|Posted on July 5, 2012 at 5:00 PM|
I like the days after holidays much more than the holidays themselves; there is less hype and more opportunity for meaningful conversation about, say, the Declaration of Independence, the day after. Somewhere during Mile Two of my morning workout on this 5th of July I found myself thinking about self evident truths, what we used to call "first principles".
Here is a significant declaration of self evident truths from www.archives.gov
The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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, and so forth.
Here is what I was thinking during my morning hike: If this foundational text asserts that, as a matter of self evident truths all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, can a twenty-first century citizen of the US in good faith (or non-faith, if you must) deny that these human rights (and others) are the "undeletable" possession of themselves and indeed all human beings as a matter of self evident truth? In other words, can a bona fide heir of the Declaration deny the philosophical suppositions of Jefferson's text, namely, its claim to the reality of (a) self evident truths, properly basic features of reality (b) among which one must number life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
During my Philosophy of Law course last semester we considered the conditions under which civil disobedience would be justified. John Rawls argued that one prerequisite for justified civil disobedience in the United States is maintaining a social contract in terms of the US Constitution. He explained that whereas nonviolent disobedience to a law or practice that is contrary to the Constitution is good and proper, disobedience to the Constitution itself is unjust. There's much to be unpacked in Rawls, of course. But how about the more modest objective of resurrecting civil civic discourse by reconsidering together the first principles of the Declaration. Don't we have at least a minimal social contract requirement of sorts to discuss supreme court decisions, congressional legislation and our president's programs with the principles and vocabulary of the Declaration in mind and in mouth?
Likely the major objection to my proposal will be the demand that we not bring God and capital-T ruth into the discussion; notwithstanding, the principles and argument of the Declaration is precisely what we have to consider -- seriously discuss together and not pre-emptively censor. We are, I maintain, dependent upon the text of this founding document. We ought to celebrate the Declaration by deploying the Declaration. May I start the ball rolling?
Two Theses for a Conversation on the Declaration in 2012
(1) According to the text of the Declaration of Independence, the Congress of 1776 understood "God" in the Judeo-Christian or biblical and Western sense of a personal, caring Deity inasmuch as a deist "God" would not endow all human beings with self evident unalienable rights, nor would His / Its evocation in this matter be anything other than an empty, unpersuasive piety.The Declaration is in fact a declaration of dependence on the God who reveals Himself in Scripture for its understanding of human beings and our inviolable rights as human beings.
(2) Americans in our day ought to insist that the authorities in each of our three branches of government explain their judicial conclusions, their legislative activities and their executive positions -- not merely in terms of current judicial narratives and court precedents but in terms of the Declaration of Independence and its clear-as-a-(Liberty)-bell argument for the unalienable human rights of all human beings, citizens and non-citizens alike.
What do you think?
Categories: Thinking Lutheran-ly