Legal scholar Randy Barnett offer a fascinating section by section reading of the Declaration of Independence, which he says succinctly states the political theory of the American founding. He summarizes it this way:
- The rights of individuals do not originate with any government, but pre-exist its formation.
- The protection of these rights is both the purpose and first duty of government.
- Even after government is formed, these rights provide a standard by which its performance is measured and, in extreme cases, its systemic failure to protect rights—or its systematic violation of rights—can justify its alteration or abolition.
- At least some of these rights are so fundamental that they are “inalienable,” meaning they are so intimately connected to one’s nature as a human being that they cannot be transferred to another even if one consents to do so.
But I’d like to draw your attention to his exposition of the first paragraph and his explanation of “The Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” In quoting a clergyman of the time, he gives a helpful explanation of what we mean by that much-misunderstood concept of “natural law,” as well as showing how that was a fundamental assumption of the American founders. [Read more…]