Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What is meant by Jefferson's declaration in the Declaration?

(Update: The link I provided earlier to this VFR article was wrong. This is now corrected. Additionally, LA replies to my comments offering us a neocon re-write of the principles of the DoI which I've added to the end of this entry.)

A great discussion has ensued over at VFR on Jefferson's expression in the DoI, "All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights ... that to secure these rights governments are intstituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," and the way this has been understood historically by Americans.

I've often noted that the Declaration states plainly that "We (heavy on the We!) hold these truths to be self-evident." In other words, We does not mean everyone. Not everyone holds these truths to be self-evident, nor do they form governments for the protection of their unalienable rights around these concepts. In fact, in many cultures these are completely alien concepts. And that's just the way it is, not the way we might want it to be. Again, I stress the WE here. And who do you suppose Jefferson is referring to when he states it this way?

But Auster certainly nails down this American's understanding of these concepts when he states the following:

These ideas have never been understood by Americans to mean that all human beings desire political liberty. In fact, it's always been understood by Americans that lots of peoples and cultures do not desire liberty but prefer despotism. Which means that they have the right to liberty in the abstract, but they don't desire to possess it or they don't desire it sufficiently to do the work that is needed to secure it, i.e., to institute consensual government. Yes, when Americans saw people aspiring to liberty, they sympathized with them and wished them well, and sometimes actively helped them...

I don't know whether Auster's assertion about this being a new phenomenon dating back only to 2002 is correct, but I can tell you this, I was having to contend against these perversions of these concepts in various forums on the internet at about that time. And that's about as far back as I can recall that these assertions were being made. At least that I took any notice of.

LA adds in his reply to my comments:

The Bush-bots could almost re-write the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self evident: that all women and men are bound together by certain common desires, that among these are the desire for freedom, the desire to see one's children grow to adulthood, and the desire not to hear a knock on the door in the middle of the night. That in order to satisfy these desires, all people require and are deserving of democracy, to be delivered to them by the United States of America."

This is precipitated by these statements from Condoleeza Rice. Says she:

Today we hear these same doubts about the possibility of freedom in the Middle East. President Bush rejects this view--I reject this view--and so should you. There are no cultures or peoples on this earth who do not deserve the freedoms we take for granted. To think otherwise is a condescension unworthy of an educated mind.

I don't know about you, but that really gets under my skin. There are no cultures or peoples on this earth who do not deserve the freedoms we take for granted? Upon what basis does she found this idea, one might ask. Upon the basis that Condoleeza Rice believes it and therefore it is? I've said it before over at VFR, but it bears repeating, people like this seem to have the attitude that they can actually speak something which does not exist into existence. I for one put a lot more stock in the words of someone like Daniel Webster who said that God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it. If God is a just God, he cannot set people free who do not desire to be free any more than he can grant them entry into heaven when they have no desire to be in heaven.

I would say that Miss Rice is guilty of that which she charges others with. Namely "condescension unworthy an educated mind." It's just that she's condescending toward people like those of us who understand the reality of the situation -- that not everyone desires to be free, and certainly that not everyone deserves to be free. And I would kindly ask Miss Rice to refrain from using the expression "the freedoms we take for granted" as a universally applicable expression applying to all Americans. She may take her freedoms for granted (which might explain why she thinks all cultures and all peoples desire and deserve the same freedoms), but that doesn't mean every American takes them for granted.

But I imagine she received applause and ovations on these statements from her impressionable audience. Such is the nature of liberalism. It discolors everything it touches. And by the way, I ain't real sure that we ourselves desire or deserve freedom, even the relative freedoms we enjoy now. If this is the commonly held view which Miss Rice has stated here, and there's no recovery in sight for it, then I would advise everyone that you might as well cheerfully strap your chains upon yourselves. At least your children and grandchildren, if this view is widespread, will have no problems adjusting to their slavish condition.


John Savage said...

Yes, that was a great post. I have to wonder, too, if the terms are poorly defined, particularly "consensual government". If the term is defined broadly enough, then I could probably agree that people everywhere are for it. Most Iranians probably "consent" to their sharia regime. Maybe some don't, but the exception doesn't invalidate the broadly "consensual" nature of the regime. But Jefferson's meaning probably has to be understood in a far different context, from which it's been separated by today's democratists. If we understood "consensual government" the same way Jefferson did, we'd immediately reject the idea that Muslims wanted it. But most of us don't understand the term that way.

It reminds me of an old post somewhere where the author pointed out that one of the Islamic declarations on human rights was phrased in almost the exact same language as a Western declaration, but it was clear when you read between the lines that "liberty" didn't include the freedom to choose a religion other than Islam, for example. The actual meaning was totally different, though the words were almost the same. Hence we've written a "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" that's interpreted entirely differently in different parts of the world, although it uses the same words. (Add to that the difficulty that translations are inexact, too.) I wish I could find that post.

Terry Morris said...

Interesting point on the term "consensual government." I hadn't thought of that in this context.

Also, I would remind folks that the DoI is headed with these terms: "The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America." Which is to say that though Jefferson is credited with authorship of the DoI, and though he is a very important figure in American history, the Declaration of Independence is not his declaration in any exclusive manner whatsoever. It is, as it plainly says, The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America, which means that to correctly interpret the concepts contained therein, one must understand how the whole founding generation interpreted them, not just Jefferson. Sorry liberals.


John Savage said...

BTW, Tancredo's scheduled to be on both Wolf Blitzer (CNN) and Hannity & Colmes tonight (Tuesday).

John Savage said...

