In order to judge whether our founding fathers were racists as you claim, or whether the rest of what I will call the “American Condition” (a term I use to describe generally our ways of being) is a just and noble cause, we must understand human nature and the importance of natural law in the framework of our founding.
I will then briefly discuss civil society without which our constitutional republic would slide in to darkness and eventually cease to exist.
Understanding basic human nature as well as the importance of natural law and civil society will intellectually allow us to examine our uniqueness (exceptionalism), which in turn will open the discussion to a more in depth examination of our founding documents, rights, and liberties in proper context. I realize that this sounds unduly lengthy but an intellectually sound philosophical case requires no less.
Importance of Human Nature – Two Views:
Societies are made up of individuals; therefore human nature must be understood before any other social concept can be tackled. Understanding human nature is also a fundamental starting point for anyone attempting to build a coherent political philosophy, or discuss it as we are doing here.
In the context of our discussion, understanding of human nature is vital because natural law based framework of our constitution requires belief in the universal qualities of basic human nature. Given these qualities, there exist rules of social behavior and moral conduct that have endured through time because they have been readily ascertained by all societies throughout history.
Generally speaking, there are two schools of thought: Human nature is either fixed (the classical view of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato) or malleable (postmodernist view subscribed to by likes of Nietzsche, Hegel, Marx, and others).
Traditionally, conservatives, libertarians, and classical liberals fall into the camp that believes human nature is fixed but with tendencies toward both good and evil. Progressives, socialists, Marxists, and other postmodernists view human nature as malleable, that is, it can be manipulated. Along the same lines, the first group tends to be moral absolutists where as the latter believes in moral relativism.
Man has a dual nature, capable of both good and bad, and hence he requires social influences such as those from family, religion, and community to provide moral education and guidance within the framework of civil society. Therefore, society, and by extension government, is natural and necessary in the conservative view despite the vilification of the ideology as being wildly anti-government. However, family, religion, and community should be the preferred sources of social influence rather than the coercive power of the state.
Despite the universal features in human nature, there exist important individual differences among humans. Apart from obvious physical and gender differences, people have different talents, skills, motivational levels, and interests. Protecting liberty means respecting these differences, thus allowing their benefits to the individual and society come to the fore. Indeed, equality of outcome is an illusory and dangerous quest, often pursued at the expense of equality before the law. Our recent history (20th century) is a sad testament to that.
We have to naturally ask, is human nature really infinitely malleable and perfectible, as some philosophers have claimed? A deliberate attempt to design and create social order in order to achieve certain desired social outcomes without regard to the limitations in man's nature is futile and even destructive. As proof one need only consider the atrocities committed under communist, socialist, and fascist regimes. The answer is clearly no.
Most relevant to our discussion, full development of each person's capacities and morals do not only require social influence, but most crucially liberty. No person can reach his or her full potential when having to persist under oppressive or tyrannical conditions. This just makes sense and is beyond conjecture as evidenced by all oppressive regimes throughout history. Thus, the purpose of lawful government in a well-functioning society is the protection of individual rights, especially of freedom of conscience, freedom of association, private property, free trade, and equal protection under the law.
This alone is proof that the framers of our constitution rejected the notion of moral relativism (even though the earlier fathers of the postmodern school of thought were still a few decades in the future) and embraced the idea of civil society that is based on absolutist view of the human nature.
Finally, the incompatibility of civil society with moral relativist view of human nature is self evident in its voluntary nature, as I will discuss later.
Natural Law and a Brief Discussion of Rights and Fairness:
All classical liberal arguments that support the ‘conservative’ point of view are based upon natural law.
As the name implies, natural law is the only truly universal law set by nature. The contrast between natural and man made law is stark in that natural law cannot result in an impediment on individuals’ (God given or natural) rights, where as there are no such restrictions on man made laws creating new ‘rights’ that in reality are not rights at all.
This is the point where I must discuss what a right is as it is probably the single most important notion that our discussions inevitably revolve around.
The only legitimate rights that exist are natural (or God given) rights. Here is the compelling reason why other progressive ideals such as medical care, housing, education, and food cannot be considered rights:
Right is something that exists simultaneously among people. It does not confer any obligation on anyone else. For example my rights to free speech or to own a gun do not impose an obligation on you. We share these rights simultaneously.
