I'm hoping that all our authors and guests have enjoyed, or are about to enjoy, this delightful musical. (I am amazed that anyone could make a good play or movie, let alone a good musical, about a piece of legislation - but so it is.)
There's a lot to say after giving it a good look, or re-look. By coincidence, a few of us just had a longish talk on natural rights, as applied in the Declaration - I'll skip that, then, and mention just a few thoughts of my own:
Historical neatness - It seems to me that any war or regime that looks simple and decisive from a distance, looked much less so at the time. Adams' frustration at the Congress that "with one hand...can raise an Army, dispatch one of their own to lead it, and cheer the news from Bunker's hill, and with the other...wave the olive branch, begging the King for a happy and permanent reconciliation," rings true. I used to think of the Six-Day War -- from the Israeli standpoint -- as a simple affair, self-defense that everyone could agree upon; and there are many who seem to think that the U.S. government was giving unqualified support to Israel. If you read Michael Oren's excellent account, a very different picture emerges - of ceaseless Israeli political wrangling, right up to the eve of war (as per the Publisher's Weekly review quoted at Amazon, "not arrogance, but self-doubt, self-analysis and self-criticism, all carried to near-suicidal degrees in 1967..."); and the American role (something like the Soviet role on the other side) shifts often, and very often the Superpower is demanding, "hold back! - don't attack, or you'll lose our support!" Dare I say, to the not-precisely-young, decidedly-right-of-center types who are known to frequent this Hall, that even the Reagan Presidency didn't look so consistent or decisive at the time, even on foreign policy? (I remember an angry article, shortly after the 1987 INF Treaty, titled "Peace in Our Time" - which opened, "It is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between Ronald Carter and Jimmy Reagan..." - I don't say we were all that angry, but you see where I'm going). Even with the Revolution, it was the same - disagreement and contention on the basic aim, even in a Congress already at war - giving us the interesting fact, celebrated on many of our insignia, that the U.S. Army is a year older than the U.S. itself. They managed to get through, but up close, it can't have looked pretty. This segues neatly into
Compromise - What strikes me about the characters in the movie, and the real personages on whom they are based, is the way they can reach political compromises with blocs of opponents whose views they not only oppose, but think ungodly. "Compromise" does not always mean, "believe that the other person is right, and has a point"; and "don't compromise on principle" (in a voting body like this) often means, "don't get what you're after" - so that you can always be painted as either unprincipled or too narrowly partisan. Maybe that's why Congress, as a body, doesn't get much love (admit it, you were expecting something else from that link). That is probably unfair - but it does give us some juicy quotes for angry moments, like one of the best opening lines from the movie: "I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a Disgrace; that two are called a Law Firm; and that three or more become a Congress!"
A great deal of compromise - hard, angry, principled, frustrated compromise - was necessary for the Declaration and the Constitution as well - it will certainly be needed if, as Grim has sometimes proposed, we ever call a convention to revitalize our national institutions. And one can sympathize with some of our friends overseas, who have a great deal of trouble managing it - it can be done, but it isn't easy or satisfying.
Artistic point - The Directors' Cut, which I own, contains a song called Cool, Considerate Men. There is a persistent rumor - I have never seen it substantiated - that this song was cut from the movie on the personal request of Richard Nixon. I find that a little hard to believe, especially in the face of a much more natural explanation: that the song was cut for excellent artistic reasons. It's too crude. In other scenes, the opponents of Independency are portrayed as sincere men, concerned with loyalty to the mother country and the horrific dangers of the armed conflict; in that song, they portray themselves as narrow-minded, cowardly, and selfish - and having one of General Washington's messages come in at the end of the song, while the opponents sing and rejoice, is extremely crude (the refrain, "to the right, ever to the right," is also an anachronism - as, I believe, the modern use of the terms "left" and "right" derives from Revolutionary France, over a decade later; and while many Americans enjoy identifying themselves as more like the Founders than their political opponents, that kind of swipe doesn't belong in this movie). The movie is much better without that song.
UPDATE: My Director's Cut includes a feature that lets me turn on a running commentary with the director and screenwriter. They both claim the story is true: that Nixon, after a private screening, asked the producer to cut the number, and he agreed, so that is confirmed after all. Both of them think the scene strengthens the drama; I couldn't agree less (the old version I was used to also cut some of Dickinson's other lines - making him less of a smart-aleck, and easier to believe). One of the two comments that the song shows the connection between the opponents of the Declaration and "modern conservatives" - thus showing little understanding of either.
Trivia - John Adams' first duet with Abigail contains some chemical anachronisms. He refers to "treating sodium nitrate with potassium chloride." But that particular way of naming chemical compounds didn't come into use until after Lavoisier published it in 1787 (I believe he also named nitrogen)...and the elements sodium, potassium, and chlorine received their names from Humphry Davy well after 1800.
All - thoughts?
Joel - What deadline shall we set for A Man for All Seasons?
In which we explore the guns of Grim himself. I've been meaning to photograph these things for insurance purposes anyway -- and putting the picture up here on the blog means that, even if some thief swiped my computer hard drive and any CD backups, the photo will still exist. Besides, it strikes me as a topic that the readers will enjoy.
You can click on the photo for an upsized version. I've blogged about some of these in the past, and so I'll link back to those entries.
First, the longarms. On the top left, we have a Henry Golden Boy in .22 LR. The rifle to the right is a Winchester 94 in .30-30. The lowermost of the longarms is a Stoeger Coachgun, double-barrel 12ga.
In between is a Tennessee rifle that belonged to my great-great-great grandfather. It's got an old percussion cap lock, sadly broken, and a homemade stock. It apparently dates to the Antebellum period, when Tennessee and Kain-tuck-ee were the wild frontier.
