“The rewards and punishments of the moral laws of nature therefore require additional supports. Something else is needed, and that something else comes in two forms: first, there are social sanctions, or what Locke calls ‘the law of opinion or reputation’; and, second, there are civil sanctions that Locke designates as ‘civil law…..”
⁃ C. Bradley Thompson, America’s Revolutionary Mind
If you came to this page, chances are great you came prepared to discuss intelligently the framework from which our marvelous Constitution was developed. You are serious about considering the need to protect Constitutional law in order to protect liberty, and that a brief or long look at history tells us that liberty and the rule of law is more fragile than we often realize. We see currently a constitutional crisis underway to remove our duly elected President, not for any serious crime, but because people despise him. How can our nation’s founding principles help illuminate us as we contemplate our impeachment controversy?
The birth of our Republic began with faith in reason
The author quoted above, C. Bradley Thompson, has written a brilliant and timely book that could help to bridge the gap. If we wish to bridge this gap, we must enter into the mindset Thompson portrays in his book on our nation’s founding: the mindset of the people of reason who created the revolutionary logic that founded our Constitutional republic.
The founders thought long and hard about the state of man in nature, his rights as a man, and the purpose of government in protecting those rights. The end result of this long reflection led to them ultimately pledging their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to their creation and adoption of the Declaration of Independence. For many of us, the Declaration serves as a beginning. But In the minds of two of their most noted signers: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the true revolution took place during the preceding 1-2 decades. It was the philosophical, political, and legal skirmishes of those years that led to the formal severing of ties to Britain and served as the true revolution. The war itself was but the mere result of the dispassionate assent to reason and the logic that brought them to that conclusion: that the bonds of government between the King and the Colonies had to be broken. Yes, there were hotheads who dumped tea and tar and feathered opponents as well. But I am speaking of those who put in the long hours to travel long distances away from their homes and families and went about soberly to do the work of nation building. Through those men, the Declaration was written as a persuasive argument to all of mankind as to how and why the colonists had come to this point. It mattered to them that all people understood why they were taking this seemingly drastic action. It wasn’t on a whim. The assertions in the preamble were not mere assertions, but rather were carefully reasoned out until the conclusion to draw in their minds was correct and unassailable. It became necessary (not merely a desire or preference) to break the bonds between they and the King of England.
The godfather of this awakened American revolutionary mind was philosopher John Locke, who provided the necessary framework of moral laws for government to guide man in the state of nature he found himself in. These natural laws and the rights each person derived from them were considered every bit as legitimate and dispassionate as were the physical laws enunciated by Sir Isaac Newton. They were self evident: proven by reason illuminated by observation. It is to our great peril we do not teach to our current generations the syllogisms and self evident conclusions of John Locke, which were debated, countered, and finally assented to by the men who signed the Declaration. We seem to prefer to bog ourselves down in mere economic preferences and interpreting the political contests in Marxian terms: putting victors over victims based on social identity constructs fueled by resentments – often over interpretations on the use of common language. These resentments are translated into power struggles engaged in through the offense of “micro aggressions.” This preference is in large part due to the long past scourge of slavery that accompanied our nation’s founding. This scourge forecasted a reckoning , which men like Adams and Jefferson in different measures and times either knew would come, hoped would come, and (in Jefferson’s case) dreaded would come. It would come because their assertions of man and his rights were reasonably unassailable, and if this nation was to endure under the exacting goddess of reason, then their work on natural rights would lead to a dreadful day of reckoning. It was in their minds inevitable, should they stay true to their revolution, that a Lincoln would be birthed from the nation’s loins. But it would be inevitable only if those that followed them remained true, and even Lincoln feared the moment of truth in ending the scourge of slavery would be lost if he did not immediately seize the moment others tried to set aside for another day, and pass for the 13th amendment that abolished it.
This lack of a proper understanding of the philosophical constructs that guide our political life is a great peril for us because the revolutionary mind that assented to these “self evident” truths truly changed the world in their day, and continue to change the world in our own. A mere look at the upheaval in Hong Kong is perhaps our best example of both the power of the revolution they brought forth, as well as the peril we face in not understanding the reason for the impulses toward freedom. For this reason, Thompson explains, both Jefferson and Adams – who in fact became bitter partisan enemies themselves in the republic they helped create (demonstrating there is hope) – believed it essential that the impulses and thinking that brought forth our nation, it’s independence, and Constitution, be studied – and studied rigorously.
