Sunday, February 26, 2017

Equality and Other Founding Myths


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...
If you had to sum up the entirety of Progressive ideology in a single word, I don't know what you could possibly pick other than equality. (Besides maybe a few pejoratives.)  They are obsessed with equality. Their major gripe, taken from Marx, is that all inequality stems from oppression. Thus they find and fight oppression pretty much everywhere. And as a sane person, if you challenged them on the notion, they will accuse you of being anti-American, of violating our core values. But is this the equality that was intended by the founding fathers?

What do most people today think of when they hear "all men are created equally"? Ask someone. They will likely tell you "equality under the law." Right? All men (in the gender-neutral sense) are afforded the same legal rights and protections. It's as simple as that. It's the only possible interpretation. But is that how the Founders themselves interpreted it?

It is fairly straight-forward to show they did not. Most glaringly, the acceptance of human slavery is certainly the strongest evidence imaginable to disprove the belief in equality under the law. Slaves were granted none of the inalienable rights mentioned. Perhaps the only stronger evidence would be the strong restriction of political franchisement. Here was a government of the people, where a relative few were actually permitted to vote.

So why would the phrasing of equality be given such prominence if equality under the law isn't really what was intended? The answer is actually quite simple, and would be quite obvious to anyone if it we hadn't been educated to think a certain way about this. What is the context of the phrase? It was written in the Declaration of Independence. What was the intention of that document? Was it to lay the framework for a new government? Was is it a philosophical treatise on Enlightenment-era principles of government? Was it to instruct future Americans on what "American values" would be?

No. It was to renounce the authority of King George III over the colonies. That's really it. It was a giant middle finger and, implicitly, a declaration of war. The core of the matter is this: where did King George's authority over the colonies come from? From the colonies themselves? Clearly not. From the British Parliament? Possibly, but then why was the declaration not made to them? Generally speaking, what claim did monarchs of the era make giving them authority to rule?

The answer is the divine right to rule. God Himself graced the monarch with His blessing. It should be no coincidence that the Declaration of Independence was penned shortly after the publication of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, a wildly popular pamphlet that eviscerated royal political legitimacy. The context of the phrasing is clear. Equality meant no divine right to rule. Political legitimacy comes from the consent of the governed, not from the Almighty.

Eventually the definition of equality became applied more liberally, to mean equality under the law as we generally conceive it. And there is much evidence to support this. Slavery has been abolished. Political franchisement has been granted to nearly all adults. And we expect our judiciary to perform their duties in an impartial fashion.

Equality was again expanded to be applied even more liberally again, to mean equality of opportunity. All Americans should be granted the same opportunities for success, no matter their background. Because of this we have universal public education, labor laws, consumer and renter protections, and a whole slew of other regulatory designed to eliminate obstacles that might obstruct citizens from reaching their full potential.

And in the modern era equality was expanded even more liberally yet again, to mean equality of outcomes. The notion is that if there is no general equality in outcomes of different groups of people, it must be corrected by the government. This provides the justification with what has become the large enterprise of government today: social programs and wealth transfers. The non-governmental sector see this as well through affirmative actions programs and scholarships and other aid intended for disadvantaged demographics. Further we are seeing large energetic movements, now mainstream on the left, that condemn the willful oppression of some groups by others, which is merely Marxism. What would the Founders say about such an interpretation of equality? Well interestingly enough, Paine addressed it himself in the first paragraph of the relevant section of his pamphlet.
MANKIND being originally equals in the order of creation, the equality could only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance: the distinctions of rich and poor may in a great measure be accounted for, and that without having recourse to the harsh ill-sounding names of oppression and avarice. Oppression is often the CONSEQUENCE, but seldom or never the MEANS of riches; and tho' avarice will preserve a man from being necessitously poor, it generally makes him too timorous to be wealthy.
Here he seems to refute the Communist Manifesto 170 years prior to its publication. Perhaps this indicates I give Marx to much credit as the founder of  Oppressionism, as the notion seems to have been prevalent enough in the 1700s for Paine to feel obligated to address it immediately in his own work. Clearly the notion of equality of outcomes was specifically dismissed by the Founders as spurious, although where they stand on equality of opportunities is a question I'll save for a later time.

