Truths no longer self-evident

Part of the genius of the Declaration of Independence, whose passage we celebrate today, is that it lays out in very explicit terms the assumptions–the “self-evident” truths–upon which the new nation and its government would be founded:

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,

via Declaration of Independence – Text Transcript.

Today, these truths are no longer “self-evident”; that is, needing no proof because they can be taken for granted.  On the contrary, a good number of Americans don’t believe them at all, and they would seem to have little, if any place in contemporary American culture. [Read more...]

Misunderstanding our founding documents?

E. J. Dionne says that, contrary to what tea party conservatives are saying, our founding documents are not anti-government:

A reading of the Declaration of Independence makes clear that our forebears were not revolting against taxes as such — and most certainly not against government as such.

In the long list of “abuses and usurpations” the Declaration documents, taxes don’t come up until the 17th item, and that item is neither a complaint about tax rates nor an objection to the idea of taxation. Our Founders remonstrated against the British crown “for imposing taxes on us without our consent.” They were concerned about “consent,” i.e. popular rule, not taxes.

The very first item on their list condemned the king because he “refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.” Note that the signers wanted to pass laws, not repeal them, and they began by speaking of “the public good,” not about individuals or “the private sector.” They knew that it takes public action — including effective and responsive government — to secure “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Their second grievance reinforced the first, accusing the king of having “forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance.” Again, our forebears wanted to enact laws; they were not anti-government zealots.

Abuses three through nine also referred in some way to how laws were passed or justice was administered. The document doesn’t really get to anything that looks like Big Government oppression (“He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance”) until grievance No. 10.

This misunderstanding of our founding document is paralleled by a misunderstanding of our Constitution. “The federal government was created by the states to be an agent for the states, not the other way around,” Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said recently.

No, our Constitution begins with the words “We the People” not “We the States.” The Constitution’s Preamble speaks of promoting “a more perfect Union,” “Justice,” “the common defense,” “the general Welfare” and “the Blessings of Liberty.” These were national goals.

via What our Declaration really said – The Washington Post.

No, the founding documents were not anti-government, since they were concerned with establishing a government.  But what do you think of Dionne’s point, that today’s conservatives are taking the limited government bit too far?  (Certainly, traditional conservatives, like those in Europe, tend to favor a strong government, whereas traditional liberals were the ones who opposed strong governmental authority so they could do what they want.)


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X