Monday, July 30, 2012
The Founders' Key by Larry P. Arnn
After doing the Hillsdale College Constitution 101 course, of which I proudly hold a “Certificate of Completion”, I decided to read the book written by the president of Hillsdale, Larry P. Arnn, The Founders’ Key. This book makes a great case for the connection between the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.
Today, Americans on the left would like to separate the two documents. The Declaration is revered while the Constitution is malleable and discarded when necessary. They believe the two pull in two different directions. The Constitution is reviled on college campuses for recognizing slavery, not being purely democratic, not ascribing power to a bureaucratic state, and finally for not including a more expansive list of “rights” now taken as givens.
However, Arnn makes the argument, in agreement with Abraham Lincoln, that the Declaration and Constitution are an apple of gold in a frame of silver. In fact they complement each other. While it’s true that the language and ideals presented in the Declaration are soaring and universal, whereas the Constitution is much more into nitty gritty details, that does not mean they are at odds.
The Declaration begins with a list of our rights and our ability as a people to throw off a government when it violates these basic rights. It then goes onto list the violations committed by the King. Interestingly, these complaints provide the framework for how a government ought to be set up. This document demands a government “so constituted as to prevent these evils.”
The first category of complaints involves the role of representation and the role of the legislative duties of the King and Parliament. A just government must get its power from the consent of the governed.
The second category of complaints addresses the concept of limited government. Americans demanded a society built on self-government. Therefore, government must be limited in scope so as not to trample on the liberties of its people.
The third category of complaints concern the separation of powers. They site the King’s interference with the legislative functions and judicial functions. Interestingly, the Declaration mentions God four times: First, “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Second, “Creator.” Third, “the Supreme Judge of the world.” Finally, “the protection of divine Providence.” God, therefore alone, can be legislator, executor, and judge. Governments that usurp all three in a single office or group are trying to be like God and are therefore tyrants.
The Declaration begins with a timeless idea derived from the laws of Nature and Nature’s God, “all men are created equal.” Yet here they were addressing a King, a man clearly NOT their equal. So what did they mean? They recognized the truth that under God, all men are equal and the government and the laws have a duty to treat them as such. Clearly people are not equal to each other when compared superficially. One may be wealthier or smarter than another, but the Founders meant at the most basic level, a man is a man is a man. One man is not intrinsically better or superior to another. By invoking God, they have made it clear, that there is a higher form of being and that’s Him. We are under Him and equal to each other. No one is God or can claim equality with Him. Under man, are the animals. This idea made slavery repugnant because slaves were accorded the rights of beasts, not given the status of an equal to all men. So while the Declaration did not abolish slavery, it laid the moral foundation for its ultimate demise.
Today, we have rejected the idea of Nature’s God creating us equal and have replaced it with an equality of outcome. The founder’s recognized this danger and spoke against it. The prosperity this country has experienced as a result of being declared equal and free has led to disparities of outcome. This unequal result led to a “fourth branch” of government, the bureaucracy, to enforce equal outcomes, which has rejected the idea of human nature. Our basic rights are connected and equally distributed. Yet Progressives today would destroy one right, that of property, in order to preserve the right to property. The belief that taking from the rich and giving to the poor both takes a right away from one and gives the right to another. This is the kind of inequality the founders reviled.
The Declaration is a work of art. The Constitution if the frame that surrounds it and gives it form. A statement of high ideals needs a concrete way to create that ideal government. The Constitution answered the question, how can free and equal men govern themselves? The two documents do not in fact conflict, but one gives a practical shape to the vision of the other.
We must return to the views of our Founding Father’s. We must reject Progressivism that rejects human nature and Nature’s God, preferring to worship science and the “inevitability of history.” This book provides and inspiring and coherent argument for the wisdom of the Founders and their two defining documents.