The short guns, from the top: a Ruger New Model Vaquero 4 3/4" in .45 Long Colt. Below that is a Ruger Single-Six in .22 LR. Below that is my old Smith & Wesson "Mountain Gun" in .44 Remington Magnum. Below that is my wife's gun, a bit of a black sheep as you can see: a Glock Model 20 in 10mm Automatic.
Off to the side, under the old Tennessee Rifle, is a Bond Arms Snake Slayer in .45 LC / .410ga. This thing is the most fun piece I have to take to the range. I've never seen anything like it for getting everyone's eyes turned in your direction. First, it's because they're amused to see a big guy's hand wrapped around a tiny little gun. Then, "BAAAAROOOOOM!" and a tongue of flame and smoke shoots out of it. It fires the same load as the Ruger New Vaquero, but in the Vaquero it feels like a gentle pop. Out of the derringer, it's a beast. It can be quite accurate at short range, however, with adequate practice.
The gun belt is an Ernie Hill Speedleather make, double thick saddle leather. I don't know who made the holster -- I bought it at the Dulles gun show a few years ago, and I wish I'd kept the guy's card, because it's a fine piece. It's a crossdraw, for the Ruger New Vaquero, which is the best rig for carrying while mounted.
There is also a, er, portion of my knife collection in the photo. The two to which I'd like to call your attention are at the top right, the second and third down. These are Stek knives, made by a knifemaker family out of Montana. I've never encountered the equal of the top knife, a damascus Bowie made from the remnants of an Iraqi IED. The shards were brought back by the military contractor they tried to kill, who passed them to the smiths of the Stek family. They forged them into -- as Lord Dunsany put it -- a sword of thunderbolt iron.
The father-son team doesn't have the reputation of the big-dollar knifemakers, though I've never seen anyone's work to match their best. They normally sell their works directly to the public through Ebay -- you can see their current items here. If, reading this page, you have considered adding a fighting knife to your property and learning to use it, you could do worse than to watch their page for something that suits your arm.
The United States has 90 guns for every 100 citizens, making it the most heavily armed society in the world, a report released on Tuesday said.Their reaction? "Nine for ten? Who's slacking off?"
U.S. citizens own 270 million of the world’s 875 million known firearms, according to the Small Arms Survey 2007 by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies.
About 4.5 million of the 8 million new guns manufactured worldwide each year are purchased in the United States, it said.
“There is roughly one firearm for every seven people worldwide. Without the United States, though, this drops to about one firearm per 10 people,” it said.
Come on, people: everyone knows that you need at least a handgun, a shotgun and a rifle to be a functioning member of society. So the correct ratio should be 300 guns per hundred population.John Donovan:
Given the readership of this blog, it might well - though if you feel like you know me... then I'm skewing the hell out of the number - because I'm carrying 166 slackers living somewhere... and I know two other collectors, in town, who between the three of us are carrying 500 of you guys.I doubt most of us are in anything like the same league as these two fellows, but would like to think we could muster a respectable showing. I'd like to invite Grim's Hall contributors to submit photographs of their collection, ala John's, for posting here. It would be a good chance to talk about our favorites, and enjoy a common interest.
Guns are the topic of the report, but given that Grim's Hall is also an advocate of bladesmanship, favorite knives and/or swords are also welcome.
This might include Joe's new "walking stick," once he's made up his mind about it. How'd that go, Joe?
via Instapundit, this look at the weirdness that is the Taliban. (And I suppose, Afghanistan in general).
Fromt that, I guess Kipling was wrong.
That last stanza should read:
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the Taliban come out to bugger what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
I was around Atlanta a lot in 1996, so I got to enjoy the full flavor of the Olympics. The relentless construction that made the highways impassable for a year, the constant flow of Olympic Committee people who came and were wined and dined in the city, the unsubstantiated claims that IOC members were heavily bribed by the city, the huge police and security presence, and so forth. I did get to attend an exhibition field hockey match between India and Pakistan (in those heady 1990s days, we were all rooting for Pakistan). If you've never been, field hockey is much like ice hockey, but much less exciting.
One of the things I remember was the Olympic Park bombing, and the tragedy of Richard Jewell. The guy spotted a package that shouldn't be where it was, evacuated the area, and thereby saved the lives of those folks who were nearby.
He then became a suspect in the bombing, and was eaten alive by the media. The FBI cleared him of involvement, but not before his reputation had been slandered up, down and sideways. We heard how he had tried to become a cop, and been turned down. We heard that he had maybe been accused of showing fake police IDs around. We heard speculation that he was a failed, crazy freak who wanted to be a cop to abuse power and swagger around, and might be taking it out on the little people that his life was a failure.
Turned out, of course, he was a guy who had tried to be a cop, and got turned down -- so he became a security guard, did his job, and saved some lives. He was an example of someone who felt a duty and did it, however he could, in spite of the handicaps that life threw in his way. That may not be heroism, but it is honest and manful.
I hadn't heard of the guy since 1996, but I was surprised to hear that he had died, being still somewhat young. I am delighted to hear that he spent his last years as a deputy sheriff. Neither the handicaps in his way nor his false handling by the media finally stopped him from being what he had always wanted to be.
Apparently the governor held a ceremony for him in 2006, on the tenth anniversary of the bombing. He had some kind words to say for the man, but Jewell was not one to self-aggrandize. "I never sought to be a hero," he said. "I have always viewed myself as just one of the many trained professionals who simply did his or her job that tragic night. I wish I could have done more."
Many will live and die without doing as much.
In light of our discussions concerning rights, the role of the citizen, duties to the state, and moral obligations I would like to suggest that we watch A Man for All Seasons. I believe it would be particularly relevant. I believe this is one of the best movies (and plays) you can watch that that deals with the aforementioned concepts, as well as moral courage.
