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Oct 29, 2014
The Requirement of Law as an Enabler of Liberty
Offered by David Apollo

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ConserveLiberty's mission with this resource is to trace the REQUIREMENT for Liberty throughout all aspects of The Universe. From
  • The Beginning, to
  • the genesis of the root "subatomic particles" and forces, and energies, to
  • the genesis of the basic matter that we all can observe, to
  • the forces and chemistries that matter organizes and reorganizes itself with, to
  • the emergence and evolution of life, and to
  • the higher level social and economic organization that humans and other animals engage in ...
the requirement for the Liberty to be What We Are and to do what we are naturally compelled to do ... has been why All That Is has become what it is today.

And yet, clearly, the liberty to do "whatever we want," in any way we want, to whoever or whatever or whenever we want ... is not optimal. Such an anarchy, or potential anarchy, can eventually become debilitating or lethal to a human society, and/or the environment it lives in.

Generally, Nature selects for physical and behavioral traits that are positively adaptive. And Nature selects against physical and behavioral traits that are maladaptive. Importantly, Nature does not choose. It selects. It's an arrangement that has worked very well for the sustainance of a living phenomenon on this planet, though it may not work out so well for the individuals, lineages, and species being selected against.

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The Homo sapiens species is an interesting example of a species which has become extraordinarily intellectually gifted relative to most of the other species which also thrive quite well on our planet. A suggestion for how and why this may have happened will be offered elsewhere in this resource in another post. [Related to the higher level of our instinct for "within species aggression."] But a fortunate byproduct of this giftedness is that our species has been able to stay (or influence) the hand of natural selection as it pertains to Nature's ordinary tendency to eliminate maladaptive physical and behavioral traits.

We, though of Nature, have been outsmarting Nature relative to what would have been expected as outcomes 20 years ago. 100 years ago. 1,000 years ago. 100,000 years ago.

Since we are able now to survive maladaptive behaviors as well as maladaptive physical traits, the end result has been a need for agreed upon rules of cooperation. The notion of "government" has derived from the evolved emergence of our intellectual gifts. The irony of "no good deed goes unpunished" does not escape the contemplative in this instance.

So, under what conditions do we conserve, and enhance our liberties under the ironic condition that rules of behavior are needed?

Ah, the conundrum!!!

Unfortunately, governments become corrupted. They may be required to help organize us, and to inspire us, and to help us thrive to a much greater degree than we ever could on our own. However, they are managed and run by People. And, most of the People engaging the the act of governance come with their own collection of maladaptive behavioral traits. There are no governing arrangements that have resisted this, at least so far as recorded history has provided evidence for. Either none can exist, or, if they have, they have been eliminated for reasons unknown to us.

At the time of this writing (October 2014) our own current government is going through a particularly aweful period of ineffectiveness, corruption, sloth, and unsustainable resource consumption. In the context of this, a particularly articulate politician wrote the essay below.

With the above as an introduction of sorts, ConserveLiberty reproduces an excerpted version Tom McClintock's Blog, written 05 October 2012. The original version can be found here.

Consider thoughtfully:

A Tom McClintock pic
Lincoln's Legacy and our Enduring Constitution
By Tom McClintock
October 05, 2012

Thank you for the opportunity to visit with you and share some thoughts on Lincoln's contribution to our enduring Constitution on this Constitution Day.

It seems that in the last few years, America's thoughts are returning to that remarkable man and searching him for answers to the questions that now perplex us in our own times. People are beginning to sense that perhaps we have more in common with his generation than might be apparent (and so we have), making his words and wisdom as valuable today as they were more than a century and a half ago.

One of the most common questions I'm asked as a member of Congress is, "Why must things be so partisan in Washington? Why can't you guys just compromise, be reasonable and behave like grown-ups?"

If you think things are partisan today, one day in 1856, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina walked across the Capitol into the Senate Chamber, approached Senator Charles Sumner of Maine, raised his walking stick and smashed it over Sumner's head, almost killing Sumner and shattering the walking stick to pieces. Brooks' constituents responded to this act of barbarity by sending him more walking sticks!

An Abe Lincoln pic
Two years later, Abraham Lincoln referenced the agitation of the times and warned the nation that it "will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other."

Lincoln recognized that there are times when two antithetical and irreconcilable principles compete for the future of the nation. He recognized that freedom and slavery were two such principles. They could not coexist, and ultimately a choice had to be made.

Lincoln viewed the conflict between freedom and slavery in a much broader context that he described as an eternal battle between the common right of humanity and the divine right of kings. A few months later, at Alton, he made reference to the larger question when he said:

"That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles – right and wrong – throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other is the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, 'You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it.' No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle."

That passage perfectly sums up the nature of human political conflict. In every society, in every country, in every time, there is always a large group of people who wish to be left alone to lead their own lives according to their own best judgment – "the common right of humanity." Yet there is also always a smaller but more domineering group that think they’re so good at running their own lives that they are also entitled to run everybody else's – "the divine right of kings."

Lincoln clearly recognized that the conflict over slavery was simply a manifestation of that larger and eternal struggle. We could become one thing or the other – but not both.

