On New Years Day, after all the kissing and champagne, many people reflect on their past year and how they can be better the next year. The goal is to do a better job of living out their principles and values going forward than they ever have before. America just celebrated its 240th birthday last Monday, and after all the fireworks, barbecues, and delayed TV recordings of hot dog eating contests in favor of British tennis (I’m looking at you ESPN), the United States too should reflect on its status as a nation and how to best move forward while living out its own principles.
Luckily for America, the country’s principles are laid out in its founding document, the Declaration of Independence, so that they are easily identifiable for all of its citizens. Therefore, America should look to these principles regularly as the measuring stick for how it has performed.
From the Declaration of Independence:
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…
In other words,
- God gave us rights that pre-exist government
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…
- The entire purpose of government and the only reason we have government is to secure our rights
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…
- If a government does not secure our rights, then it loses its legitimacy as a government and should be replaced
It was behind this logic and reasoning that the United States was founded. At the time, this was a truly radical notion. When talking to those on the left, the logic of the Declaration seems just as radical today, if not more so, as it was then.
According to the left, the rights that matter most are the ones that they invent (health care, abortion, education, a living wage, etc.) in order to further their own narrative of the necessity of a bigger government. Not so coincidentally, these rights can only be provided through government force, and, therefore, don’t pre-exist government, giving the government a different sense of legitimacy than what Jefferson wrote of. If people have rights to things that can only be provided by another person, as opposed to having rights to things that can only be taken away by another person, then the government has the legitimacy to force people to provide those rights against their will, which violates the principle of “consent of the governed.” This places the government in the role of restricting liberty, an “unalienable right,” as opposed to ensuring it.
In addition, in the left’s framework, those rights that do pre-exist government, like freedom of speech, should only be protected if it furthers their own agenda of “helping the oppressed.” Want to practice your religion without any fear of surveillance? Go ahead. Want to speak out against radical elements of a religion that have inspired people to mass murder? You just might be prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
The left does this by denying that these rights ever did pre-exist government to begin with since it’s the government that protects them and therefore provides them. According to the left, God didn’t give you the right to speak; the government did by having a cop there to make sure you were safe. God didn’t give you the right to bear arms; the government did by giving the gun store a business license. If it’s the government that provides our rights, then it can also take them away for the “good of the people.”
This warped conception of rights and the view of government as a provider as opposed to a defender of people’s rights is all too common in today’s America. Barrack Obama governed on this conception, Bernie Sanders ran on it, and so now are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
It’s going to take a herculean effort to un-warp this conception of rights in America and restore the county to its founding principles. Conservatives need to go about this effort one step at a time by reminding people that it’s okay to read the Declaration of Independence every now and then. It only created the greatest country in the history of the world, and the principles the document espouses just might have something to do with that.