I've blogged about V. S. Naipaul once before. I have a tremendous admiration for the author. He came to my county at a very troubled time, when there was an uproar with all the echoes of race and the South. So did many people, including Oprah; the last great Civil Rights march of Hosea Williams was a big story at the time.
Of them all, only Naipaul wrote with clear eyes. His story had no villains; not Hosea, who in spite of his grandiosity and the swagger with which he would charge others with racism, was a decent man who worked hard to help the poor and the downtrodden. Not the people of Forsyth County, whom he portrayed largely kindly. And certainly not Sheriff Walraven, a friend of my family's, whom he portrayed exactly as I remember the man. I quoted from that portrayal at length in the earlier piece.
It's hard to see with clear eyes, and harder still to write in that way. This week, there is an interview in the London Times with the author. I don't think I'll quote from it. I'll just invite you, if you aren't familiar with the man, to meet him.
You two always give me something to think about and this latest debate is no different. I know my only real participation has been sniping on points I feel are relevent, mostly correcting Germanic lore, but one man's trash is another man's treasure.
I don't feel that I disagree with either of you in a practical matter, namely that we have our Rights as US Citizens and these Rights are good things.
Although I agree with The Jacksonian Party that your Rights come last, after your Responsibilities as a Citizen.
It seems to me that your core argument is futile for me to engage in when you bring up ultimate origin of rights. If we shared a common belief in Godly beings or a singular God, then maybe it would be a constructive learning experience. But we don't, so right out of the gate different cultural paradigms prohibit common ground.
So I must fall back on what I know to be fact:
1) Moral rights are put into place by humans with bloodshed and strife, &
2) In order to see these rights flourish, in America, you must perform your obligations as a Citizen.
Everything else I see as speculative belief.
Finally: I did want to thank you both for your past (and hopefully future) words-- it has been a big help to me.
Joel's response makes me think that we may be approaching a resolution; several of the disputes he raises are actually things I agree with entirely, which suggests that we may not be communicating perfectly. In addition to discussing our remaining points of disagreement, I'd like to clarify areas where I think we really agree.
Joel begins by asserting that he believes "an individual's rights exist aside and apart from the moral responsibilities associated with those rights," including the defense of the society that makes those rights practically possible. I agree with this position. Since Eric also expressed a dispute on these grounds, I'll pull up that section of the comments. The italicized texts is from Eric's comment:
"The rights that the critic enjoys do not belong to him. They are earned by those who defend the society that allows them to exist."This is why I used the term "freeloader" rather than "traitor" or something similar. The Founders had a clear idea of what they wanted to consider treason. I don't propose to broaden the definition.
This simply isn't so. The rights may be defended or guaranteed by some subset of the citizery, but rights are expressable by all the citizens.
Let me try to express that point differently, since the distinction I made between "belongs" and "earned by" may be confusing. I passed over it quickly, and it may need to be more fully articulated.
I don't mean to suggest that the critic has no rights. I do mean to suggest that the rights aren't earned by him. Because they exist practically only because of the work of others, the hypothetical critic is living off the work of others.
That doesn't mean that society doesn't guarantee his rights just the same. It only means he doesn't really contribute to the upkeep of that society, and should be seen as a freeloader.
An imperfect analogy would be to a seventeen year old who will neither work nor go to school. Society nevertheless protects his right to be fed and clothed by his parents. He has an actual right to those things, and can appeal to the law if they are denied to him. The larger society grants him those rights, and the smaller society of his family provides him with the practical expression of those rights.
However, he is doing nothing to earn them. The clothes and the food don't really belong to him -- he just has a right to them.
There is a class of people who are educated at society's expense, enjoy the prosperity the society allows, and then -- instead of assuming positions that further that prosperity or defend the society -- attempt to undermine the foundations of our Republic. They are a problem for society, in the way that freeloaders are always a problem for any social or economic model. They still enjoy full rights, because the provision of rights is the basic design of our society. It is what society is for.
Unlike those who work for the benefit of our society, however, they are not paying their way. There are goods that some people are earning -- rights, prosperity -- and they are entitled by membership in the society to a share. Instead of trying to contribute, however, they try to tear down the project.
Of course they still have rights; America couldn't be America without provisioning them with rights. Citizens also have duties. While we might not punish those who do not perform those duties, we can recognize socially that performing your duty is praiseworthy, and not performing it is not. I suspect Joel and I agree about this point.
I conceed Joel's point re: natural-born Presidents. I had misremembered the terms, but his formula seems correct. I also think he has an excellent point in his dispute about the term "state of nature," as the best evidence suggests that the real "state of nature" for men is a tribe, not a lone survivor. The evidence regarding the state of small tribes in early America is actually not that different from Hobbes' viewpoint about what the life of a solitary man in 'a state of nature' would be, however.
Joel and I do not really disagree at this point re: northern Kingship. Yes, potential kings were from a certain class. So, of course, were potential Presidents at the time of the Founding.
Finally, Joel notes that the Founders "did not establish a form of government that based the origin of the rights of citizens on their utility to the state." On this we agree entirely. You do not have to be useful to have rights, as above. However, if any rights are to be made real in the world, someone has to do the work.
Now, to the remaining points of disagreement:
First and most important, Joel and Eric both point to the overwhelming preponderance of Roman symbols among the Founder's writings. I spoke to this briefly in the comments, by pointing to the fact that Alfred the Great himself had done the same thing, and had in fact translated Boethius in order to bring the Latin learning to his people. That is not a sufficient reply, however.