Technology and its threats to our Republic
With a similar spirit, I implore my fellow citizens to work to set aside our own passions, and consider the current state of our nation. Perhaps it is not too much hyperbole to suggest, in an echo to Lincoln, that we have also come to our own great contest in the struggle for human freedom, and whether we may indeed be the “last, best, hope of mankind” as Lincoln said in seeking to make sense of the carnage of Gettysburg. Perhaps we are facing our own new danger of a slave power: with the advent of rapidly advancing systems possessing never before seen systems powering mind and social control and manipulation through the algorithmically fueled processes designed by social media giants. Might we be entering a period that will give birth to a new Edenic Adam or an uncontrollable Frankenstein. Will we be seeing “a new birth of freedom” or a “perishing from the earth” of free human beings? Is 1984 merely late in coming? Can we recapture the vision of acting as free moral individual agents wielding power in a democratic process to secure together our liberties – but guided by sober reason? Or will it be our fate that passions and preferences shaped by a manipulative spin practiced by all parties utilizing their selective set of facts rule our day? A lie told long enough, often enough, and persuasively enough, will be believed. I’ll leave to the reader to supply the supporting evidence with their own favorite hoaxes in our current age: Iraq WMD, phony Televangelists, “fine people on both sides”, Maga hat wearing kids and phony victims, Inconvenient Truth predictions and timelines, Collusion, Ukraine, etc.
A Convention of States is a remedy our fathers placed in the Constitution to address and remedy unforeseen threats to liberty and self rule
Locke explained, and the founders concurred, that through reason it was self evident that “all men are created equal” and were endowed by the law giver of both the physical laws of the universe as well as the moral laws that govern man that each human being with the “right to life, liberty, and property.” The founders properly adjusted the language of Locke in Jefferson’s apt re-identification of “property” to “pursuit of happiness”- for property is not mere real estate and possessions but something of intrinsic value in each person: i.e., each person has a right to utilize his liberty – which itself, along with his life, constituted his essential “property.” If you take away a man’s life or his liberty, you deprive him of his property – these are things he owns regardless of material wealth. A naked man’s right to pursue a set of clothes is based upon his right to live, along with his right to use his freedom to pursue a set of clothes, thus maximizing his happiness in exercising his rights to life and liberty upon this earth.
The purpose of each person is to utilize these properties he owns within nature to generate “happiness.” If man does not have the right to pursue happiness, he does not have a right to own those things necessary to pursue them: life and liberty. If a person does not have a right to pursue his happiness, there is no reason for him to have a right to his property. Thus, government has the right to take a person’s life and liberty. We are watching this horror take place today in Communist China, where rights are granted or refused based on privilege or status. In China, laws are not natural, granted by the creator, but human constructs codified by those in power without the consent of anyone but those in power at the time they are developed. I offer two disturbing news articles (here and here) as evidence of the evils we currently face (and a reminder of the power our social media giants wield for good or evil, based on their acquiescence to such nations for commercial purposes).
Human rights, Locke understood, are extremely fragile because our immediate passions and self interests hide them from us: we recognize them for ourselves, but less so for others. Thus, men may kill others, depriving them of their right to life, in the pursuit of a greater amount of property. Or concentration camps may be designed to restrict a Japanese-American of liberty, in order to increase another’s property by stealing his land while he is contained. Thus, the founders agreed with Locke that the purpose of government is not to deprive people of their natural rights on behalf of the strong, but rather to protect natural right on behalf of all people within the jurisdiction of that government.
The foundations of human rights, liberty and self government
There are three bulwarks men rely on to protect each one’s life, liberty, and property.
1. Reason, which can be utilized by all people to agree that all people are endowed with these rights.
2. “Social sanctions” those voluntary but expected courtesies and virtues practiced by agreeable people based on reason (e.g., “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”). When people assiduously practice this self evident law, the need for government is lessened, replaced my mutually beneficial associations. As a supreme example, Saint Paul explained to the Corinthian church that in all their interactions within their voluntary association, there would be no necessary law, if they practiced the “law of love” with one another. He then enunciated the set of guidelines necessary to live fruitfully in such an environment (one is to believe the best of your brother or sister – give him or her the benefit of the doubt).
