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Is the US Declaration of Independence completely accurate?

July 6, 2017

by Marcus Aurelius -

What has history shown about the US Declaration of Independence?

Perhaps the most influential secular document since the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence is a remarkable expression of human nature regarding our yearning for freedom. Volumes have been written about its brilliance. Nevertheless, little is mentioned about any small errors. Why?

Simply put, history shows that there are a couple questions that the Declaration left for our generation to explore. The jury has been out for a long time, but the verdict has now come in.

The second sentence of the Declaration states, “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.” Has the history of Western civilization confirmed that all men are endowed with the unalienable Rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?”

No.

“Unalienable” is synonymous with “Inalienable” today. Both words mean “unable to be taken from or given away by the possessor.” What has the West discovered about all men’s right to life, liberty, and happiness? Can an individual give away his right to life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness?

Yes.

Let’s consider the two most dramatic examples. First, Western civilization has found that wars are sometimes necessary. Killing and conquering others is based on the claim that enemies have forfeited their right to life, to liberty, and/or to pursue what makes them happy. This is the Western doctrine of jus ad bellum or “just warfare.”

The second example is the Western concepts of civil law (jus civile) and natural law (jus naturale). Simply put, the West is based on the belief that civilization depends upon rule of law. Belief in the rule of law is founded on the recognition that some actions that people want to do are unacceptable. The whole point of law is to punish people who choose to do certain things. The West has always believed some people do things that must be punished with fines, imprisonment, or death.

That is the same as saying the West does not agree that all men have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. For example, Western civilization has always believed that certain crimes, such as murder, deserve taking away a criminal’s “right” to life. The West has always accepted that certain crimes, such as pedophilia, deserve taking away the criminal’s “right” to liberty and his “right” to lead the lifestyle of his choice. Prison is an institution the entire point of which is to take away a person’s “right” to liberty.

The Declaration also claims that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Really?

Are the just powers of government really derived from the consent of the governed? Even America could not live according to that ideal for “four score and seven years.” Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address clearly contradicted this part of the Declaration when he said the Union would never perish from the earth, regardless of how adamantly many Americans did not consent to the federal government. Every criminal is not consenting to some law. The “Sovereign Citizen” movement is based on consent being the basis of governmental authority. Members of the “not my president” movement still are punished for violating the laws of a government to which they do not consent. Using lack of consent to delegitimize the just powers of the government does not work. Try it.

Claiming that the just power of government is dependent on the consent of the governed is simply a synonym for anarchy.

The US Declaration is part of Western history, but it is heavily infiltrated by certain fallacies of the Enlightenment such as the doctrine of tabula rasa. Meaning “clean slate,” tabula rasa claims culture and morality are social constructs. If that was true, lawlessness and evil could be corrected by education and training. This assumption in the Declaration was novel in Western history; it was a seductive idea, and America became a 241-year experiment to see if tabula rasa was true. Perhaps the best example that proves the Founders knew America was an experiment, is Benjamin Franklin’s words that the Constitution would produce a republic, “if you can keep it.”

Disciplined reason recognizes that the American experiment has proven the continual Western claim that tabula rasa is not the case. History and current events have proven that a few assumptions in the US Declaration of Independence regarding human nature are inaccurate, as the Stoic School and Western civilization have always claimed. We can do better. Let’s do better now.

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