March 25, 2005
First Things and First Principles
IN THE END, it is never a matter of law, but a matter of what you believe. It is clear that Americans today have two sets of beliefs. The first group believes:
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.
The second group believes:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Government and their Laws with many legislatable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Which one you believe determines who you are. And you must choose.
Posted by Vanderleun at March 25, 2005 11:32 PM
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In the end, it is not a matter of law, but a matter of what you believe?
Wow, that's the first thing you've ever posted that I completely disagree with. If you don't like a law, change it. But you can't live outside the law. If we all did that, we'd have anarchy.
I see that in trying to be terse I was not being clear. What I had hoped to say is that law is built upon and interpreted on what one believe and that there are two structures of belief now operating in this society. I think we all accept the 'rule of law' as an operating principle for civilization and most serious people decline anarchy. The argument, which is now becoming pitched, has to do with the foundations on which the law is to be based and interpreted, and it is not so simple as traditional vs. secular.
Were men to live outside the law, the prophet teaches that "they must be honest." Alas, this is not a universal virtue.
I think that was what I was trying to gesture towards without expansion with "In the end..."
We have had partings over fundamental belief systems and the laws to be built on them before. The most notable was when, in the end, we could not agree and we had the Civil War.
In the end, irreconcilable differences of belief can lead there. Which is one of the reasons we struggle hard to reshape the laws in order to avoid such resolutions. We struggle hard and mightily, and while we usually succeed, history shows us that factions do not always succeed in such resolutions.
I choose the former, but let's never forget that it takes tremendous political will and effort to create equlity and to protect liberty.
It's ultimately futile to beat one's head against the laws of God and nature, but many of us have head aches from it.
The title of this post is "First Things And First Principles". I think the use of the word believe is clearly being used as a synonym for the word principle. Splitting hairs and making the argument that Gerard has somehow gone over to the dark side of "feelings" based ethics flies in the face of the whole body of what he has written.
Of course living outside the law is not desirable or prudent. How does one change the law? By stating ones principles and convincing others that those principles are, indeed, worthy. Just as what Jefferson did in the Declaration of Independence. Those principles (beliefs) have served us well. I, like Old Dad and I would assume most visiting this site, still believe (there's that word again) that the principles stated in that one sentence are worth fighting for.
If they are not, then nothing is.
It was once said that common sense often makes good law. Alas, this is often not the case. The law, while it may try to do these things, merely deals with what is legal - not what is right, moral, proper, fair, or best.
I think what the congress did with respect to the Schiavo case was merely intended to give the judicial system an opportunity to re-evaluate the situation in the spirit of the law, rather than the letter. They have chosen to do otherwise.
But a people who see injustice in the law and do nothing deserve to be ruled by the law that is. I thought the left in America lauded civil disobedience; even held it as a duty for serious citizens. I guess they don't think we wear it so well as they.
Very few people (comparatively) have ever lived by the principles of the first set. Or have fought for them.
People use the word anarchy as if there could ever be such a thing when even the most criminal always form societies and codes.
Can the Republic right itself as the baby boomers with their endless self-indulgence and selfishness die; as their aborted children make the ranks of the liberals and left grow thin -- or will the slide into barbarism, nihilism, and death wish continue on the weight of its inertia?
Imagine if all those wailing that a Christian theocracy is in the making woke up a hundred years ago and were able to witness when Christianity wasn't timid but muscular. Of course, the left's inability to actually imagine human experience and know history is what helps make them so insufferably vain and self-righteous.
I'll take another crack at this. It seems to me that the Founders wanted desperately to root this Republic, of the people by the people and for the people, in our essential human dignity.
For many, this dignity derives from a creator, and it is inalienable. But our dignity can be understood in other ways, too. Jefferson describes us as "created" equal, a term that has both a theological and a political sense. The king could create the Third Earl of Gloucester. No doubt it was well understood (if not necessarily believed) that the king's authority to create derived from God, but still it took a king and sometimes the might of arms to create a political entity.