3. Law: When people of faith voluntarily practice love and the golden rule out of respect for their Creator, who promises rewards and punishments for those who behave properly, 1 and 2 above have a fighting chance to protect natural rights for every person. But, because reason and virtue get overwhelmed by self interested passions, and cosmic justice seems illusory (for the Christian, this is due to justice being delayed to give evil men time to repent), people develop government and civil laws to restrict the denial of basic rights through a system of rewards and punishments. For the Christian, God ordains Government for the purpose of protecting society through rewards and punishments. But, because government is perverted by unvirtuous men to benefit their own pursuits over the good of each person, as well as misguided leniency in modern times in favor of compassion, it is vital that all people have a right to be represented in the decision making body of the government. It is these moral laws and rights that led the American revolutionary to seek the development of a constitutional republic.
Because each person in a society has a natural right to see that his own rights are protected, the founders spent a great deal of time in the fifteen or so years prior to July 4, 1776 debating and crafting or refining state constitutions, as well as the Articles of Confederation needed to govern their own assembly of the 13 American colonies. This work led them to not only prefer, but actually require that each colony be governed by a representative government. Perhaps the best example of this is the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which mandates that each new state be governed by a representative government AND prohibit slavery. These were a requirements (along with public education), and not merely preferences, because the American revolutionaries soberly determined only such a representative government made up of a people educated in reason could protect the rights of man. Even an enlightened king or oligarchy would have the power to abrogate the natural rights of their once fellow citizens – hence the need for a written and agreed upon constitution to hold such usurpers in check.
Thoughts on Impeachment
In our current age, the tension between 1, 2 and 3 are causing the turmoil we see in the long establish social compact we see fraying the age of Trump. This is because Donald Trump, to many an odious man seen by them as devoid of virtue, has been Constitutionally elected Chief Executive in our time honored system of representative government. What a large segment of citizens has done, in the minds of another large segment of citizens, is ignored the unwritten but well understood and long honored compact to pay homage to step 2: the preference of virtuous men and women to represent our constitutional republic. It is telling that the previous example of this: President Bill Clinton, himself faced impeachment.
And so, we find ourselves in this current impeachment battle, the latest, post-Mueller attempt to undo the presidency of a man duly elected President under the Constitution and its time honored traditions (in which our representative state governments crafted laws that forced electors by law to reflect the will of the majority in almost every state). Since then, the levers of government, in particular professional civil employees from Justice, National Security, State, the opposition party, the major media (including late night TV, Hollywood, and the news organizations) have been unrelenting in seeking a way to remove the President from office.
Although even many of his supporters will readily agree that President Trump is a person of questionable character and virtue both professionally and personally, it has been difficult to impossible to dislodge him through the Constitutionally sanctioned method of impeachment for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” His actions are filled with sketchiness, but the laws remain unviolated. Mr. Trump appears to have lived a very public life in which he has remained successful in business and personal ventures that, however odious, come close to, but never crossing the line to criminality. Hence we have the burning desire to acquire Trump’s tax returns: like the fabled pony in a room filled with manure, a crime has to be there somewhere and must be found.
So, as I survey the administration and its animating principles, I find ourselves with a President who adheres to the principles that animated the founders of our nation: a respect for the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness and property. Donald Trump puts the lives of the American citizens he serves first: his immigration policy is animated by a desire to raise the living standards of the American worker, keep criminals out, and to make certain that government programs in health, medication, transportation, energy, justice, safety, defense, are reserved first and foremost for them. Thus he takes a hard line regarding illegal immigration. This comes across as racist to others.
Trump is very cautious about committing troops overseas, and this draft dodger (college deferments, bone spurs) would prefer to keep a soldier far from harm in obscure wars over the neoconservative desire to demonstrate a small r republican zeal for human rights for citizens in other nations/people groups. Trump prefers economic persuasion and cooperation coupled with the deterrence of overwhelming force over nation building to protect American interests. Thus, he appears at times impervious regarding unstated but implied commitments toward the human rights in places like North Korea, Syria, and Russia. He stays friendly with China but takes a far tougher stand in economics, his preferred avenue of statecraft. Such nations fall outside the American Constitution, and while Americans have bled and died to extend human rights in far off places like Vietnam, Korea, and Iraq, the noble sentiment of being the world’s guarantor of rights and aspirations is not a motivator for Trump, or his supporters.