Right to progressive ideals such as the ones I listed above simply do not (and cannot) exist because they require being earned. To consider them rights, someone else must not have a right to what they did earn. For example, to give someone housing or medical care, someone else’s private property (earnings) must be confiscated as governments do not have their own resources. It really is a simple concept that even progressives should be able to comprehend. To bring it down to a more personal (thus comprehensible) level, if your next door neighbor could not afford to send his son to college and the local authorities knocked on your door (along with other neighbors) and demanded $1,000 to give to your neighbor, wouldn’t you be outraged? Yet, that is what government does routinely by taxing you for constitutionally illegitimate activities that should be left to private charity – an institution Americans excel in compared to anyone else!
We all have a right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness (none of which obligates anyone else in any way). Nothing more and nothing less. Government’s sole constitutional role is to provide the opportunity (equal justice and a free market based economic environment) to make it possible for all individuals to acquire anything else that their desires, abilities, and motivations will allow them to.
‘But that would cause widespread misery and societal problems, not to speak of its inhumanness’ complain the progressives, disclosing their ignorance of history as well as their inability to philosophically (critically) reflect on the human condition.
Did the dirt poor Irish immigrants (or the Poles, Chinese, or Italians) starve and die on the streets at the first few decades of last century when economic conditions were much harsher than modern day America? No. Did hundreds of thousands of poor children starve to death when Bill Clinton signed the welfare reform in 1995? Clearly no, in fact America prospered even more. Why?
The reason is simple: human nature is more resilient and vibrant than lazy and recalcitrant given the motivating circumstances (a free market system supported by a limited constitutional government). In other words, individuals are generally capable of taking care of themselves when they have to. It is this conviction that has set apart Americans from others and allowed them to thrive, out-innovate, and out-produce anyone else despite periodic hardships throughout its history. No, we are not superior to anyone else, but we have a uniquely optimistic can-do attitude that the socialistic nanny states have robbed from other peoples of the world.
The other progressive argument revolves around equality. As the progressive vision sees only unfairness stemming from natural differences in individual circumstances, they continuously push for equality of outcome, whether it is by instituting programs to achieve gender and racial equality or passing laws like CRA (1977) or increasingly progressive taxing schemes aimed at redistributing wealth. In real life, however, people are unique, meaning not all men are created with equal abilities or similar circumstances therefore cannot achieve similar outcomes. Attempts to equalize these differences are invariably ill-fated and only set the society behind by slowing down greater productivity and innovativeness by the capable (which does not equal the rich as I can count countless many, such as SCOTUS Justice Thomas, Bill Gates, or Herman Cain, who have come from abject poverty to attain great success in life).
The progressive narrative of an unjust world in a constitutional free market system like ours, even with its imperfections, fails miserably in the face of logic as well as evidence. Instead, it is their world view of socialistic idealism that fosters a society based on oppressive bureaucratic functionaries and a culture that embraces stifling mediocrity and egalitarianism.
Natural law is not the law of the jungle (everyone for themselves) either. As natural law implies, individual is unique, spiritual, and has a conscience. He/she is free to pursue his interests, guided by prudence (meaning that the individual has the obligation to respect the inalienable rights of everyone) and morality while striving to be virtuous. These qualities are what make civil society possible and strong.
A solid understanding of the concept of civil society is essential to truly comprehending our Founding Principles in proper context, so we must delve in to this subject briefly as well.
The term implies the totality of “voluntary social relationships, civic and social organizations, and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society, as distinct from the force-backed structures of a state”.
Preservation of civil society is essential to preservation of natural law (our guiding principles) as they are interwoven and inseparable. Civil society allows the furtherance of the human condition in general.
In a civil society, private property and liberty are inseparable as the right to live freely and pursue happiness cannot exclude the right to acquire property, which is the fruit of one’s intellectual as well as physical labor. When confiscated (by taxation in free societies) for unconstitutional purposes (those outside the enumerated ones), one’s liberty is restricted as he/she now inevitably works for a master. A discussion of what is and is not constitutional, usually under the guise of “general welfare clause”, will be in later sections.
As with natural law, civil society is often vilified for its perceived intolerance and selfishness by the progressives. The ‘voluntary’ nature of the overall societal interaction, in the context of a free market based society, is antithetical to progressive impulse to actively manage societal injustices as I discussed in the previous section as well.
In Part III, I will discuss America's uniqueness and venture in to our Founding Documents as a whole (as they can not to be discussed in isolation from each other).