Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Where the People Rule

September 17 is designated as national Constitution Day, when citizens old and young are encouraged to study our nation’s founding charter. Most know the famous preamble:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

What a wonderful opening phrase, “We the People.” Conventional wisdom in that day held that government was established from the top down. Some men were born to rule, others to obey. That was known as the divine right of kings. But in the newly established United States, government was not mandated by heaven. Legitimacy flowed from the bottom up, from the consent of the governed.

That’s why the Constitution doesn’t mention a deity anywhere in the text. The framers in Philadelphia weren’t clergymen but lawyers by and large. Thirty-four of the fifty-five present were either attorneys or judges. They were more comfortable with the language of contracts than with theological discussion. And government, they believed, was based on a social contract–a voluntary association of individuals joining together by mutual consent. Legislation didn’t spring from a holy book, therefore, but from the People instituting their own laws. So John Adams asserted that the framers “never had interviews with the gods or were in any degree under the inspiration of heaven,” calling ours instead “the first example of government erected on the simple principles of nature.”

The Constitution they drafted was criticized at state ratifying conventions for leaving out the Almighty. The only place where faith is mentioned, in fact, is in Article Six, where it is specified there should be no religious tests for public office. Some tried to modify this language–to insert a provision that only candidates sufficiently orthodox could stand for election. That was the practice still in effect in Britain, for example, where only Anglicans were entitled to the full privileges of voting, serving in Parliament, or attending state universities at Cambridge and Oxford. The King was head of the Church, as well as head of State. But America took another path.

So on Constitution Day, those of all faiths—Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and atheists–can celebrate the genius of our founding document, where all are equal citizens, regardless of their personal beliefs, and where “We the People” rule.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

"We the People" is based on natural right, and our civil liberites are justified by that natural right. So, we are Americans, first and foremost, as we believe in freedom of religion.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Of course, Britain had already killed off the Divine Right of Kings in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which invested sovereignty in parliament, not the crown.

Not to mention chopping Charles I's actual head off in 1649.

But nice post otherwise, Mr. Kowalski.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Whenever 'God" is used to implement "disciplinary" measures onto other free moral agents, we not only do injustice to civil liberties, but we become unjust and immoral ourselves, as we discriminate based upon a "source" that is beyond reason. And reason is the only basis of the social contract.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Sort of.

But the Founding era largely believed in a "moral sense:"

“The moral sense is precisely the same thing with what, in scripture
and common language, we call conscience. It is the law which our Maker has written upon
our hearts, and [so] both intimates and enforces duty, previous to all reasoning.”
---John Witherspoon

"Moral sense" is not exactly "reason," as you use it here in the 21st century context, which rejects any notion of innate "conscience."

In this modern era, reality and truth are no more or less than what "reason" says they are. [Which is why I bring up Peter Singer so often. He is a very reasonable man.]

More here on Witherspoon and "Scottish Common Sense Realism," esp Page 31 onward:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You speak in religious terms. Scientific explainations are what drives society today and this is of concern to the morally "scrupulous", because they want to protect "life", without defining what "life" is. The religious in our nation, for the most part identify with Christianity. And most of these believe in a young earth, personal Savior sort of "God", These are exclusivistic in their understanding and limit others in their liberty of conscience, which undermines a free society.

On what basis is another judged, if it is by one's conscience? I'm sure the "morally scrupulous" want to "train" others into their type of 'spiritual formation" piestic and duty bound ethic. I find that this is morally repugnant, because it treats adults as children. And it limits education to indoctrination. This is the "world' of fundamentalists.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Although science is how man understands his 'life', science cannot evaluate life except in pragmatic terms. This is the danger of universalizing healthcare.

Even though there are pragmatice or profit margins that insurance companies must meet, there is also the freedom of the market to keep the prices down so that insurance companies can stay in business and individual can choose the best company for their own health needs or their families needs.

Besides the physical reality of life, is there any other value to life. This is the discussion in regards to science and religion's interface with public policy issues. And these are what make society what it is in respect to freedom, as well as justice.

Those that err on religion's side, err on justice as fairness, whereas, those that err on scientific understandings err on the side of liberty without accountability....power without balance.