Trump and the Glorious Revolution

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, 

Almost all Americans know these words, many of us review them at least annually. But they did not spring forth fully formed from Thomas Jefferson’s mind, great and agile as it was. They are part of our English inheritance, just as most of our government and constitution were. In fine, the entire concept comes from John Locke and his Second Treatise on Government. In it, he begins by defining political power as the:

right of making Laws with Penalties of Death, and consequently all less Penalties, for the Regulating and Preserving of Property, and of employing the force of the Community, in the Execution of such Laws and in defence of the Common-wealth from Foreign Injury, and all this only for the Publick Good.

The chief property he is referring to here is one’s body. One owns his own body and no one can tell him to use it otherwise than in his own interest. He also owns the things that he has made, and that includes his income and all the things he may purchase that derive from his labor. He also posits that the Legislature can only legitimately legislate from the basis of the natural law and that it must apply equitably to all citizens and not favor certain sections of the citizenry.

Here is the ultimate defense of the right of self-defense, so eloquently stated in both the  English and American Bills of Rights. And the delegation of that right (while still preserving it to us as individuals) was one of the things we did as we instituted governments amongst men.

And that is also why the President was entirely correct in stating that he would never denounce the right of American citizens to defend themselves or their property from lawless rioters.

The Democrat city and state hierarchies have been almost uniformly derelict or worse in protecting their citizens against the mobs that Democrats themselves have set loose amongst them, and mind, this is primarily a city and state responsibility, one of the major reasons they exist, that no person or shopkeeper in these cities can reasonably expect protection from the authorities, and thus the right to defend themselves and their property comes right back to them, unless and until they can again get reasonable assurance that the government will protect them.

The legislative body and it’s executive, whether from within the body or separately elected is central to all this, and I’ve merely skimmed it. But when the government in any or all of its parts (executive, legislative, and judicial in Locke’s view as in the Constitution) shirk or evade that duty, as we are seeing this year in many Democrat run cities, then the people have the inherent right to remove the offending officials, or to supersede them, or even to revolt, changing the entire form of government.

Unalienable Rights

I’m one of the people that has fairly often argued that the American Revolution and all that followed is based (in some measure) on John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government. Robert Curry of The Claremont Institute in an American Thinker article titled Why ‘Unalienable’? disagrees with me, saying.

Locke’s Two Treatises of Government appeared in 1690.  The articles by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay that became The Federalist began appearing in American newspapers in 1787.  Quite a lot had happened during that intervening century.  The greatest development of all during that time was the onset of the American Enlightenment, that explosion of human genius that gave America and the world the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and The Federalist.  The Founders carried out a revolution in thinking about the meaning and possibilities of human life unlike anything the world had ever known before — and by 1776, they were only getting started.  Thomas Jefferson later called The Federalist “the best commentary on the principles of government, which ever was written.”  He was right about that.  The distance in thought between Locke’s Two Treatises and The Federalist is simply enormous.

And you know, he has much right here. When I talk about Locke, my point is that he clarified much out of the miasma of (primarily) English medieval growth in rights and freedom. He was not the final answer. The American Enlightenment built on the work of Locke, of Luther, of Blackstone, of Smith, of Francis Hutcheson, and of many others reaching back into antiquity. Mr. Curry writes:

The Founders had a special purpose in using the language of the legal transfer of property in the negative with reference to our rights.  Their special purpose was to make it clear that our natural, essential, and inherent rights are not our property — that is, their special purpose was to make it clear they were not relying on Locke’s account of rights.

In fact, they were doing more; they were evoking a subtle and profound argument that directly challenged Locke’s account of rights.  To take you to that argument is to take you to the source of the Founders’ use of that special word “unalienable.”  Here is Francis Hutcheson in his A System of Moral Philosophy (1755) rejecting Locke’s account of our rights: “Our rights are either alienable or unalienable … our right to our goods and labours is naturally alienable.”  Locke, you see, put property at the core of his account:

Man … hath by nature a power … to preserve his property — that is, his life, liberty and estate.

For Locke, property is the overarching concept.  In fact, property gets a special emphasis by appearing twice; “estate” is another word for property.  By making the case that our rights to our life and to our liberty are such that we cannot alienate them, Hutcheson was arguing that Locke had not correctly characterized our relation to our lives and our liberty.  Locke had made what philosophers call a category mistake.  Property is alienable; unalienable rights are not property.  It is because our right to our property is alienable that we can sell, exchange, and bequeath our property.

The Founders embraced Hutcheson’s argument.  They understood that our rights to life and liberty are natural and inherent to our being as humans.  Our unalienable right to our life and our unalienable right to our liberty cannot rightfully be sold or transferred as property can be.  To say those rights are unalienable is to emphasize how fundamentally different they are from our right to our property — and to reject Locke’s account.

And that is the final point of rights. They are not ours to keep or give away or sell for whatever advantage. They are a gift from our creator, which we are bound by duty to Him, to those who discovered them, and to our descendants who will enjoy them, to defend.

I think Mr. Curry overstates a bit, but he does it to make a point. The way Locke presents, it is entirely up to us whether we fight, with words, or other means, to maintain our rights. The conception that America brings the world is that it not optional, it is our foremost duty to maintain our unalienable rights. And that is final.