The fact that the symbols are mostly Roman, and some Greek ("Christian Sparta") is due to the education of the day, which was heavy on Latin. The class of educated men almost had to speak in Roman symbols, no matter what position they were advocating. Shakespeare, in plays designed to speak well of the Queen of the Tudors, also regularly drew on Rome. Everyone in that age did, for any purpose.
Symbols are important for telling you where people's imagination is, but you have to look to the real things to see their genetic heritage. We sell horses to foxhunters regularly around here, and they want English or Irish names. I can take a horse and name him O'Neill, and sell him for a good price to a foxhunter with Irish dreams. It is still a very non-Irish horse, however, like the one I ride in the icon by my comments, an American Paint named "Tobais." If you go by his name, he is Gaelic; but if you look at his genes, he is nothing of the kind.
The genetic heritage of our Republic is the one Jefferson described -- he was almost alone among the Founders in remarking on it because he was almost the only one well enough read to understand it. After the burning of the Library of Congress in 1814, Jefferson's personal library was the largest in America. It was, and remains, a national treasure.
That genetic heritage of our nation is far more closely related to the models of England itself than of Rome, and not just any moment in English history. Jefferson wrote, "It has ever appeared to me, that the difference between the whig and the tory of England is, that the whig deduces his rights from the Anglo-Saxon source, and the tory from the Norman." The relation of those parties to the American question is well known here.
We inherited of a system of trial by jury, which was developed from the Vikings. The accused is represented by a lawyer, as he was by a "law-sayer" among the Vikings. We have a thing we call a "Senate," but it is little like the Roman Senate. For one thing, it was not popularly elected at the Founding -- many of the Founders detested the concept. It is far more like the House of Lords, except that the Founders replaced the concept of nobility with the concept of being appointed by the leadership of the states. The Congress is bicameral, like Parliament, having a House of Commons of the form that the common (that is, Saxon) people of England forced upon the Normans. The Romans were content to divide themselves into The Senate and The People, but the English were not -- and we are not. Though Congress' procedures are its own, the idea of a strict division of executive and legislative authority does not arise from Roman sources: Senators, for example, had the right of capital punishment. The division of powers is an English import.
Most importantly, the key to the American founding is the idea of rights, as we have been discussing. That is an English idea, the thing that Jefferson rightly pointed to in the Saxons in the Norman era, the thing that the Founders noted in the Declaration of Arbroath among the Scots, and that I have attempted to trace to older sources.
The basic machinery of society is likewise inherited. We have sheriffs and summons to appear before courts; our older cities have aldermen. Our states are divided into counties, with broad local autonomy. Eric says that the Romans were the idea behind the militia, but the militia was also a distinctly English concept, with every freeman required by law to own and practice with appointed weapons. This was precisely the form that the Founders adopted.
Whatever names they used for things, the great bulk of our society was inherited. It was not inherited unchanged, but the weight of the ancient traditions, and the ancient ideas of what rights are and what they entail, greatly outweigh the symbols laid on the top of the thing.
Some other, lesser points of disagreement:
Joel posits that the Creator intended human rights, and attempts to prove it with this analogy: "While you will not find any element called 'human rights' in the genetic makeup of human beings that does not mean that human rights do not exist. You will not find elements called love or sense of humor in the genetic makeup of human beings either but I think we will all agree that love and humor exist."
In fact, there do seem to be strong biological impulses at work in both love and humor. Without going into the weeds on the neuroscience, both questions are hotly researched at universities worldwide. Linking the genetics to the higher biology has yet to be done, but there is really no reason to doubt that basic human biology does include mechanisms for both of these things. Indeed, there is this strong reason to support the hypothesis: love and humor are universal among humans.
A theory of human rights, however, is rare. There is nothing in most of the great civilizations of the world that suggests it was a driving force. Certainly the imperial Chinese, or Persians, had nothing like it. That suggests that it is not biological, but cultural -- something that arises not from nature, in other words, but from men.
Especially when we consider the particular rights we feel are important -- freedom of conscience, of speech, the right to bear arms -- we see a very specific cultural heritage. This is not something the Creator gave to all men. If the Creator had a hand in it, and I certainly do not discount the possibility, he gave it to us.
It may become universal among men, but if it does, it will be because of what we do with it. It must be taught, and made real. If it is in fact God's will that all men should know such rights, then he has given America a very special mandate indeed. Regardless, however, this concept is our own -- we are the ones who bear it to the world. We are the ones who care about it. We are the ones who must defend it.
I have enjoyed our spirited debate immensely. Like Grim, there are few things I like more.
Before we go any further with this discussion let me make it clear that what I am addressing is the origin of human rights. I am not discussing the moral responsibilities that accompany rights. That is a separate subject. Suffice it to say on that topic that I believe an individual’s rights exist aside and apart from the moral responsibilities associated with those rights. For instance, I believe that all individuals that enjoy the freedoms and rights protected by our nation have a responsibility to support and defend the nation that offers that protection. Nevertheless, I will fight to the death to protect the right of a communist, radical left college professor to exercise his right to free speech even when that speech is critical of the country and our system of government. I will do so even if the same college professor refuses to participate in, or is even critical of, the defense of the nation. I will do so because I recognize his right to freely state his opinion even if he won’t participate in the defense of that freedom himself. I may look down on him as a man or a citizen. Nevertheless, regardless of my disdain he still has the right of free speech.
The origin of our rights begins at creation. They are not granted to us by the state nor are they dependant on our utility to the state as soldiers or workers. We posses them separate and apart from any moral responsibilities that we may incur due to the protection of those rights from third parties or governments.