A Declatation of Independence pic
In his day, the nation was drifting far from the principles of the American founding – and it is those principles precisely that defined everything that motivated, inspired and guided Abraham Lincoln. There’s no mystery to Lincoln’s beliefs – he spelled them out with crystal clarity when the inaugural train stopped at Philadelphia and he spoke briefly at Independence Hall. He said,

"I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here, in this place, where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live. You have kindly suggested to me that in my hands is the task of restoring peace to the present distracted condition of the country. I can say in return, Sir, all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated and were given to the world from this hall. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence."

The central theme of the Declaration is the existence of a certain class of rights that individuals hold in the natural order of things. This includes the right to the fruit of our own labor; the right to enter into voluntary agreements for the free exchange of our labor; the right to form our own opinions and to express those opinions freely; the right to raise our children according to our own values. These rights come from the laws of nature and nature's God – our Creator. They predate the establishment of governments so they cannot come from governments. Rather, we create governments to protect these individual rights.

Lincoln recognized that America had to choose. It could be a voluntary society where individuals were free to take their own course through life, to make their own decisions and as Jefferson put it, "to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement."

Or, it could become a compulsory society based not on the wishes and rights of the individual, but rather upon the coercive power of government to order society in a manner pleasing to those in power.

The wishes of the individual, the God-given rights of the individual, so clearly set forth in the Declaration are not only meaningless in this latter vision of government, but are active impediments to it. So they must be discredited.

And that is what Lincoln’s adversaries attempted to do. In order to sustain their view, they had to neutralize the power of the Declaration.

In a famous letter to Henry Pierce of Springfield in 1859, Lincoln summarized it nicely. He said, "it is now no child's play to save the principles of Jefferson from total overthrow in this nation... The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society. And yet they are denied, and evaded, with no small show of success. One dashingly calls them 'glittering generalities'; another bluntly calls them 'self evident lies'; and still others insidiously argue that they apply only to 'superior races.'"

We hear that very same song today. A few years ago, a California politician made this remarkable statement:

"A handful of men got together in Philadelphia and wrote our Declaration of Independence. It declared that all white men who owned property were created equal and had unalienable rights to life, liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Women were servants and men of color, slaves."

I remember debating a prominent member of the California State Senate years ago. When the subject of the Constitution arose, her response was, "Oh, the Constitution! That's an antiquated document made for an agrarian society dominated by white males."

Lincoln addressed that destructive sentiment at Alton when he said:

"I assert that Judge Douglas and all his friends may search the whole records of the country, and it will be a matter of great astonishment to me if they shall be able to find that one human being three years ago had ever uttered the astounding sentiment that the term 'all men' in the Declaration did not include the negro... I believe the first man who ever said it was Chief Justice Taney in the Dred Scott case, and the next to him was our friend, Stephen A. Douglas. And now it has become the catchword of the entire party…And when this new principle – this new proposition that no human being ever thought of three years ago – is brought forward, I combat it as having an evil tendency, if not an evil design."

Lincoln went on to utterly and completely demolish the argument in his famous Cooper Union Speech of 1860 in which he painstakingly traced the strong anti-slavery intentions of the Constitution’s framers. Later that year in Chicago, Lincoln noted that the Founders were born into a time when slavery existed and that they deliberately framed the Constitution to place it “upon the course of ultimate extinction.”

By winning this argument, Lincoln restored the full moral force of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that set it in motion. Lincoln often spoke of the Declaration as the "golden apple," and of the Union and the Constitution as the "silver frame." The Union and the Constitution were there to frame, to enshrine, to animate, to protect and to preserve for all time, the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

That’s why the Union had to be preserved, not for its own sake, but because it was the vessel that carried and protected mankind’s greatest hope.

And so it does today. I believe that is why we are seeing a revival of interest in Lincoln and his times, because we see in him answers to the same overarching questions that we confront today. Shall we continue the uniquely American principles of individual liberty, personal responsibility and constitutionally limited government that produced the most successful, happy, prosperous, productive and powerful Republic in the history of mankind? Or will we renounce and abandon those principles in favor of a system in which the rights of the individual are once again subordinated to the will of those in power?

Lincoln was right, that is the real question that continues long after the tongues of his day fell silent – and will continue long after ours fall silent too. It is the eternal struggle between two irreconcilable principles that will always be with us because they are deeply rooted in our own nature.

Flash back to a cold winter’s night in Springfield when 29-year old Abraham Lincoln rose to address the Young Men’s Lyceum. He chose for his subject, "The Perpetuation of our Political Institutions."

In that speech, Lincoln warned of the effect on the country of disrespect for the principles of the Declaration and the supremacy of the laws and the Constitution. In the days of the Revolution, these principles were vivid because they were lived and felt every day. But nearly a full human lifespan had since passed and few could personally recall those heady days. The passions of the Revolution were passing with that generation, he said. "They were the pillars of the temple of liberty; and now, that they have crumbled away, that temple must fall, unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason."

That quarry could be found in the principles of the American Declaration of Independence and would be safe as long as the Constitution and the laws were venerated, cherished and respected.

But Lincoln also posed this haunting question, which I leave with you on this Constitution Day:

"Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step over the ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! -- All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years. At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."
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