And right here we find the baseline reason why it was the English and the Americans who abolished slavery wherever in the world their writs run. Because those men, women, and children have exactly the same rights as George Washington or King George. That is how important the change from Locke to the American founders is.

And that is why President Coolidge could say, on our 150th anniversary of the Declaration that proclaimed this to the world that:

If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

Michael Oakeshott

Andrew Cunningham writing in American Thinker a few days ago introduced us to a British conservative that not many Americans are familiar with, and that’s too bad.

Yet, at its core, conservatism is still a practical, applicable, and logical political philosophy — a philosophy deeply concerned with maintaining what is good in society while rejecting dangerous and idiotic pipe dreams from the Left.

The most convincing argument for conservatism was presented by 20th-century British philosopher Michael Oakeshott. Oakeshott presents a conservatism that seems easy to accept and understand. The basis of Oakeshott’s argument for conservatism is the idea of familiarity.

In his landmark work, On Being Conservative, Oakeshott writes, “To be conservative is to be disposed to think and behave in certain manners; is to prefer certain kinds of conduct and certain conditions of human circumstances[.] … [T]hey [conservative values] center upon a propensity to use and enjoy what is available … rather than what was or what may be.” In other words, to be conservative means to prefer certain belief systems and styles of living and human behavior more than other types. It also means to appreciate what exists in the current social system without a pining for a future that might never exist.

A rudimentary view on Oakeshott’s conservatism is that it simply prefers the familiar over the unfamiliar and the proven good over unproven potential, or, as he says it, “present laughter to utopian bliss.” Oakeshott’s conservatism is an appreciation for the good that presently exists in the world.

At the most basic level of human life, there are preferences for food, music, and types of employment. On a more political level, one might prefer to maintain the good aspects of a society, such as basic freedoms of speech and religion, rather than hypothetically seeking what could be.

This is all very good, and it is true. It is also Burkean and explains well why Burke supported the American Revolution while strongly opposing the French revolution. And if one were to look at history since, one will see the utility and correctness of that appraisal. Still today, Americans tend to noisily work out our disagreements, in fact, we have the same government since the Terror was going in France, while the French are on their fifth republic, having had a couple of empires, a king or two, and whatnot since. They still have little idea of how to work out problems while the Anglo-Saxon powers do so as a matter of course.

That said and truly said, because Burkean (or Oakeshottean) conservatism will avoid most problems, it is not quite enough. It is the problem of the British Conservative party, which has no real foundation, and so tends to slide down the slope (almost always to the left). It’s also a problem for many American conservatives.

Most of that foundation in American usage comes from Locke, who provides the foundational beliefs which makes the building which Burke built so solid that it has weathered all the storms that have broken against it since before 1776. There are other sources, including our joint documents, but Locke clarified much.

By all means, read and study Oakeshott, and Burke as well, they are excellent practical guides but also read Locke, so that you can develop the foundational beliefs that have allowed American conservatism to stand as the rock against whichever storm is hurled against it, as it has as long as there has been an America.

And something that greatly pleases me is the author’s blurb for the linked author, to wit:

Andrew Cunningham is a published author and a junior at the University of Illinois, Springfield.  Follow his writings at Conservative Roundtable.

What an excellent start!

 

Life, Liberty, and Property; Part I

I’m bringing back some of my earlier posts since I’m partially taking some time off. Besides, these posts make some points that need reinforcement. They form sort of a basic, underpinning to American conservatism, which is different from that anywhere else in the world.

“Life, Liberty, and Property.” 

I know, you are thinking I misquoted Jefferson. Actually, I didn’t. I seem to remember that the first draft read, after markup:

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 Property the pursuit of Happiness.

Most of the theory here goes back to John Locke originally. Much of it, through Locke’s employment by the Earl of Shaftesbury, underpinned the Glorious Revolution and the English Bill of Rights, and the founding of the Whig Party in England. It also underpins the libertarian cast of the American founding.

Shaftesbury also developed the Carolina Plantations. It is believed that Locke wrote, virtually unaided the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, which included a parliament of property owners, separation of church and state, and military conscription, which seems rather surprising.

We can easily show this with a few quotes:

“The Magistrate,” he declared, “ought not to forbid the Preaching or Professing of any Speculative Opinions in any Church, because they have no manner of relation to the Civil Rights of the Subjects. If a Roman Catholick believe that to be really the Body of Christ, which another man calls Bread, he does no injury therby to his Neighbour. If a Jew do not believe the New Testament to be the Word of God, he does not thereby alter any thing in mens Civil Rights. If a Heathen doubt of both Testaments, he is not therefore to be punished as a pernicious Citizen.”

Be it noted that here he shows a toleration of Catholics that was not particularly evident in his writing on England and Holland. The reason for that is the French King Louis XIV, by far the most powerful Catholic king and opponent of England and Holland, not to mention the tyrannical tendencies of the Stuart (and Catholic) kings of England.

and

“Reason, which is that Law,” Locke declared, “teaches all Mankind, who would but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions.” Locke envisoned a rule of law: “have a standing Rule to live by, common to every one of that Society, and made by the Legislative Power erected in it; A Liberty to follow my own Will in all things, where the Rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, Arbitrary Will of another Man.”

