Sunday, May 25, 2008

Our grand Founders created a mess

Our Founding Fathers would thunder ominously if they could peek momentarily from their resting places at our welfare/taxation/regulatory state. But the Founders need look no further than their tombstones for the blame. Those geniuses unwittingly started this mess because of their skepticism of human efficacy and rationality. This skepticism led to faulty expectations of government control and a “separation of power” instead of objective law-making as the restrictor plate of human action.

In the world’s long history of skeptics of human ability, our Founders are eminently notable for probably being the least skeptical politicians, but it doesn’t take much to create a fissure that becomes a gaping hole for tyrants to march through.

When I say “skepticism,” I mean the philosophy that humans are not capable of being totally rational and being morally responsible for their thinking and actions. The skeptic’s sentiment comes through most eloquently in Jefferson’s famous letter of November 1787 to William Smith, in which he states, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants.” Jefferson (and the other Founders) believed that no objectively perfect (and unassailable) form of liberty could be created because humans were incapable of doing so – and abiding by it. He, therefore, thought that bloody rebellion must happily be a consequence of this state of matters.

The Founders talked of “natural rights” or rights endowed by a “creator,” but they never gave definitions for what rights are, as Ayn Rand did: “A ‘right’ is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.” And then the Founders didn’t define “freedom” (or “liberty”), as Rand did: “The absence of physical coercion” (by government or outlaws against private citizens). In a political context, this means government has absolutely no right to force (coerce) individuals to pay taxes, to be subject to regulations, to surrender their money to others (who allegedly “need” it), to proscribe abortions or drug-taking or pornography or road-building or drinking alcohol or discrimination or interstate commerce or delivering mail or emitting CO2s or smoking or walking around naked or starting controversial businesses or marrying someone of the same sex or cussing in public or “making too much money” or creating “monopolies” or eminent domain for the individual.

Without very specific, objective definitions, politicians and courts run amok over individuals in their “interpretations”. And so it was that without a proper definition of “liberty,” our Founders, unfortunately, relied upon a “sense” of what liberty was. Steeped in knowledge of history’s great governments, our they made a constitutional end-around to mitigate their error through a separation of government power into three branches – to prevent power grabs by a single individual (autocracy), by a group of individuals (oligarchy), or by a massive mob of people (ochlocracy). It was a pragmatic hodge-podge of transgression against the individual, for which we are paying to this day. The Founders did a pretty good job, as history goes, but our Constitution is flaked with vague terminology and coercive laws – some of which are named above, and some of which are suggested above and some have been exploited by “progressives” for 220 years.

To correct the errors (to create a perfect Constitution), America will need to look to the objective words and ideas of Rand, who herself said that she could probably not have created her philosophy of Objectivism without having first seen what private individuals and businessmen in our grand America were capable of doing when set mostly free – without her having seen the immense efficacy of human beings.

I can think of no greater compliment to our heroic Founders, who came gloriously close to perfect but who had not yet done the intellectual work to recognize the grandeur of the human mind and of individual rights.


Louis Cypher said...

Well said but harder on our founding fathers than, perhaps, is justified.

The founding fathers did the best with what they had in their attempts to protect us from tyranny.
Further, some concepts (Liberty, self reliance, and distrust of power, etc.) were mistakenly thought to be self evident and were deeply ingrained in Anglo Saxon culture. That the culture would not last and that modern US citizens would tolerate so much abuse, they could barely predict.

Finally, a large percentage of founders knew that the country was wrong about, and crippled by, issues such as slavery. Ayn Rand might argue that they should not have compromised but then the nation probably would have been stillborn or soon crushed by foreign powers.

David Elmore said...

I agree completely, but I wanted to make a direct point about what they did wrong and not go too much into the philosophical reasons for why they made mistakes. Ayn Rand didn't make the mistakes, and so they were capable, as she was, of finding out the right answers; they just didn't. Thanks for responding on this.