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Foundations of a Free Society


Every year, I renew my subscription to American History and every year they send me a small, softbound book with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with Amendments in it. This year, I decided to read it, starting with the introduction and commentary. It explains some of the thinking the Founders had, some of their motivations.

From the book:

Thus, the cardinal moral truths are these:

... that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by the 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.

We are all created equal, as defined by our natural rights; thus, no one has rights superior to those of anyone else. Moreover, we are born with those rights, we do not get them from government -- indeed, whatever rights or powers government has come from us, from "the Consent of the Governed." And our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness imply the right to live our lives as we wish -- to pursue happiness as we think best, by our own lights -- provided only that we respect the equal rights of others to do the same. Drawing by implication upon common law tradition of liberty, property, and contract -- its principles rooted in "right reason" -- the Founders thus outlined the moral foundations of a free society.

Here's the kicker in these moral truths:

... provided only that we respect the equal rights of others to do the same.

This is where we, as a people, fall short. And it's hard. Individuals believe they are better than others, and they absolutely are for specific skills, but not under the law. No one is better or more deserving or less deserving. Except our biases all say otherwise.

The Founders has the gist of it right, though. If all laws followed those at fundamental moral truths, we'd be in a better place right now.

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