Once a high-level Reagan-era diplomat, Alan Keyes is a long-time leader in the conservative movement. He is well-known as a staunch pro-life champion and an eloquent advocate of the constitutional republic, including respect for the moral basis of liberty and self-government. He has worked to promote an approach to politics based on the initiative of citizens of goodwill consonant with the with the principles of God-endowed natural right.More ↓Less ↑
This week I read a surprising piece by WND’s David Kupelian in which he asserted that people willing to accept the choice of evils in this year’s presidential election are following the example of America’s founders ["Beware the 'lesser-of-two-evils' trap"]. Kupelian notes that in order to secure approval of the U.S. Constitution the founders compromised with the existence of slavery. He then asserts that “the Founding Fathers, by drafting, ratifying and implementing the Constitution of the United States, engaged in the most monumental example in American history of deliberately choosing the lesser of two evils.”
I found the article surprising because its premise is a fallacy that I’ve had to deal with all my adult life. The founders did not choose the evil of slavery when they drafted the Constitution. To the contrary they chose to plant, as the seed of American government, an understanding that acknowledges the true principle of right and justice for all human beings, which principle is the will of the sovereign God who created us. The founders then persuaded those who advocated slavery to accept a Constitution predicated upon this principle of justice, knowing that it would ultimately require the abolition of slavery. So, far from choosing the evil of slavery for blacks, they framed the Constitution with respect for the principle of government that recognized slavery as evil for all mankind.
The founders’ choice of true principle and the subsequent success of the American republic proved that successful government could be based on it. Before that the protest against slavery came mainly from those forced to submit to it. They protested in vain. The right of government based on proven superior power (i.e., conquest) was considered unquestionable. Indeed, it was said to reflect the will of God (or in ancient times, the gods), who ordained and controlled the forces of nature and man’s fate.
Thus Mr. Kupelian appears to ignore the historically exceptional, even unique, nature of America’s founding. Until the founding of the United States, people who were themselves under the yoke of slavery had sometimes asserted and successfully battled to reclaim the good of freedom for themselves. But what people who had never been enslaved, and who had already won the war to preserve their own freedom, had ever gone on to establish a form government based on the principle of liberty for all mankind?
People blather on about American exceptionalism, but they seem never to remember that the profound truth of it lies in the nation’s exceptional beginning. Many claim to admire America’s founders but ignore what is clearly proven by the record of their deeds. The founders believed that they were acting for the good of all humanity. In order to pretend that the founders deliberately chose evil, Mr. Kupelian ignores their most remarkable conscious, deliberate and courageous choice, which was to acknowledge the God ordained moral equality of all people, who are by God’s will endowed with a mandate to do right that no humanly instituted government has the right to dismiss.
This choice for the good of all humanity involved rejecting the specious right of conquerors to enslave the conquered. It involved refuting the notion that people of proven superior power had some right to command obedience from their proven inferiors. So once the premise of God-endowed human right is accepted, it’s possible to challenge and refute the specious arguments used to justify slavery. America’s founders were the first to apply this premise in practice, to make it the basis on which a people would govern themselves.
We stand now in an era when the fruits of what they chose to do, reaped at great risk and deadly sacrifice, allow us to take it for granted that “everyone knows” that slavery is evil. We forget that when the founders acted, and until they acted, nothing was further from the accepted truth. A few philosophers had written, but America’s founders were the first to stake their fate, and that of their country, on the truth that sets men free.
Because he ignores this aspect of the founding, Mr. Kupelian can write as if the founders lived at a time when the notion that slavery is evil could be taken for granted. He can therefore pretend that their choice was simply to accept the evil of slavery or reject it. In fact, however, the founders could not take it for granted that slavery was evil. They had to prove it first. They were engaged in the work that would constitute such proof.
Once a proposition is proven, we may take it for granted as the basis for further reasoning. But we may not do so in the course of proving it. America’s founding and the success of the form of government established by it were necessary to prove the proposition of liberty that refuted the view of government that justified slavery. It should go without saying that the founders could not take as proven what could not be proved without the success of their experiment. With this in mind it’s clear that they did not choose the evil of slavery, any more than a scientist developing a vaccine chooses the viral infection he aims to cure. They simply let it stand until the proof they set in motion could break down the bonds of prejudice and fear wherewith tyranny had, throughout the ages, bound the hearts and minds of people everywhere. We, all of us, are the beneficiaries of that proof. But we are also, like the founders, still part of the process that establishes it.
The evil principle that superior people have the right to dispose, as they please, of the lives of their inferiors rears its head today, in other even more virulent forms. In the form of abortion rights this evil view is more explicitly and directly aimed at all humanity than American slavery ever was. If we mean to follow the founders example, we must repair the seed of true principle wherewith they sowed the destruction of this false and evil one. Romney and Obama agree in the destruction of that seed of true principle, though both make some pretense of valuing its ultimate fruits. But the better pretense is simply a better mask for the intentional destruction of the principle.
In this respect they and their elitist-faction patrons are following the example of the founders, but in order to contravene the founders’ aim. For a time they will tolerate some vestiges of good, knowing that the false principle they follow sets the true principle of good on the path of extinction. In this respect, in these latter days, they are the anti-founders. They and the elitist faction they represent mean to undo once and for all, what previous generations of Americans by living with good conscience, and sometimes by dying for it, proved true. The choice for Romney or Obama is not some choice of “lesser evil.” It is the triumph of evil, pure and simple. But we might still prevent it. On Election Day, by refusing to support either of these men for president, we can signify our determination to deny, by other constitutional means, the principle of elitist tyranny they mean to impose upon us.