Actually I won't be able to see Tancredo. They finally figured out how to cut off my access to the cable channels I wasn't paying for, which includes CNN and Fox News. But the video will probably be on Tancredo's official blog in the morning, so I'll go see it then.

Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

I believe this question is addressed in M.E. Bradford's article "The Heresy of Equality:
Bradford Replies to Jaffa"(http://www.mmisi.org/ma/20_01/bradford.pdf).

For instance:
"The exordium of the Declaration begins
this appeal with an argument from history
and with a definition of the voice addressing
the “powers of the earth!” It is a “people,”
a “we” that are estranged from another
“we.” The peroration reads the same:
“we,” the “free and independent states,”
are united in our will to separation-and
prepared to answer to high and low for that
temerity. They act in the name (and with
the sanction) of the good people whose several
assemblies had authorized their congregation.
This much formally. No contemporary
liberal, new or old, can make
use of that framework or take the customary liberties with what is contained by
the construction. Nor coming to it by the
path I have marked, may they, in honesty,
see in “created equal” what they devoutly
wish to find. “We,” in that second sentence,
signifies the colonials as the citizenry
of the distinct colonitis, not as individuals,
but rather in their corporate capacity.
Therefore, the following “all men”-
created equal in their right to expect from
any government to which they might submit
freedom from corporate bondage,
genocide, and massive confiscation-are
persons prudent together, respectful of the
law which makes them one, even though
forced to stand henceforth apart: equal as
one free state is as free as another.
Nothing is maintained concerning the
abilities or situations of individual persons
living within the abandoned context of the
British Empire or the societies to be formed
by its disruption. No new contract is
drawn. Rather, one that exists is preserved
by amputation. All that is said is that no
component of a society can be expected to
agree, even though it is part of that society
by inheritance, that it is to be bereft of
those securities that make life tolerable simply
by geographical remoteness. And, if
even the Turk and infidel would not as a
people submit to a government such as
George I11 proposes to impose through
Lord Howe’s army, how can Englishmen
be expected to agree to that arrangement?
So much is “obvious” to everyone, in other
words, “self-evident.” Thus even if the law
of nature and of nations is drawn into our
construction of “endowed by their Creator,”
what is left to be called “inalienable”
with respect to American colonials and
demonstrative of a certain minimal equality
of rights in their collectivities is not so
much. What happens in the remainder of
the Declaration, following sentence two, is
even more depressing to the contemporary
Jacobin who would see in the new beginning
a departure from the previous
political history of Western man. Note particularly
the remarks concerning the part
played by the king’s servants in encouraging
a “servile insurrection,” the xenophobic
objections to the use of foreign mercenaries,
and the allusion of the employment of
savages as instruments of royal policy. Note
also Jefferson’s ironic reference to “Christian
Kings” and anger at offences to the
“common blood.” These passages draw
upon a received identity and are not “reasonable”
in character. Certainly they do not
suggest the equality of individual men. But
(and I am sure Professor Jaffa will agree
with me on this), even though racist,
xenophobic, and religious assumptions have
no place in the expression of philosophic
truth, they can readily operate in an appeal
to prescriptive law. And therefore, I say,
in our Declaration of Independence."

Terry Morris said...

(Blogger is acting nutty again this morning. Let me try again...)

Mild Colonial Boy,

Thanks for making me aware of Bradford's article. I have a book written by M.E. Bradford, A Worthy Company, Brief Lives of the framers of the United States Constitution. It's a nice reference material that I've gone to many times since I've owned my copy of it.

I'll have to check out more of Bradford's articles. Good to see you here.


I missed Tancredo's appearances altogether last night. I actually did make the effort to turn the tv to FNC when Hannity and Colmes came on, but I still missed Tancredo somehow. I was doing other things at the time so they could have slipped him in without my being aware of it. As for CNN, well, that's another story altogether. I can barely tolerate FNC at times.


Call Me Mom said...

Very interesting discussion you have going here Mr. Morris. May I extend my compliments to mild colonial boy, esq. It's been a long time since I had to get out the big dictionary to look up a word. Exordium has been added to my vocabulary and I thank you.

As you can see from my recent post the AFB, I have been thinking about the use of language and how it affects our government and society. If we refuse to acknowledge and honor the original intent of those who framed our founding documents, then they mean nothing.

John Savage said...

Anytime someone speaks of what people "deserve" the way Rice does, it sets off my little Marx alarm. It reminds me of the survey in which some high percentage of Americans said they believed that "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" came from one of our founding documents.

Rice's statement also has a faint whiff of playing God in it, as you've suggested. It's as if God has told the Bush administration to go spread freedom. As you've said, that's disrespectful to God!

John Savage said...

All I'm saying is that I suspect a little bit of smuggled-in leftism, whether Rice recognizes it as such or not. A fool may or may not be an honest fool, but a fool's a fool.

Terry Morris said...

John, of course I agree. I'm not as hard on Bush and his administration as I probably should be. One reason is because I never counted him much of a conservative to begin with, so I never expected much more than what we got from him. I think he's a nice guy and all that, and he's probably sincere in these beliefs. But people can be sincerely wrong. And I certainly think he is on this point.

Nowhere in biblical Christianity does it teach that all men deserve to be free. Nowhere in the Declaration of Independence does it say that all peoples and cultures deserve or desire to be free. No truly educated mind could ever assent to this doctrine. So essentially I think that Condoleeza Rice misuses the term "educated mind" in this instance because apparently to her and people like her a mind filled with liberal hogwash is an educated mind. Quite so.