Furthermore, in response to a comment from a particular poster let me state that this discussion is squarely in the philosophical field of inquiry. While you will not find any element called “human rights” in the genetic make up of human beings that does not mean that human rights do not exist. You will not find elements called love or sense of humor in the genetic make up of human beings either but I think we will all agree that love and humor exist. Let’s not lose sight of the nature of this discussion.
At this point I need to correct some mistakes in Grim’s post below. Regarding ancestry Grim posted the below quote:
“More importantly, they require natural born citizenship for any candidate for the Presidency. This shows that, for the highest office in the land, they considered it important not merely that you be a citizen, but that you come from a family that had shown a generational commitment to the nation.”
That last sentence is incorrect. Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 requires only that a candidate for the Presidency be a natural born citizen. It does not require that the parents were born in this country or even that they were citizens at the time of the candidate’s birth. Since our country continues to recognize birth right citizenship it is only necessary to be born in this country to be a natural citizen. Consequently, the Founding Fathers were most certainly not introducing a concept of generational commitment to the country as a prerequisite for holding the presidency. They could have if they had wanted to but they did not. That is because they were doing everything they could to take ancestry out of the equation.
I concede that Kingship in northern barbaric societies was not inherited. Nevertheless, candidates for the position never came from the peasant class. They always came from the warrior class, that is to say the upper class. Membership in that class was hereditary.
While I recognize that Thomas Jefferson placed great significance on the contribution of the Anglo-Saxons to republican and democratic institutions among the English speaking people I am also aware that he was practically alone in this opinion. When the majority of Founding Fathers looked to antiquity for guidance concerning republican and democratic institutions it was not to Anglo-Saxon England (certainly not the Vikings) but rather Republican Rome and ancient Greece. I can remember no references to northern European barbarian tribes in the Federalist Papers. I am unaware of any Viking or Celtic pseudonyms adopted by the founders when arguing for independence or ratification of the Constitution, although Latin and Roman names were legion (pun intended). Even Samuel Adams who you quoted below thought that his generation was establishing a “Christian Sparta.”
While I recognize that the Saxons had an influence on the British Parliamentary system that ultimately came into existence at the time North America was being settled, their influence on our constitutional system is much more remote. In fact, the Saxon contribution is only significant insofar as it was one of many influences on the British system that in turn was an influence on our Constitution.
While I will concede that there may be similarities between certain concepts that ancient European Barbarian Tribes and our Founding Fathers believed in it is a different (and incorrect) thing altogether to state that the Founding Fathers were directly influenced by the practices and beliefs of those northern European Barbarians. Aside from Thomas Jefferson’s unique interest in the Saxons, there is no historical evidence that the practices and beliefs of the Saxons had any influence on the Founders. Furthermore, it bears noting that Thomas Jefferson had nothing to do with the drafting of the Constitution.
Finally, The Founding Fathers did not establish a form of government that based the origin of the rights of citizens on their utility to the state. They created a nation that recognized human rights as existing prior to the state and emanating from a higher authority.
Joel has posted a deeply thoughtful reply to the series of posts we've had recently here at Grim's Hall. Nothing delights me more than having spirited and thoughtful companions who both can and will dispute ideas with me. As the man in the Chesterton poem at the sidebar, I love no one better than the people who will fight with me.
Joel raises some excellent points, to which I will reply.
I. On the Question of Breaks with the Past
One thing Joel notes is that the Founders made several attempts to eliminate traditional ways of considering ancestry or nobility in their form of government. "While [ancestry] obviously worked for Beowulf and his contemporaries anything remotely resembling this as a basis for citizen rights was rejected by the wise men who created our republic." I believe it is the case that the Founders looked precisely to the Anglo-Saxons for their concept of rights, including the most fundamental right -- the right of revolution.
I would like first to take a moment to underline a part of the debate that has happened in the comments. AH and I were discussing the particular cultural heritage out of which the Founding grew. We agreed on this formula:
Our vision of what God ought to envision for us, if he exists, is cultural. The particular culture is more or less the Anglosphere, as you say -- it's that part of the world that was directly subject to the Greco-Roman tradition, and also the Northern Heroic tradition. This includes neither Greece nor Rome (which were never settled by Northern heroes) nor the North itself (which encountered the Greco-Roman tradition only late and from afar, rather than having Roman institutions engraved on it by Rome's legions and/or the early church).It's correct to say, as Joel does, that the Founders wanted to make a serious break with their immediate past -- the rules against nobility and titles, bills of attainder, and so forth were to correct abuses of the British system. It is also true, however, that the Founders looked greatly to the deeper past for inspiration. This is obvious in their naming of their institutions, the Senate for example; and in their letters and readings, such as Jefferson's letter on the source of rights, entitled, "Saxons, Constitutions, and a Case of Pious Fraud" and this letter on the same subject -- the importance of the Anglo Saxons to his Constitutional thinking.
It does, however, include America, which inherited its base culture from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland -- and particularly the Scottish Enlightenment, which was the important wing of the Enlightenment to the Founders. It's why we can reach back to the Icelandic sagas or the Greek epic poems with equal ease. American culture has been pretty successful, at home, in integrating others from other cultures into that basic form. That's the new thing, as of the Enlightenment -- the idea of extending the deal to anyone who would embrace it and fight for it, and therefore thinking of rights as "human" rights rather than "our" rights.
Most importantly, however, is the fundamental issue of the Revolution: the right of the People to cast down an existing king or government, and replace it with one that suited them better. This was the critical issue of the day, as it was the difference between whether the American project was fundamentally legitimate and right, or fundamentally treason.
Let us compare three sentiments.
