Talk about a difficult topic to tackle in a blog. But anyone who knows me, knows I love a challenge. So, much like when I’m faced with a crisis, I’ll focus on the most important. Like those ideals that our founders considered most important, they were the thesis statement to our social contract – the introduction – the why the social contract was created. The preamble to our Constitution and heart of our Declaration of Independence.
So, let’s start with those:
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.
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
But where did these lofty ideals come from? Sure, the idea of the social contract had been around for hundreds of years before our 13 colonies decided they were done being ruled by the British. But this was something different – something the world had never really seen – a government of, for and by the people, with a legislative power meant to surpass that of the head of state.
Our founders were no doubt influenced by scores of political philosophers, many of whom influenced each other. Below are a few of my favorites, and how I believe they relate to our founding principles. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, would probably add Francis Bacon and Adam Smith to his list. The point is, it is important to understand the philosophy behind the theses, to fully understand their context and meaning. These are a sampling of my favorites. Explore the comprehensive list on your own.
Thomas Hobbes: Natural Law (5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679)
Endowed by their Creator with unalienable Rights: Hobbes explained that God granted man free will, liberty, and freedom, and many philosophers followed his thinking – agreeing that no man, king nor state has the right to infringe upon that which God has given.
Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness: The state is, like a monarch, a living, growing creature. By it’s nature, enforcing upon it’s citizens excises, taxes, rules, and assaults on their freedom; making them subjects (or serfs) of the state; and requiring a social contract.
John Locke: (29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704)
A more perfect union: Locke was not in favor of judicial review. He felt judges were elites, easily corrupted, and not representative of the people. He credits philosophers from Plato, Bacon, and Hobbes for his thoughts.
Charles Montesquieu: (18 January 1689 – 10 February 1755)
We the People: Montesquieu defined the idea of the separation of powers and warned of the concentration of power in the hands of an executive. He agreed with Locke that legislative bodies were more representative of the people.
From Hobbes to Jefferson, they all believed that the role with government was to protect the citizenry’s liberty and life. Period. They believed it was a breach of our social contract for government to take the ‘fruits of a man’s labor or the work of his hands’ – in the words of Locke, 2nd Treatise on Government – and use it for any reason, other than to protect the liberty of those people. That is our social contract.
Where we went wrong (just a historical sampling):
The 16th Amendment: Took the fruits of the peoples’ labor
The Great Society: Took the fruits of the peoples’ labor; Infringed upon a citizen’s pursuit of happiness
Executive Legislation via Executive Order:
Montesquieu warned of the over zealous, power grabbing executive. Over the last 200 years, the Executive Order has morphed from the intended, an administrative statement on how legislation will be executed, to a president’s pat around congress. This chart shows the number of orders but this chart lists them and links to them, adding much greater context.
The latest affronts to our freedom, safety, security and, most importantly, our liberty, splash across the headlines daily: NSA spying, porous borders, Common Core, and mandated healthcare. Add to that a government that refuses to live by the same laws it imposes upon its citizens, and the land of the free has degraded to something just short of serfdom.