Universal Rights

The Declaration of Independence quote from above continues.
... that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
What could be more undeniably American than the guarantee of basic human rights? But as before there is no reason to believe the words were not written with the same intentions as they are interpreted today. Today every other political agenda is couched in the terms of human rights. Women's rights, gay rights, abortion rights, consumer rights. All are apparently inalienable rights bequeathed from the good Lord Himself. 

Let's examine a few of the original rights.

Freedom of Speech

The second inalienable right mentioned, so it must be important. But was it really inalienable? Certainly much speech was still limited. Libel and slander laws applied. And the early government passed legislation against sedition, making it illegal to advocate for insurrection. Clearly universal freedom to say anything was not intended. What was intended was that political opinions could not be suppressed by the government. 

Freedom of the Press (from ridicule)

Recently we're hearing the press complain that by routinely criticizing the honesty of the media, Donald Trump is denying them their Constitutionally sanctioned Freedom of the Press. This is the same media which has for over a year run the most ridiculous and slanderous stories imaginable. Did the Founders share the belief that the press shouldn't be ridiculed by the President? We should consult the author of the Declaration and 3rd President himself. (source)
  • "I deplore... the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them... These ordures are rapidly depraving the public taste and lessening its relish for sound food. As vehicles of information and a curb on our funtionaries, they have rendered themselves useless by forfeiting all title to belief... This has, in a great degree, been produced by the violence and malignity of party spirit." --Thomas Jefferson to Walter Jones, 1814. ME 14:46
  • "Our printers raven on the agonies of their victims, as wolves do on the blood of the lamb." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1811. ME 13:59
  • "From forty years' experience of the wretched guess-work of the newspapers of what is not done in open daylight, and of their falsehood even as to that, I rarely think them worth reading, and almost never worth notice." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1816. ME 14:430
  • "Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day." --Thomas Jefferson to John Norvell, 1807. ME 11:224
  • "As for what is not true, you will always find abundance in the newspapers." --Thomas Jefferson to Barnabas Bidwell, 1806. ME 11:118
  • "Advertisements... contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper." --Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Macon, 1819. ME 15:179
  • "The press is impotent when it abandons itself to falsehood." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Seymour, 1807.

Right to Bear Arms

Many on the right oppose any sort of gun control on principle. "What part of shall not be infringed do you not understand?" goes the common retort. And yet the Founders did not hold themselves to such a strict standard. Guns were forbidden to slaves, criminals, indentured servants, and frequently to Indians, or even immigrant groups such as Catholics. Guns were sometimes registered or confiscated or removed to a central location for public safekeeping. Locales in the Wild West frequently had more strict gun laws than seen today. Clearly the Founders' intention of a well-armed militia capable of resisting state tyranny does not translate into the modern stance of every schizo gets a gun.

Freedom of Religion

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
Originally meant to restrict Congress from declaring an official state religion, this has been stretched nearly to the point of being interpreted as a human right not to be exposed to undesirable religious speech. Of course the Founders practiced no such hostility to the open exercise of religion by government personnel and even institutions. To understand what freedom of religion means you really have to put yourself into the context of a group that had just broken away from a the British monarchy and the Angilican state religion.

Universal Suffrage

The Constitution makes no mention of requirements for voting, leaving the matter to the individual states. The states tightly restricted franchisement, with restriction to white property-owning males being common. Since that time numerous changes have been made to the Constitution making universal suffrage the codified law. If someone tells you the right to vote is a basic American right, well they are correct. But if they try to say the country was founded so that every man could vote, well that is just not accurate.


Much of what is passed off as traditional American values or founding principles are really nothing of the sort. Often people make the assumption with realizing the actual stance of the Founders on the various issues, and without realizing how much they have been altered in the nearly 230 years of our country's existence.

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