journey toward the full realization of American ideals was tortuous and halting and much too slow for the victims of injustice. And yes, the First Amendment was, and is, crucial to that progress. It is the most important Amendment, because it gives you the tools of liberty with which to fight. But it is not, as Paulson believes, “the most powerful passage in America’s history”. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution are inextricably linked, of course. But as King understood, the most powerful passage is the one that “guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. That is the core philosophical principle upon which the entire Bill of Rights is based, which the First Amendment leaves us free to fight for, and without which the First is meaningless. Notice that today, the First Amendment is under attack and eroding, even as the concept of the unalienability of rights is disappearing from cultural dialogue. Those two parallel developments are no coincidence. Neither Paulson nor anyone else will save the First without the “poetic flourish” of the document that the July 4th holiday celebrates. Without the Declaration of Independence, there can be no “1 for all”.

Those unalienable rights are also, I must note, at odds with the entire regulatory welfare state. Since Paulson views the First Amendment as having a “pivotal role in making America what it is today”, one has to wonder if he has a vested interest in downgrading the Declaration. What America is today is certainly not what the Founding Fathers envisioned!

In any event, as I stated above, progress toward the full realization of American ideals was much too slow. But, viewed in proper historical context, the advances made possible by Enlightenment ideals was rapid indeed. Sadly, however, there is a concerted effort to wipe out true American history by those who wish to creat a government that directly conflicts with the Founders’ vision. They seek, not a government “to Secure these Rights”, but one with “unbridled power over other human beings”. Sowell minces no words:

“It is not just the history of slavery that gets distorted beyond recognition by the selective filtering of facts. Those who go back to mine history, in order to find everything they can to undermine American society or Western civilization, have very little interest in the Bataan death march, the atrocities of the Ottoman Empire or similar atrocities in other times and places.

“Those who mine history for sins are not searching for truth but for opportunities to denigrate their own society, or for grievances that can be cashed in today, at the expense of people who were not even born when the sins of the past were committed.

“An ancient adage says: "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." But apparently that is not sufficient for many among our educators, the intelligentsia or the media. They are busy poisoning the present by the way they present the past.”

Fighting for an American resurrection is a daunting task. It requires the recapture of the lessons of the past from the historical distortionists in order to cleanse the present. As can be seen, the fight is broad and deep. It is a fight that confronts not just innocent ignorance but willful deceit.

[Supplemental Note: Charlotte Cushman's letter referenced in Part 1 and which I hadn't located at the time, is republished below. The date is when it was posted online. The actual letter, the subject of Jaki Fisher's comments, was published earlier]:

May 7, 2010

Our rights are eroding away

To the Editor:

“I want you to look at the birth of a miracle: the United States of America. If it is ever proper for men to kneel, we should kneel when we read the Declaration of Independence.

The concept of individual rights is so prodigious a feat of political thinking that few men grasp it fully – and 200 years have not been enough for other countries to understand it.” - Ayn Rand

Our country, was the first and only country in history that was founded on a brand new idea, the idea that people have rights. These rights are:

• the right to one’s own life (which includes what one has worked for)

• the right to one’s own liberty

• the right to pursue one’s own happiness.

For the first time men were free from other men. They were no longer subservient to the lord, master or king. They could live their lives and pursue their goals independently.

When America was created, there was another new idea - the idea that the only legitimate purpose of government was to protect these rights, to make sure no person violated the rights of another.

Government was not there to tell men what to do, or how to live their lives, or to take by force what each man has earned by his own efforts to give to another.

The only proper use of force was in retaliation against those who had initiated force against another. Force was only used as a means of defending rights.

And look what happened. America became the happiest, wealthiest, most prosperous, most advanced nation on earth. And you know what else? It was also the most moral country because it recognized individual rights.

But we have lost sight of individual rights. It’s all about wants and needs now, someone else’s want or someone else’s need.

We are all obligated to provide whatever the government deems because the government deems it. We have been told we are our brother’s keeper.

So our rights have been eroding away, our private property confiscated and our income stolen. And now the government wants to take away the last of our individual rights, the right to our own lives, by controlling our health care.

Goodbye America. It was great while it lasted.

Charlotte Cushman
Maple Grove, works in Anoka

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