Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

L&FP, 48h: Building sound Government on a built-in, Natural Law base (The US Declaration of Independence as a case study)


The natural, built in law framework in 48g culminates:

. . . in civil society with government, justice is a principal task of legitimate government. In short, nihilistic will to power untempered by the primacy of justice is its own refutation in any type of state. Where, justice is the due balance of rights, freedoms and responsibilities. (In Aristotle’s terms as cited by Hooker: “because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like .”) Thus also,

11] Eleventh, that as the US DoI, 1776 notes in what is the charter of modern constitutional democracy, government is and ought to be subject to audit, reformation and if necessary replacement should it fail sufficiently badly and incorrigibly. For preference by regularly scheduled, free, fair, honest elections held every several years . . . .

This is a requisite of accountability for justice, and the suggestion or implication of some views across time, that government can reasonably be unaccountable to the governed, is its own refutation, reflecting — again — nihilistic will to power; which is automatically absurd. This truth involves the issue that finite, fallible, morally struggling men acting as civil authorities in the face of changing times and situations as well as in the face of the tendency of power to corrupt, need to be open to remonstrance and reformation — or if they become resistant to reasonable appeal, there must be effective means of replacement. Hence, the principle that the general election is an institutionalised regular solemn assembly of the people for audit and reform or if needs be replacement of government gone bad. But this is by no means an endorsement of the notion that a manipulated mob bent on a march of folly has a right to do as it pleases. Where, too, the manifest integrity of electoral systems is equally an imperative. Otherwise, it matters not who votes, but who cheats and who counts, as Stalin notoriously suggested.

Someone has said governments/political leaders should be replaced regularly like dirty diapers and for much the same reason. There is a point there, inelegant though the phrasing is.

All of this brings to focus key aspects of the US DoI:

When . . . it becomes necessary for one people . . . to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God [–> natural law context is explicit] entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, [cf Rom 1:18 – 21, 2:14 – 15; note, law as “the highest reason,” per Cicero on received consensus], that all men are created equal [–> note, equality of humanity], that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights [–> thus there are correlative duties and freedoms framed by the balance], that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security . . . .

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions [Cf. Judges 11:27], do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States [–> so, it is the built in laws of our nature that set basic parameters, in absence of mutual agreement and after petitions under the British system failed]; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor

It is commonly said that this has no part in the law of the USA, by contrast with the 1787 Constitution. But the obvious fact that the Constitution sets out to deliver on its principles and implied promises should give pause. Instead, the DoI is explicitly and by substance a natural law document in its key parts, so that where the argument succeeds it would have universal jurisdiction and legitimacy. THAT is how revolutionary it is, it was not just about the opinions of mankind and getting military help.

The key part in question is highlighted, though we should also note, “Prudence . . . will dictate.” Notice, the part in question pivots on justice and asserts self-evident core rights tied to justice. That is, it is arguing that the civil peace of justice — due balance of rights, freedoms and duties — is to be guarded by government as its primary task. Notice, “JUST powers” of government. It even goes on to suggest that under certain circumstances it becomes “duty” to reform or replace failed, oppressive government in the face of “a long train of abuses and usurpations.”

The point on justice shows itself valid by branch on which we all sit first principle status. Life is the first right without which there are no other rights. Liberty is a natural state, to be limited or curtailed only for just cause. Yes, that is an implicit indictment of kidnapping based chattel slavery, but would be compatible with reasonable indentured service. Pursuit of happiness speaks to fulfillment of one’s life calling. Government is envisioned under the double covenant of nationhood under the creator God and government under God granting JUST powers with consent of the governed. The Articles of Confederation and the later Constitution expressed that consent. And of course, this is anchored in a creation order vision.

What about slavery, doesn’t that turn all of this into hypocritical posturing to be tossed on the ash-heap of history?

No, here were men willing to indict themselves by declaring principle, even if to attain what was barely possible they had to make a compromise with something that was an institutionalised breach of principles. (Locke in his 2nd Treatise on Civil Government spoke of enslavement as an alternative to execution for malefactors.) Where, note, they likely did not see a practical way to abolition that ended well. In the event, civil war and a running sore down to today resulted. Compare the alliance of Britain and the US with Stalin after Hitler’s invasion of Russia in 1941, and the resulting cold war after 1945. Poland’s liberation had to wait until the turn of the 1990’s.

But — warts and all — we see here first principles of Government worked out through the Ciceronian natural law framework, and leading to success. END