Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Declaration of Independence

This Independence Day marks the 234th anniversary of the adoption of our nation's Declaration of Independence. With parades, fireworks, friends, family, and much fanfare and patriotism, we celebrate not only our independence but the principles laid forth in one of the most remarkable documents ever written by human hand. The main purpose of the Declaration was to explain to the world why we would be willing to sacrifice our lives and fortunes in order to separate ourselves from the oppressive yoke of a foreign government. Most of the Declaration is no longer meaningful to Americans outside of a historical understanding of the events leading up to the Revolutionary War; the second paragraph, however, defines the very point and purpose of government in this nation or any nation. In a federal democracy, where the people elect representatives into office, it is of the utmost importance that those citizens know why we have government at all, what legitimate government would look like, and what actions are beyond the pale so that office holders seeking to aggrandize themselves at the expense of the citizens of our nation and justice itself may be held accountable and removed from positions of power.

Let us consider this paragraph and the universal truths contained within it:

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 sufferable 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. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.

Let's consider these self evident truths:

1. We are all created equal. This statement has been a source of confusion for some Americans, but let us think about it. We are created...this implies a Creator. We are the moment of creation. This is not a promise that we shall be equal in all aspects, but rather that we are, from the moment of our birth to the moment of our death, equal in the respect that we are human beings.

2. As human beings, we are endowed equally by that inferred Creator with unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Liberty and equality of result are incompatible with one another. If we cannot all be awesome baseball players like David Ortiz, the only way to create equality of result would be to restrict the liberty of great baseball players to use their skill until we are all down to the skill of the weakest player. The same goes for inventors, doctors, teachers, businessmen, physical looks, social ability, and anywhere else inequality exists in skill, talent, and wealth. We are equal in our unalienable rights; we are free to use our liberty to rise above others so long as those unalienable rights are not violated.

3. To protect those unalienable rights, we establish government. The fact is, we cannot trust the honor system that each of us will not violate the unalienable rights of other people as we try to advance our own positions. We create government to limit our range of action to anything that does not violate the life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness (effectively property, for those familiar with John Locke). Government has the right to restrict us because we consent to these restrictions; we consent to these restrictions because it removes us from the State of Nature; we give up the right to harm the unalienable rights of others so that ours will not be harmed, either. This is the purpose of government, this and nothing else.

4. Governments are run by men, men who have the same passions and desire for advancement as the men being governed. Should governments abuse their power and become a threat to the very lives, liberties, and properties they were created to protect, those governments become usurpers and rebels against which the people have every right to oppose and remove. Governments must protect the unalienable rights of all citizens; the rights of no citizens may be sacrificed for the advancement of others. Every citizen has unalienable rights and no majority ever assembled has the authority to deny any minority, however so small or hated, their proper rights. Redistributing with the force of law the happiness of men, earned by honest labor and voluntary trade, always involves a violation of the unalienable right of the pursuit of happiness of those whose wealth is redistributed away from them.

5. Revolution is a nasty business. Lives, liberty, property, the very things we wish to preserve, are all put on the line during times of war. Our Declaration does not clearly say when the line is crossed between transient causes and a long train of abuses; the best we can do is gleam what information we can from the context of the Declaration itself and the history leading up to that war in determining where the line is between foolish uprisings and a noble overthrow of a tyrant.

My fellow citizens know well enough what event we celebrate (our independence from Great Britain); I write this to remind them what principles inspired our Founding Fathers to create the greatest nation, a nation conceived in liberty and based on universal ideals all may participate in rather than ethnicity or religion. I write to remind my fellow citizens of these principles and that our nation is great only so long as we jealously guard them against those who would ignore them, either out of evil intent or mislead desire for good.