1018: The speech of Þorgnýr the Lawspeaker:
But the king we have now got allows no man to presume to talk with him, unless it be what he desires to hear. On this alone he applies all his power, while he allows his scat-lands [territories paying protection money to the Swedes] in other countries to go from him through laziness and weakness. He wants to have the Norway kingdom laid under him, which no Swedish king before him ever desired, and therewith brings war and distress on many a man. Now it is our will, we bondes, that thou King Olaf make peace with the Norway king, Olaf the Thick, and marry thy daughter Ingegerd to him. Wilt thou, however, reconquer the kingdoms in the east countries which thy relations and forefathers had there, we will all for that purpose follow thee to the war. But if thou wilt not do as we desire, we will now attack thee, and put thee to death; for we will no longer suffer law and peace to be disturbed. So our forefathers went to work when they drowned five kings in a morass at the Mula-thing, and they were filled with the same insupportable pride thou hast shown towards us. Now tell us, in all haste, what resolution thou wilt take.1320: The Declaration of Arbroath:
[F]rom these countless evils we have been set free, by the help of Him Who though He afflicts yet heals and restores, by our most tireless Prince, King and Lord, the Lord Robert. He, that his people and his heritage might be delivered out of the hands of our enemies, met toil and fatigue, hunger and peril, like another Macabaeus or Joshua and bore them cheerfully. Him, too, divine providence, his right of succession according to or laws and customs which we shall maintain to the death, and the due consent and assent of us all have made our Prince and King. To him, as to the man by whom salvation has been wrought unto our people, we are bound both by law and by his merits that our freedom may be still maintained, and by him, come what may, we mean to stand.1776: The speech of Samuel Adams:
Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom -- for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.
From the day on which an accommodation takes place between England and America, on any other terms than as independent States, I shall date the ruin of this country. a politic minister will study to lull us into security by granting us the full extent of our petitions. The warm sunshine of influence would melt down the virtue which the violence of the storm rendered more firm and unyielding. In a state of tranquillity, wealth, and luxury, our descendants would forget the arts of war and the noble activity and zeal which made their ancestors invincible. Every art of corruption would be employed to loosen the bond of union which renders our resistance formidable. When the spirit of liberty, which now animates our hearts and gives success to our arms, is extinct, our numbers will accelerate our ruin and render us easier victims to tyranny. Ye abandoned minions of an infatuated ministry, if peradventure any should yet remain among us, remember that a Warren and Montgomery are numbered among the dead. Contemplate the mangled bodies of your countrymen, and then say, What should be the reward of such sacrifices? Bid us and our posterity bow the knee, supplicate the friendship, and plow, and sow, and reap, to glut the avarice of the men who have let loose on us the dogs of war to riot in our blood and hunt us from the face of the earth? If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude than the animating contest of freedom--go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!The first two pieces affirm the right the Founders exercised, the right of rebellion against kings. The third, actually by one of the Founders, not only affirms that right but makes the other point I wished to make about "countrymen" -- that those who would not fight for the liberty of their countrymen were, in Samuel Adams' view, not deserving of the name. It echoes what the Scots said of Robert the Bruce: that they would fight for him if he fought for them, and otherwise would drive him out.
This basic issue was well settled and cemented among the ancient Vikings; among the Scots, who had heavy cultural borrowing from the Vikings in the period from 800-1100, and echoes perfectly what the Founders had to say. Jefferson adds his own examples from the English period: the popular revolts against the Stuarts, and throughout the Normal period.
And although [the Anglo-Saxon] constitution was violated and set at naught by Norman force, yet force cannot change right. A perpetual claim was kept up by the nation, by their perpetual demand of a restoration of their Saxon laws; which shews they were never relinquished by the will of the nation. In the pullings and haulings for these antient rights, between the nation, and its kings of the races of Plantagenets, Tudors and Stuarts, there was sometimes gain, and sometimes loss, until the final re-conquest of their rights from the Stuarts.In this sense, I believe it is right to say that the Founders were very close to the ancient idea of citizenship. They also believed that countrymen must fight for each others' liberties, and that citizens had a right to wage war against governments that were oppressive of their ancient rights. Jefferson in particular was deeply interested in the Anglo-Saxon view, and as a reading of the "Pious Fraud" letter will show, considered it the real foundation of the Republic's system. "[T]he common law existed while the Anglo-Saxons were yet Pagans, at a time when they had never yet heard the name of Christ pronounced, or knew that such a character had ever existed."
So yes, the model I suggest is closely related to the Germanic warrior cultures. That is the very model that the Founders themselves preferred, and it may be that their thinking on the nature of citizenship is closer to it, and more inspired by it, than Joel has previously understood.
II. On Ancestry
Joel is right to say that the Founders had no use for nobility, and objected strongly to contemporary British practices such as bills of attainder. That does not imply that they cared nothing for the concept that society was a generational project, however. That issue, separate from the idea of nobility, is too basic a thing for them to set aside.
Nor did they. Citizenship in the United States passes to the children of citizens, with the sole exception being those children born abroad who do not bother to come and claim their citizenship before they turn 18 years of age.
More importantly, they require natural born citizenship for any candidate for the Presidency. This shows that, for the highest office in the land, they considered it important not merely that you be a citizen, but that you come from a family that had shown a generational commitment to the nation.
On the issue of citizen powers, too, the Founders explicitly considered ancestry: they restricted voting rights on the question of both sex and ancestry. They also used ancestry to opt "out" an entire group of people: slaves and their descendants.
III. The Importance of Supporting the Society
Joel also writes, "Human rights come into existence with the birth of the individual. They are not based on the worth, or potential worth, of the individual as a warrior or supporter of society."
The Founders certainly did not believe that when it came to at least some rights, such as voting rights. Property requirements were common among the early states and Federal elections. Property was thought at the time to serve as a proxy for what I am talking about here: it restricted the franchise to those who could show that they were personally responsible for some of the community's wealth and prosperity. This concept has waned in America -- and I do not mean to suggest that I believe that we should reinstitute property requirements, any more than I mean to suggest that I think we should exclude people from voting because of race. I do mean, however, to suggest that the Founders explicitly considered this issue in the case of who should be allowed to vote and participate in the government.