To me the miracle of America is that we chose create not earls, but free men, politically equal to pursue a life of liberty and happines. And the success of this creation depends primarily on our consent. We are free and equal because our humanity demands it, and we consent to protect it for one another. The American experiment at its best, is all about creating freedom and happiness. And so for me, human dignity approaches the first principle. Our humanity makes us worthy of liberty, but it can't guarantee it.
If I were confident that Terri Schiavo's humanity had been completely honored by due process of law, I'd rest easy. But I'm not. I don't suspect a cabal, but I do think that we might be losing sight of first principles.
I took Gerard's intent to be simpler than what some are arguing here.
The first group believes, as did the Founders, that we derive our inalienable right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness from our creator. In other words, the natural state of all humans, by virtue of their creation, is to be free to determine their own destiny.
Perhaps Gerard should delete the first sentence ("In the end, etc.), and change the paragraph describing the 2nd group's belief to read thus:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Government with certain Legislatable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The point being the second group wrongly believes there is no higher power than government; that our rights are defined by government, and are therefore not inalienable.
I agree in totality with Old Dad. Having been (apparently) one of the few who have fought for the ideals expressed in the first, I find that JCR’s rewrite makes him sound like a current staff member to some delegate to Congress.
Ask yourself this: Whom can you name in either the Senate or the Congress that profess and act in accordance with the first principles stated? The majority of their time is spent raising the funds for reelection and that requires them to compromise their responsibility to uphold the first principles stated.
Are we not doomed?
JCR, I take your point and its a damn good one.
Unlike Gerard, I'm not sure we have to choose in that fashion. The post is right on the money -- I think the choice that must be made is more refined than you indicated, Gerard. Or, perhaps I've just assumed too much.
Where the choice has to be made, it seems to me, is whether or not you acknowledge the foundation of our laws and culture, the basis for the founding of this model republic.
The particular tenets don't necessarily have to be yours [you are free to be agnostic, atheist, Bhuddist, even anarchist, etc]. But you must, it seems to me, CHOOSE to be intellectually honest and not only acknowledge the Western Civilization that gave birth to this nation but the centrality of that culture to our beliefs in certain "inalieanble" rights and from whom those rights are derived.
That's where Europe has lost its way, as has the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.
They chose poorly.
I pray that America will not follow their lead.
Mr. Van der Luen -
If you EVER get out to Utah, please give me warning.
I'd give my left arm for a half hour or so of coffee talk.
Your essays always strike a deep chord within me. I wish I could articulate - wish I could convey my ideas, opinions, thoughts - well enough to impart the subtle yet stunning impact you so often deliver.
You are a great communicator. And a pretty decent human being, too, in case your search for answers had allowed that conclusion to momentarily escape you.
Who we are or how we act does always reduce to "what we believe"; it's more personal than underwear, and unfathomable to even our closest neighbor as anything can ever be. That's why most of us are wired to accomadate, or try, when conflict arises.
Sometimes accomadation doesn't work. Sometimes the conflict is so fundamental that there isn't a possible resolution that will satisfy ANY side of an issue.
The Schaivo case is exactly such an event.
I know what I believe. I'm glad I'm not Michael Schaivo. Beyond that it's just a morass of horrible choices I'm grateful I didn't have any part of.
Thank you for the kind words and invitation. I do get to Utah every year or so, but it is always straight to a friend's place in Moab, so that might be a bit out of the way.
I grew up in West Texas, where a dinner date might mean a hundred mile drive.
Moab is not all that far away.
Who knows, if it should come to pass that our locations coincide I might be able, by then, to consistently spell your name correctly.
I've got a grundle of friends who are down in Moab right now for the Jeep Safari. Can't wait to see who wants to borrow my air compressor, and for what repair, this year.
Ummmm, Moab Jeep Safari. I loved it the year I saw it. Much more palatable crowd that that one that arrives with thousands of mountain bikes. Better party by far.
You didn't by any chance help my son right his jeep this past weekend at Moab, did you? He flipped it when something in the transfer case locked up. He's okay - banged-up pretty badly, but his custom built Moab monster is pretty much done for. To hear him describe the scene out there makes me want to see how cool it all is, but it also scares me. Now all my fears came true, but at least he didn't flip into a precipice. Oh, wait... yes.... a precipice of financial despair. Sigh....