Locke established that private property is absolutely essential for liberty: “every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his.” He continues: “The great and chief end therefore, of Mens uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government, is the Preservation of their Property.”

That implies that it is quite an old concept, as indeed it is. It goes on back to the concept that ” A (free) man’s home is his castle”. Thus we see that it is very deeply ingrained in Anglo-Saxon (and associated) cultures, indeed. The wording changed because it caused a ruckus in committee (some sources say because of slavery).

You’re probably thinking it a small change. In some ways, it is but in some ways it’s not so small. Let’s look at the next big revolution, the French and their slogan “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”. Specifically, think about the difference between “Created equal” and “equality”. Would I like to be equal to Sam Walton? Yeah, but I don’t want to work that hard.

Judith Miller (and others) assert that revolutions are plays in three acts, and they are correct.

Act 1: The people get fed up with the ruling class and revolt.

Act 2: The people erect a new form of government.

Act 3: A (or a group of) despot takes control of the revolution and takes tyrannical power. (see Robespierre and Napoleon, or Lenin if you prefer)

Always happens that way, except once: The American Revolution. Our Revolution stopped after Act 2. That’s what we mean when we talk about America as still the original revolutionaries.

Why? the French and Russian revolutions were revolts of peasants. I mean no disrespect, they are as worthy of respect as anybody, but they were uneducated peasants. The American patriots were educated freeman. Boy, were they educated. They had read Plato, and Plutarch, and Cicero, and Burke, and Voltaire and who knows who else. Two (Jefferson and Franklin) were members of the Royal Society many had been military officers (although mostly not regulars) and most were men of property and substance.

What’s my point? They knew history, they knew what happens to men of property when the mob takes over and they took care that it didn’t happen here.

Most of the information on John Locke and all the quotes are drawn from: John Locke: Natural Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property. There is quite a lot more there and it all very good. I expanded the section on Locke considerably, (originally I misattributed the concept to Burke, and chose to correct it here). And so we will continue tomorrow.

 

 

A Privileged Miracle

Interesting how things get turned on their head when one really thinks about them. Kind of like a revolution. to wit.

A young person said this recently:

“The Founders were all white privileged men”

To which the answer was:

“Yes. And your point is?”

“They wrote the Constitution to protect their interests. It was stacked for rich white men from the beginning.”

Which is also mostly true at the time.

“Do you know what the ‘true’ Miracle was in Philadelphia in that hot summer of 1787?” he was asked.

The real miracle was that they did not establish a kingdom or an oligarchy forever. Which they very easily could have done and some, including Alexander Hamilton, wanted to see done.

The Founders turned to the writings of John Locke and other classical liberal thinkers not only to set the predicate for the Constitution with the immortal words “all men are created equal” in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence in 1776, but also to pour the concrete foundation of our country with principles to establish the first free democratic republic which has been copied the world over to set people free for the last 228 years.

Our Founders had every power at their disposal to set up a parliamentary government to serve a king. But they didn’t. George Washington voluntarily retired to his farm and distillery at Mount Vernon and set the paradigm for citizen-politicians ever since.

Our Founders had every power at their disposal to set up an oligarchical form of government similar to the ancient Greeks in Athens. The “rich white privileged men” in Philadelphia didn’t have to mention equality for everyone or free speech, religion, press, assembly or the right to petition the government for anyone else but members of the oligarchy, but they did.

Instead of 100 percent serving their own narrow interests, they fought tooth-and-nail over provisions in the Constitution to enable a free flow of commerce and trade, a strong centralized national defense and individual freedoms and liberties unlike the world had ever seen before. Their aversion to total concentration of power in the hands of King George III led them to go to the other end of the spectrum to set up a system of government that does its darndest to frustrate and prevent capricious actions on the part of a president or even small groups of one faction or the other in the U.S. Senate versus the U.S. House.

All true, you know as is the rest at The ‘Real’ Miracle In Philadelphia, 1787

And that, of course, is why the left is forever trying to redefine terms, everything they falsely advocate for, is already available, although, like anything worthwhile, it does have a cost. And that is their problem, they think that with the power of the gun, they can make all this good stuff free. But you can not make people think, innovate or be productive. You always end up back with the old Soviet folk saying, “We pretend to work as long as they pretend to pay us.”

But that system works fine for the Nomenklatura as long as there are German appliances to be bought, doesn’t work at all for the people even close to the bottom of the ladder, such as the middle class in Venezuela. The thing is, socialism runs on envy. It’s not that you have your ball and can take it home, it’s that you have a ball and I don’t, but I’m not willing to do what you did to buy that ball. But it’s bad for you to have something I don’t, so I’ll destroy it. And then there will be no ball to play with.

Mind, I didn’t say they make any rational sense, they don’t. They’re just vindictive, irrational people, who since they are not happy, think we all should be unhappy.

I feel sorry for them, really I do. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let them write the rules. It’s a very long time since I played football with Lucy, and there is a reason for that.

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