By Dorsey M. Deaton, Ph.D.
Editor's note: This is Part 2 of a three-part series featured this week on WND's Commentary page. Read Part 1, "Before we lose this nation, here's a reminder of our values."
How did the United States rise to be a world power, with an exceptional economic and political status? One definite explanation, in addition to the freedom of development given to a variety of peoples, is that our founding principles and structures were based on the highest thinking of that time.
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Western civilization has advanced through shifts in how we know what to be true – first from the Middle Ages (faith and revelation) through the Renaissance (rediscovery of Aristotle and inductive reason) to the Scientific Revolution of Copernicus, Newton and others (1450-1650). Having mastered the understanding of nature, thinkers then turned their critical investigation on to what had not been addressed – human nature and society. This Age of Reason (1650-1800) striped away all preconceived ideas and provincial eccentricities and looked for universal truths or laws. The assumption was that if we can plan our societies and governments around these universal laws, then our societies will be more efficient and enduring, with "the greatest good for the greatest number."
The impact of John Locke and others was like turning on a light, hence the name "the Enlightenment." Starting from scratch they agreed upon the Natural Rights of Man to include life, liberty and property, the social contract between the people and the authorities they set up to oversee the rules agreed upon and the right to rebel if the government becomes corrupted. Since "absolute power corrupts absolutely," it would be wise to separate the powers of government with checks and balances (Montesquieu). In addition to their nascent Christian faith, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison and most founders were steeped in this thinking. But, few other countries had the opportunity to start almost from scratch with these ideas. Can you not see this thinking at the heart of our founding document?
"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, that to secure these Rights Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government."
Unfortunately, the different interests of the separate colonies frustrated our war efforts against Britain and became a state-dominated structure in the Articles of Confederation, which almost destroyed the new country after a decade. Fortunately, wiser minds prevailed in a Constitutional Convention in 1787 that allowed a structure closer to the Enlightenment ideals, separating the powers and even dividing the responsibilities between national and local authorities with the national having the supreme word. All that was left to complete the basic model was a Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments). That foundation could support the addition of 37 new states and over 300 million new people with modifications made by amendment and court interpretation.
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At the same time, Enlightenment thinkers in economics agreed upon the basic instinct in human nature as "self-interest." Blind self-interest could be destructive, but enlightened self-interest recognized the profit motive as incentivizing cooperation and mutual advance to secure property or capital. Transactions of exchange in labor or currency could only be completed if both parties were satisfied. Government intervention in the negotiations could mess up the natural order permanently, hence "free enterprise." The principles discovered include the Laws of Supply and Demand, Iron Law of wages, the laws of currency and others. Following these principles in a land of abundant resources has produced the greatest economy in the history of the world. Amazingly, it has also become the most generous economy as well, giving hundreds of billions annually to the less developed world, not to mentioned most of the international agencies.
Clearly, humans are flawed, and their institutions can be twisted to serve their motives, but on the whole the American system of a constitutional republic and compassionate capitalism has served us well. Why should the minority with perceived injustices and their insurrection jeopardize all the good that continues to be done? Can rewriting our history and canceling our culture to satisfy a radicalized woke generation not destroy the entire civilization? Now, we are at a tipping point when a majority of millennials think socialism might be a better option. We must all resist this affront and speak out against the intimidation they employ to silence the truth.
How have we come to this critical moment that threatens to end America as we have known her? That we will address in our next installment. In the meantime, share these thoughts with those you think need to be alerted to the danger we face.
Dorsey M. Deaton, Ph.D., Emory University, 1970, is a retired professor of U.S. History, GSU.