Alexis De Tocqueville, in his great work, Democracy in America, was perhaps the first to speak of America as a great experiment.
In that land the great experiment was to be made, by civilized man, of the attempt to construct society upon a new basis; and it was there, for the first time, that theories hitherto unknown, or deemed impracticable, were to exhibit a spectacle for which the world had not been prepared by the history of the past. (from here)
What is the great American experiment? It is the answer to this question: can men govern themselves? Even after over two hundred years, we are still learning whether we can govern ourselves. We have no real alternative. As Thomas Jefferson observed in his First Inaugural Address:
Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he then be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels, in the form of kings, to govern him? Let history answer this question.
Therefore, Jefferson chose to lead our nation into history, and he began his adminstration by explaining the essential principles by which he would govern. Why were these principles important?
These principles form the bright constellation, which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages, and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment:—they should be the creed of our political faith; the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps, and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety.
When we choose to stand on principle, we base our success upon — seek the support of — something apart from ourselves. Then our success depends upon something more substantial than our own weak nature. Then our success depends upon these three things:
- The principles upon which we choose to stand.
- Our strict observance of those principles.
- The providence of God.
What then are the principles upon which we have chosen to stand? Here, from his First Inaugural Address, is Jefferson’s compressed list.
- Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political.
- Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.
- The support of the state governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns, and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies.
- The preservation of the General government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home, and safety abroad.
- A jealous care of the right of election by the people, a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution where peaceable remedies are unprovided.
- Absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of the despotism.
- Well disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace, and for the first moments of war, till regulars may relieve them.
- The supremacy of the civil over the military authority.
- Economy in the public expense, that labor may be lightly burthened.
- The honest payment of our debts and sacred preservation of the public faith.
- Encouragement of agriculture, and of commerce as its handmaid.
- The diffusion of information, and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public reason.
- Freedom of religion; freedom of the press; and freedom of person, under the protection of the Habeas Corpus.
- Trial by juries impartially selected.
Our Adherence To Those Principles
Do we today still stand upon the principles Jefferson listed? Would anyone be taken seriously if he said yes? Now that so many have departed from those principles, how do they choose to behave? Let’s consider several examples ranging from obstinate foolishness to possible homicide.
A couple of days ago, , that is, joesix, commented on The Grey-Haired Brigade. Out of the blue, he observed the following:
Dismantling the Department of Education is pretty extreme.
Since the Department of Education was not the subject of the post, I supposed inferred that I would be happy to see the Department of Education abolished, but his use of the word extreme is absurd. In fact, uses facts selectively, ignores the plain wording of the Constitution, and exhibits a remarkable indifference to logic. For example, when he complained that we spend more on defense than education, I pointed him to http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/. ‘s reply ignored state and local spending. apparently considers only spending by the Federal Government relevant to education.
doubled down with this statement.
You seem a bit ignorant to the fact that the US is ranked far lower than other countries that invest far more in education than we do. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/10/education/10educ.html
reference does not say what he thinks it says. As the references below indicate, the United States spends plenty of money on education.
claims he is a teacher. Is he? I suppose he could be.
How common ‘s political myopia? Read Voter Fraud Or Voter Suppression? by (Cry and Howl), and consider the current administration’s attitude to voter fraud.
Think long and hard about the blatant dishonesty. We have elected officials breaking the bank by spending trillions of dollars, and still they have the gall to equate any serious effort to ensure a fair election (which might throw them out on their collective ears) with voter suppression.
The Drone Assassin President
In Obama’s Personal Hit List. Is Murder with Drones Constitutional?, (Freedom, by the way) asks us to consider the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s ongoing program to kill alleged terrorists using drones. When you read ‘s post, note that Obama is using these drones against the wishes of nations with whom we are not at war.
Is killing alleged terrorists in foreign lands with drones constitutional? That is something we all need to think about, but what it comes down to is this question: does Obama have Congressional authorization or is Congress looking the other way? Since the issue is rather complicated, I have not decided yet. I just have an observation. Considering that Democrats made a big stink when President George W. Bush decided to imprison terrorists captured on the battlefield, it is odd that the same people have remained almost silent when Obama uses drones to kill people.
Killing Them Softly at the American Spectator and Drone wars and state secrecy – how Barack Obama became a hardliner at the Guardian provide more background.
The Providence Of God
Why have we departed from the founding principles of this nation? Consider this excerpt from Democracy in America by Alexis De Tocqueville.
In the United States the influence of religion is not confined to the manners, but it extends to the intelligence of the people. Amongst the Anglo-Americans, there are some who profess the doctrines of Christianity from a sincere belief in them, and others who do the same because they are afraid to be suspected of unbelief. Christianity, therefore, reigns without any obstacle, by universal consent; the consequence is, as I have before observed, that every principle of the moral world is fixed and determinate, although the political world is abandoned to the debates and the experiments of men. Thus the human mind is never left to wander across a boundless field; and, whatever may be its pretensions, it is checked from time to time by barriers which it cannot surmount. Before it can perpetrate innovation, certain primal and immutable principles are laid down, and the boldest conceptions of human device are subjected to certain forms which retard and stop their completion. (from here)
What we believe affects how we behave. There was a time when most Americans at least attempted to follow the principles that Christ taught. That included adhering to a strict code of honesty. So there was more reluctance than there is today to say the Constitution says something it clearly does not say. Now, because we have chosen so many unprincipled leaders, we have a “living constitution,” and lying about what the Constitution says has become virtuous.
Matthew 23:13 Amplified Bible (AMP)
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, pretenders (hypocrites)! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces; for you neither enter yourselves, nor do you allow those who are about to go in to do so.
In times not so long ago, and in places today not so far away, so-called noblemen live and play at the expense of their neighbors. Yet when we choose to prey upon our neighbors, choosing to rob and enslave them, we do nothing noble. At best we are predators. We immediately murder and devour our victims. At worse we are parasites. We degrade the life and character of our society, particularly the people on whom we have seized. In either case we are destructive. We blacken our own souls, and we do our best to render those upon whom we feed ignorant — even ignorant of what is good and what is evil.