In addition, the role of the individual citizen as "warrior" was also explicit in the founding documents, and the private writings of the Founders. Joel is, and Grim's Hall readers are, sufficiently familiar with the early concept of a militia that it needs no rehersal here. All male citizens -- a class that includes everyone who would be allowed to vote, in other words -- were (and are) considered part of the militia, with a personal duty to fight for the defense of the society. Some states had laws regulating precisely how they were required to arm themselves, or establishing regular drills.
Militia service was more important to the Founders than is easy to understand today. The Constitution provides what was intended as a limit on the concept of a standing army, by preventing the Congress from authorizing appropriations for it more than two years at a time. The Founders believed the militia would be the primary defense of the United States -- although, as Eric Blair has pointed out, Washington himself knew early on that a professional soldier class would be necessary.
Nevertheless, again, the Founders' vision explictly assumed that you would perform these duties. In order to be a citizen entitled to participate in voting or holding office, you had to show that you supported the society's prosperity, and you had a personal duty to its defense. Both concepts are explicit in the law and the writings of the day.
IV. Leadership and Privilege
Joel is perfectly correct to write that "Because the Founders believed that sovereignty rested with the people their views on rights and government recognized the inherent worth of the individual beyond and separate from the individual’s use as a potential soldier for the state." As described above, the Founders joined the Norse and the Scots and the Anglo-Saxons in their belief that the state existed to protect the people's ancient rights, not that the people -- as in Persia -- existed to serve the state.
He misunderstands, however, both my claim about this and also the Beowulf's. He writes: "In a warrior based society ancestry is often seen as a legitimate claim to leadership and privilege within the group. While this obviously worked for Beowulf and his contemporaries..."
It is "often" the case that a warrior based society produces that form of leadership. It was not the case among the Anglo-Saxons, however. The Anglo-Saxon kings were elected by a process very similar to our Electoral College: a council of elder statesmen who chose the king from among several candidates. These candidates included the sons of the current king, if he had any, but were not limited to them. In cases where there was no son, the candidates were all chosen from those who were currently great men.
This was the occasion for the Norman invasion, in fact: the Anglo-Saxon council elected Harold Godwinson, a member of a prominent house who had supported the previous king, Edward Confessor. Though Edward had no sons, he named a preferred choice, a young kinsman of his. The elders passed him over in favor of Harold, who had shown the capacity to organize the nation's affairs and defense. He did so successfully shortly thereafter in a battle with the greatest Viking of his day, Harald Hardrada, "The Thunderbolt of the North"; only days after that, the Normans' suprise invasion forced a weary army into a second battle near Hastings.
As for the Beowulf, it is noteworthy that Beowulf himself is not of a kingly line. He assumes the kingship of the Geats on the strength of his deeds, not his ancestry. His ancestry does entitle him to be considered, but only in the narrow sense that it identifies him as a member of the society established by the Geats -- it's not likely that they would have considered a Swede for the job. It is his deeds that cause the Geats to choose him.
John Grisby has written (in Beowulf & Grendel) that kingship passing along family lines was an innovation among the peoples of northern Europe at that time; he sees the backstory of the Beowulf as a tale about the hardships among the Danes arising from Hrothgar's breaking the ancient, sacral kingship and supplanting it with a hereditary form.
In any event, the Founders' ideas about ancestry and service are very similar to these ideas of the Anglo-Saxons. They also believed a President (whom some of them even had wanted to call a King) should be someone of generational commitment to the project, a son of a citizen as well as a citizen; and they believed all citizens had an explicit duty to the defense of the state. They also, however, believed in an Electoral College.
I think this rebuttal is already long enough that I should give Joel a chance to respond at leisure here; if I go much further, he won't have enough leisure to get to it. :) Let us pause, then, and see what he has to say. I thank him again for the opportunity to debate and examine our magnificient heritage, which he and I both admire to the greatest degree.
I just returned from a week long vacation with the family camping at Big Bear Lake. Consequently, I was unable to read Grim’s post about animal rights and his subsequent posts until a day ago. What struck me most about the original post on animal rights was not so much the discussion of animal rights but rather Grim’s statements concerning the origins of individual rights. Since I have great respect for Grim’s opinions I am compelled to address an opinion of his with which I take issue.
Grim’s position on the origin of rights is summed up by the following quotes:
“I argue that "rights" arise from that precise contract, and all rights stand on it. In the state of nature, you have no rights in any practical sense -- whatever inalienable rights you may hold from the Creator, they have no force on what happens to you in the world. In order to make a space in which those rights can exist practically, we must make the space and defend it. Society owes nothing to anyone except to those who are engaged in making that space, defending it once it is made, and keeping it clear internally. They are the ones to whom society belongs.”
Grim goes on to clarify his position on duties that entitle a citizen to rights by stating that, “a person who gets a job and works at it steadily is doing enough, even if they don't deserve the special praise due to soldiers.”
In addressing the issue of how the infirm, injured, or children fit into this scheme Grim places significant weight on ancestry. He states that, “ancestry is important in a narrow sense -- because a society is a project across generations, we have to extend loyalty to those who went before, and those who will come after. He goes on to say that these groups fit in “because they are wrapped into these family webs, they belong anyway. We take care of them out of respect for what their fathers did for all of us, or their mothers; and what their children may do, if they have children.”
