As anyone who has read my other articles knows, I revere the United States Constitution and the Declaration Of Independence. While neither is perfect (as is true of any artifact), they still are the best framework for human liberty and prosperity that I know of.
Yet, I have always had this shadow of a thought in the back of my mind that there was some error in judgment in those documents and I think I finally found what it is. Please allow me to explain.
The Founders proposed to create “a government of laws, not of men”. I have no doubt that what they meant was a governing structure that would protect the common citizen from arbitrary harm from either a monarch/dictator or an irrational majority of fellow citizens. This is obviously a very noble and desirable thing. The problem – and the Founders possible error in judgment – is that such a thing simply cannot be. The reason it can never be is that all of the laws we humans agree to live under are established, interpreted and enforced by men (as in mankind, not males). Therefore, all governments are governments of men, whether we like it or not (be calm, believers, I will get to you presently).
You may well be thinking, “So what? Everything you have said is obvious.” And it is (at least to me). So, what is my point? Simply this…
As a people we, and our so-called education systems, have tended to treat our founding documents as if they were a sort of talisman possessing some mystical ability to protect us from our own folly. The more rational among us know that no such thing exists. Our founding documents are nothing more or less than a framework – an outline of a functional republican form of government.
Throughout known history, men have come together to establish rules intended to enhance human coexistence. Perhaps the best known in the Western world are the so-called “Ten Commandments” from the Judeo-Christian tradition. True believers in that tradition take these to be the infallible utterances of a god. However, if you omit the few “commandments” that address that god’s egomania problems, what are left are some common sense guidelines for civilized behavior, guidelines that are common to diverse people around the world.
In like manner, our Founding documents are common sense guidelines for self governance. (Before you protest the use of the term “common sense”, please remember that there is nothing “common” about such sense. Instead, it is a rare commodity.) In both cases, the rules are no better than each society’s insistence that they be followed.
So, yet again, I seem to have made a great circle of thought that has brought me back to where it always does. Our Founding documents did not fail us, we failed them. We took them for granted rather than accepting the responsibility that always comes with liberty – the responsibility to guard and protect it as if our very lives depended on it.
And, no, our Founders did not founder. One might say that they simply put more faith in us than we deserve but even that is not the case. In fact, several of them tried to tell us how and why it would eventually end, and, so far, we seem to be following the script pretty much as they envisioned.
It is not yet too late to accept our responsibility if we but would. We can accept that we will always be subject to governments of men, and that the onus is on us to choose the right men to govern. In a word, we can accept the challenge to become informed, rational, critical thinkers and to let that guide our choices. Or, we can continue to take it all for granted knowing there is always some manner of “shepherd” willing to herd us to wherever he/she wants us to go.
Far too many of us do not like making choices. Yet, isn’t that all life really is… and endless series of choices? And, doesn’t the way we choose determine the way we live?
That is certainly true for me. Each of you must choose your own truth – then live with it. I hope you choose wisely.
Troy L Robinson