Ellis Washington is a former staff editor of the Michigan Law Review and law clerk at the Rutherford Institute. He is a professor of Constitutional Law, Legal Ethics, and Contracts at the National Paralegal College, a counselor at the American College of Education, and a founding board member of Salt and Light Global. Washington is a co-host of "Joshua's Trial," a radio show of Christian conservative thought. A graduate of JohnMore ↓Less ↑
Our rights come from nature and God, not government.
~ Paul Ryan
It was a remarkable event on many levels when last Saturday morning Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney finally announced his vice-presidential running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, in a speech in Norfolk, Va. Besides satisfying Romney’s disillusioned, conservative base, Ryan’s speech was a pure philosophical moment. As the Wisconsin congressman delivered his acceptance speech, the audience heard words it hadn’t heard on a national stage since Ronald Reagan 30 years ago. If you think Ryan’s words regarding the natural contract between government, man and God sounded a lot like the constitutional framers, you were on to something.
Ryan said to thunderous applause:
“But America is more than just a place … it’s an idea. It’s the only country founded on an idea. Our rights come from nature and God, not government. We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. This idea is founded on the principles of liberty, freedom, free enterprise, self-determination and government by consent of the governed.”
In what the Blaze called a “direct conceptual channeling,” Ryan’s speech freely quoted the words of John Locke (1632-1704), the great English political philosopher whose Second Treatise of Civil Government (1690) greatly affected the ideas of America’s Founding Fathers and directed how the framers insisted on an integration between legality and morality, politics and God and, most importantly of course, church and state. Ryan’s speech channeling Locke was a magnificent demonstration of the essential founding principles of the nation.
In Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, he wrote that “freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by but as freedom of nature is, to be under no other restraint but the law of nature and God.” That’s where Thomas Jefferson got what I consider the eight most important words of the Declaration of Independence: “… the law of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
In my 2002 book, “The Inseparability of Law and Morality: The Constitution, Natural Law and the Rule of Law,” I answer the question: What writers and writings most influenced the constitutional framers? I wrote: “To answer this question, University of Houston political science professors Donald Lutz and Charles Hyneman in 1985 published a monumental study that took them 10 years to bring together. They amassed over 15,000 items, including 2,200 books, newspaper articles, pamphlets and monographs of political materials written between1760-1805 and discovered that the three writers the constitutional framers quoted from the most often were: 1) Barron Montesquieu (1689-1755), 2) William Blackstone (1723-80), and 3) John Locke (1632-1704). Incidentally, all of these men were strong adherents of Natural Law philosophy, which believed in an inseparable connection between law and morality.”
What is limited government? In Lockean terms it meant a free and just government established to protect the unalienable, God-ordained rights of individuals. In other words, all legitimate, constitutional government power had no rightful authority other than what was essential to defend the natural rights of the people. Period!
Locke added further influence to the case for natural rights as he argued against the subjugation of human beings in The State of Nature:
For men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one Sovereign Master, sent into the world by his order and about his business, they are his property whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s, pleasure. And being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours.
Ryan furthered his Lockean theme by stating that, “This idea is founded on the principles of liberty, freedom, free enterprise, self-determination and government by consent of the governed.” This idea mandating law to the consent of the governed is a critical concept in properly understanding America’s political history. That’s why the constitutional framers all revered the writings of Locke, particularly in his writings on “The Dissolution of Government,” where Locke discusses the actions a society must take when a government steps outside the “limited powers” it is entitled to. Locke wrote:
“The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property. … [W]henever the legislators endeavour to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the common refuge which God has provided for all men against force and violence.” That “common refuge” was to overthrow tyrannical government that violated Natural Law and original intent of the framers.
Overall, I was very impressed with Ryan’s understating of the American founders’ philosophy of Natural Law and his emphasis on the social contract between man and government, which demonstrates a sound foundation in the Natural Rights principles of John Locke.
If it is historically factual that America’s Founding Fathers insisted that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were all Natural Law documents based on the inseparability of law and morality, then how did our government devolve from a biblical worldview into a naturalistic/atheistic worldview based on the diabolical ideas of the French Enlightenment, Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche and the separation of church and state? Because since the Progressive Revolution, which began in the 1870s, socialist and leftist politicians, judges, lawyers, intellectuals, economists and the academy have all conspired together to deconstruct the ideas of the constitutional framers and make all Americans slaves to a Marxist, socialist welfare state.
It will be very fascinating to see how these ideas are demonstrated in the political discourse and debate leading up to November. If the majority of Americans were properly educated on their history and really understood Paul Ryan’s words quoting Locke – that “our rights come from nature and God, not government” – then the Democratic Party would now deservedly be the Whig Party of the 21st century … politically extinct!