What emerges from Grim’s concept of rights and the citizen is a utilitarian societal model that has more in common with European fascism, and even the Germanic warrior tribes of the Dark Ages, than it does with ideas of the American founding. Grim’s understanding of rights appears to be based on the utility of the individual as a defender or supporter of the state (society) or, at a minimum, his or her relationship to those who have or are providing such service. One has no rights other than what he or his family could carve out in the state of nature. Seamus Heany provides a similar description of the Germanic warrior society in the introduction to his new verse translation of Beowulf. In that introduction he describes a society founded on blood and honor with the warrior chief as the central foundational member and the tribe’s warriors as the primary support structure. A man’s worth and reputation within the society were directly proportional to his contribution to the defense of the tribe.
Regardless of how appealing such a romantic pagan concept of human rights might appear, I stand with the Founding Fathers in passionate opposition to such a retreat from the advancements of Western Civilization.
Let me be very clear. I am not accusing Grim of being a fascist or even ascribing to him less than honorable intentions. I believe him to be a patriot of the highest order. I simply do not believe he completely understands the ramifications of the position he has stated as I understand it.
In explaining my understanding of the origin of human rights I will dispense with the silly and pernicious concept of “The State of Nature.” This mythological idea of our ancestors moving about as autonomous noble savages in some pristine precursor to the formation of society has never existed. Man is by nature, and always has been, a social creature. Man has always lived in groups, from the hunter-gatherer societies to the modern nation state. Consequently, using “the state of nature” as a base line for discussing rights is misleading at best.
Human rights come into existence with the birth of the individual. They are not based on the worth, or potential worth, of the individual as a warrior or supporter of society. Consequently, I think our Founding Fathers were right when they said “that all men are CREATED equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” While I believe that these rights exist at birth I also believe that they mature with the individual as he or she matures. A child’s right to pursue happiness is not as extensive as an adult.
The Founder’s correct identification of human rights existing at creation invariably leads to their concept of government, which is that it exists to secure these rights for the individual. Because the Founders believed that sovereignty rested with the people their views on rights and government recognized the inherent worth of the individual beyond and separate from the individual’s use as a potential soldier for the state.
Furthermore, contrary to Grim’s position, ancestry has nothing to do with an individual’s rights or standing within our republic. In fact, it was so important to the Founders to take ancestry out of the equation that they specifically forbade both the government from using ancestry for purposes of punishment or privilege in the Constitution. For instance, Art 1, Sect 9, Clause 3 forbids the passing of bills of attainder, legislative acts that condemned specific people or groups of people to death and denied to their heirs the right to inherit their property. Clause 9 under that same Article and Section prohibits the granting of titles of nobility. Article 3, Sect 3, Clause 2 prohibits the punishment for treason to include “corruption of blood.” In short, the Founders made sure that no one would be punished or entitled to privilege based on what their father did.
In a warrior based society ancestry is often seen as a legitimate claim to leadership and privilege within the group. While this obviously worked for Beowulf and his contemporaries anything remotely resembling this as a basis for citizen rights was rejected by the wise men who created our republic.
Whatever romantic appeal such outdated pagan ideas posses I would urge my fellow countrymen and women to reject them and renew their dedication to the ideas and principles upon which our republic was founded. There is no need to create a new society or frith. We already have one and I think it was founded on sound ideas. Let us work to strengthen what we have been given by the Founding Fathers.
Is there an important distinction between "endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights" and "rights only arise within a space defended by men"? I've been wondering how similar the proposition asserted here is to the one offered by the Founders. For ease of reference:
Somewhat like Hobbes, I'm arguing from the nature of the world -- that it is a fearsome and destructive place -- and the necessity of building a society and a frith that can withstand those natural forces, including other men, well enough to make a space in which freedom and peace can exist.The Declaration of Independence phrased its version of the origin of rights in this way:
I argue that "rights" arise from that precise contract, and all rights stand on it. In the state of nature, you have no rights in any practical sense -- whatever inalienable rights you may hold from the Creator, they have no force on what happens to you in the world. In order to make a space in which those rights can exist practically, we must make the space and defend it.
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 to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.There is this critical difference: the statement that the Creator endows you with rights means that a government that does not defend those rights is not merely tyrannical, but unholy. If there is a Creator, and if he endows men with rights, then the defense of those rights -- and the nation and system that upholds them -- is not merely a citizen's duty but Making Real God's Will.
Neither I nor the Founders believe that the "inalienable" rights are in fact incapable of being taken away -- they point explicitly to a thing which can take them away, namely, tyrannical government. I point to another, namely, the state of the world. Both of these are critical dangers, two points at which the space for human liberty collapses.
I assume most critics of the government to be patriots rather than antipatriots; my condemnation is reserved for those who really despise the American project, having benefited from it through their lives. Yet there is one case, tyranny, in which a genuine attempt not merely to reform but to destroy the government is justified according to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. I agree with that idea: the point of the enterprise is to create a space for liberty to exist. When the government instead collapses that space, it must be destroyed.
Not, though, destroyed for all time. Destroyed to make way for another attempt to build a space for liberty. Ultimately even this is only a license to reform: to raze everything but the foundation of liberty. Even at that last moment, when the citizen turns his sword against the now-tyrant state, the citizen's heart remains devoted to the original project. That is patriotism; that is loyalty.
It may also be religious, if the Founders' formula is right. A man might ask why, if God loved human liberty, he made a world in which it was not guaranteed. Benjamin Franklin is said to have written that "Wine is sure proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy" -- but where in nature do you find wine? Nowhere; but you find grapes that can be made to produce it. If we are fulfilling God's will by having wine to drink, we do so only by constant effort in every generation.
Whether or not you believe in a Creator, that is the nature of Creation. Nowhere in nature do you find liberty in natural flourish. The rights of men must be made new, always, like the wine.