By Alan Keyes
People who have read and pondered the articles I’ve posted here over the years have undoubtedly noticed my consistent reliance on the principles and logic of the American Declaration of Independence. Many of America‘s self-professed conservative political leaders fail to think through and uphold the Declaration’s tenets. This may yet prove to be a flaw fatal to the prospects of liberty. Is this failure the result of incompetence? Or is it a matter of malicious choice? Whatever the explanation, in spurning the Declaration they discard the Providential gift that has been and remains America’s defining and most essential moral resource.
The heart of most Americans still responds to the understanding of justice conveyed in the Declaration’s most famous words, particularly its acknowledgment that “all men are created equal.” The Declaration’s words still move even those avowedly committed to the socialist degradation of America’s character and institutions. We see new proof of this in the inauguration speech just delivered by the idol they have lifted up to be the historical focal point for consummating that degradation. Barack Obama has consistently used a rhetorical device wherein he cites or alludes to the Declaration’s words even as he advocates and implements an understanding of government that contradicts the Declaration’s logic. He did so again last week:
What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: “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.”
Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.
The observation that all men are created equal is set apart in the Declaration as the first principle of right. By acknowledging that it depends upon the authority of the Creator, the Declaration avows the transcendent basis for human equality, which makes sense as a matter of fact only as a statement of moral, rather than material truth. But whatever notion of history Obama may invent, the American Declaration of Independence does not say that “freedom is a gift from God.” Rather, it lists “liberty” as one of a number of “unalienable rights” with which the Creator endows humanity.
The word “unalienable” means “not to be separated, given away or taken away….” So, far from being a “gift of freedom,” an “unalienable right” involves a limitation on human freedom. The difference is easily perceived. As an unrestricted gift, for instance, life might be considered a matter of choice; something people are morally permitted to give or take (in gladiatorial combat, for example, or by assisted suicide) as they choose. But as an unalienable right, one’s own life is not to be willfully terminated (suicide), nor is another’s innocent life to be purposely taken away (as by abortion or any other form of willful murder). Though easily comprehended, this difference between unalienable right and freedom is by no means trivial. John Locke (the English philosopher whose Second Treatise of Civil Government profoundly influenced the logic of the Declaration) relies upon it when he argues against the once widely accepted notion that the sovereign power of human government, because it is supreme, is absolutely arbitrary (and therefore inherently tyrannical):
First, it is not nor can possibly be, absolutely arbitrary over the lives and fortunes of the people; for it being but the joint power of every member of the society given up to that person or assembly which is legislator, it can be no more than those persons had in a state of nature before they entered into society, and gave up to the community; for nobody can transfer to another more power than he has in himself, and nobody has an absolute arbitrary power over himself or over any other, to destroy his own life or take away the life or property of another. (Chapter XI)
The logic Locke relies upon is elegantly simple: human government cannot lawfully contain a power that humanity (human nature) does not.
As an inseparable feature of our humanity, God-endowed unalienable rights implement this logic. They arise from the determinations whereby the author of our humanity formed and informed the particular way of being that makes us human. They correspond to the natural traits and inclinations that sustain and preserve human nature, for individuals and for the species. These traits and inclinations result in actions that are right in the sense that they contribute to the preservation of our nature.
But one aspect of our Creator-endowed nature is that we are free to follow or resist the information God provides. We can accept or reject the right actions that, according to………..