On The Declaration Of Independence’s Relevance
As you might imagine, some of the best writing on, and analysis of, The Declaration comes before us at this time every year — and always from the starboard side of this spinning piece of solar driftwood.
Time does not permit my citing more than two examples [my research load is quite heavy these days], but, I can assure you, that are two of the best and most comprehensive of the lot.
-In his weekly column over at USA Today, Glenn Reynolds shows how the ‘Declaration should still wake the powerful up at night‘. And being a professor, Instapundit teaches some essential lesson along the way.
Divine-right political theory was understandably popular with kings and their supporters and hangers-on, and a form of it survives in assorted variations today. [BOB: You betcha — see: Left, The – disambiguation] But the declaration takes a different approach. It says that rights come from God, not from the king, and that they are “unalienable” — that is, incapable of being sold (“alienated”) surrendered, or given away.
What’s more, rather than rights coming from the government, government exists to protect rights. Government, in the declaration’s explanation, exists to protect rights, and rather than subjects enjoying rights with the consent of the government, the government itself rules only by the consent of the governed. And when the government fails to live up to its duties, and the people no longer consent to it, it becomes illegitimate and subject to replacement by something the people like better.
As Dan Himmelfarb noted in The Yale Law Journal 25 years ago, not much contemporary attention is paid to this. I’m sufficiently cynical to think that the lack of attention isn’t an accident, but rather a consequence of not wanting to address the questions that the declaration’s second sentence raises, which bode poorly for our ruling class.
Damn well-put, Prof [and, now that I think about it, perhaps one of our rally cries should be: Make The Ruling Class Poor!]
-Over at Protein Wisdom, McGehee has published a fine analysis of, and musing on, the meaning of The Declaration.
It should be read in full, but let me give you a taste:
What the Declaration is, is a petition for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. It converted the armed insurrection in the colonies into a War for Independence — a war to secede from the British Empire.
Today it is commonplace to be told there are no rights to revolution, nor to secede — that any question about a right to secede was settled by Union victory in the Civil War. Yet the existence of the United States is a prima facie rebuke to that argument. The Union could not by force of arms annihilate that very resort that created it. A man might as well claim that by killing his pregnant sister he proved he did not gestate in, and emerge from, his mother’s womb.
There are reasons why it was good that the Continentals won their war for independence, and there are reasons why it is good that the Confederacy did not win theirs — but the claim of a right to secede from a parent government cannot stand unqualified as a reason in favor of one and against the other. If the Confederacy was wrong about this in the 1860s, the Continentals must also have been wrong about it 90 years earlier. And the Continentals were not wrong.
In response to a comment on his post that ‘it would be a terrible mistake’ for a secession to occur in America, McGehee remarks:
It should be a last resort. After all, the last two secessions — the successful and the thwarted — were bloody.
Indeed. It must be the last resort or there is no way Ordered Liberty can survive. A situation where overthrow of the existing Republic can be initiated for ‘light and transient causes’ [as Jefferson advocated later in one of his bouts of French-induced orgiastic Hysteria] is one where there can be no stability, which is essential to the preservation of a Rule Of Law, which is an essential foundational stone of any true Constitutional Republic.
However, sometimes in an effort to preserve Freedom and Ordered Liberty, you must get bloodied, you must be willing to sacrifice your Life, your Fortune — everything.
-The Declaration Of Independence is just as relevant today as it was in 1776 because it is a guide on how to properly resist Tyranny and the Despots who seek to deprive us of those Inalienable Rights granted to us by no Man.
SIDENOTE: Many of those who agree with the sentiments of Mr. Reynolds, McGehee, and myself call themselves modern ‘Revolutionaries’ or ‘Radicals’.
This is untrue and, perhaps, a dangerous designation to wear proudly.
We do not seek Revolution, but, rather [and like the Founding Fathers], a Restoration of our Rights as Americans.
Radicals wish to tear-down the existing Society and all of it’s institutions and it’s Culture and build a new order [viz: as happened in France, Russia, China, Cambodia, Venezuela, etc.].
What happened in America in 1775 was not a Revolution. As E.J. Payne [the Editor of Edmund Burke’s Papers] put it so succinctly and accurately, what happened here was ‘a revolution not made but prevented’.
As Russell Kirk once remarked:
…Before the French explosion of 1789-99, “revolution” commonly was employed to describe a round of periodic or recurrent changes or events – that is, the process of coming full cycle; or the act of rolling back or moving back, a return to a point previously occupied.
Not until the French radicals utterly overturned the old political and social order in their country did the word “revolution” acquire its present general meaning of a truly radical change in social and governmental institutions, a tremendous convulsion in society, producing huge alterations that might never be undone.
Thus when the eighteenth-century Whigs praised the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, which established their party’s domination, they did not mean that William and Mary, the Act of Settlement, and the Declaration of Rights had produced a radically new English political and social order. On the contrary, they argued that the English Revolution had restored tried and true constitutional practices, preservative of immemorial ways. It was James II, they contended, who had been perverting the English constitution; his overthrow had been a return, a rollingback, to old constitutional order; the Revolution of 1688, in short, had been a healthy reaction, not a bold innovation.
[Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had an interesting take on our War For Independence (emphasis mine):
…The word ‘revolution’ is being applied to any change today. That is not what I mean by ‘revolution.’ The American Revolution, to me, was not a revolution. This was a national liberation — like Italy liberating itself from Austria, like the unification of Germany in the nineteenth century. I condemn revolution because it undermines the strength of the nation instead of allowing evolutionary development.
That word, ‘liberation’, is not very popular — and justifiably so, given it’s use in History — with the non-Ideological Right, but, forgetting that recent abuse of the term, Mr. Solzhenitsyn is quite right (pun intended).]
We seek not radical change nor Revolution, but a Restoration of our Rights as Americans and children of Providence.