And whereas Presidents in days past aspired to speak nobly at all times, to ignore the petty slights, political jousting and verbal insults of their detractors, Trump has no problem wrestling in the mud with his domestic enemies, even reveling in the battles. These differences make Trump an unworthy President for many, due to his lack of civility and virtue. It causes the left to look longingly and turn its lonely eyes to the heroes of the past, even toward recently deceased children’s TV personality Fred Rogers, who suddenly has become an icon of the left and the subject of both an award winning documentary and now a full featured picture starring America’s favorite portrayer of its virtues: Forrest/Sully/Private Ryan/Robinson Wilson Caruso/Tom Hanks. Instead, they got saddled with the man who branded for himself the two words nearly every person fears: “You’re fired.”
So in the calculus of American political theory of government, Donald Trump has broken government remedy #2, being a man who’s virtue is sullied. We always say that anyone can grow up to become President. This is a maxim that’s now been turned on its head. Many parents of young children are incensed that this draft dodging philandering lowlife of a man is now serving as an aspirational example for their own sons and daughters. But no leader has a pristine past and, while we can hate the divorce and philandering past, and desire more decorum, we can also respect Mr. Trump’s work and devotion as President to protect for the Americans he serves our rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. In short, I do not see a fascist at work. The tweeting? I find it a humorous and harmless diversion for the man in charge. In other words, if his tweets are the sign of a tyrant, would that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao reserved their fury to tweets and ridicule. There is little to no chance of a political opponent even being jailed. Even “Lock her Up” Hillary shows no fear of prosecution. Jailing, in fact, is reserved for friends of Trump Papadopoulos, Manafort, Stone. Michael Flynn copped a plea with the special prosecutor to escape jail time in his railroading by the FBI. Some tyrant.
So what do do? Like our founding fathers, we know man is fallible, and prone to self serving aggrandizement. Thus, just as we understand, as American revolutionaries, that all men have equal rights under nature, so should all men have equal rights under the law. If Donald Trump has broken laws as President, or even if he has done things egregiously illegal as a private citizen, then we have a legal process to remove such a man from public service, if the crime is serious enough. But it is a perversion of justice judge first and look for a crime later. That is the true definition of digging up dirt. But it appears to me quite telling that the promoters of impeachment are coming up very short in the law breaking department. In fact, the search to find something, ANYTHING, on which to hang this man (typically these are the kinds of things the previous administration itself did that are typically and properly judged as being part of the job) is in itself very unseemly, and too close to witch hunting. This itself is unvirtuous as an exercise in self absorbed hatred for one’s political opponent to the detriment of the nation.
In the days to come, a trial will take place to judge whether President Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors. The bar should indeed be high, as we are talking about removal of a man duly elected. It seems Trump’s enemies are moving the bar downward, but disguising that movement by speaking in ominous terms like corruption, personal aggrandizement, abuse of power, and bribery, all under the rubric of a quid pro quo that is all but admitted other Presidents engaged in, but must be applied differently to this President because he is the odious Donald Trump.
If there must an impeachment, Let’s have a sober one based on reason and law. We are a nation of laws, not of men. So, let’s look past the personality of the man under trial, and respect the rights he has based on his status as an American citizen under the law. If he needs be removed, let the law, not our animus or hero worship, judge him. If he needs to be removed to restore our love for virtue, we have an election to find that worthy successor who possesses what we feel Trump lacks. Let us act as worthy descendants of the men and women who created this nation. Perhaps, in doing so, the example we set will serve to give the world that watches us, particularly those burdened under the strain of governments not of law but of men, hope for a new birth of freedom. May our system of laws, designed protect our rights not perish. For in these difficult days, as we survey the landscape, it may indeed be that we do in fact remain the greatest and best hope for mankind.
by Rick Michels, founder of CultureShocked.blog and facebook’s “Culture Shocked” page. Also author of Messianic Men: How Jesus launched his Kingdom and trained the men who conquered Rome – for more information, see Messianicmenbook.com