God Talk and Americans’ Belief in Inalienable Rights

Inscription in the Jefferson Memorial of the Declaration of Independence

Inscription in the Jefferson Memorial of the Declaration of Independence

I posted earlier this week regarding whether Americans still believe the Declaration of Independence’s affirmation that they “consent” to laws and taxes through their legislative representatives. There may be good reasons Americans no longer believe they really consent to the laws their representatives enact, but it is a striking change from the beliefs articulated during the founding era.

In considering whether Americans still believe the Declaration of Independence, we next consider the most-well known section in the Declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their 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.”

There are, of course, entire books devoted to these few lines. A few observations, however. First, what is the link between there being a creator and persons being endowed with “unalienable” (or inalienable) rights?

Americans typically read the commitment to inalienable rights to mean that these are rights no government can take away. They’re right in that the government cannot take away these rights, but “inalienability” is irrelevant. After all, the government cannot just take way alienable rights either.

“Alienate” is a term from property law. It means to transfer something. We alienate rights over property all the time by selling or given the property away. For example, the rights I have over the sofa I just bought are “alienable” rights. If I sell the sofa to someone else, then I have alienated my right to use and to dispose of that sofa; I have transferred those rights to the purchaser. But if someone breaks into my house and steals my sofa (it is a sweet sofa), the fact that my rights over the sofa are alienable does not in any way lessen the fact that the person who stole my sofa committed an injustice.

So, too, with government action. Alienable rights cannot any more be taken away by someone than inalienable rights can be. Where the bite with a right being “inalienable” comes in is that inalienable rights cannot be given away. Inalienable rights constrain the holder of those rights in a way that alienable rights do not. Inalienable rights are rights that cannot be given away.

Inalienable rights are, for example, the dramatic backdrop in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. In both books the family’s property is entailed along the male line, meaning that the heir who receives the property in one generation only has the right to use the land during his lifetime. That heir cannot sell or otherwise transfer the land permanently (say, by giving it to his wife or daughters). Ownership is inalienable in the stories.

The Declaration’s affirmation that the rights mentioned are inalienable is in fact a restriction on what individuals can do with those rights. They cannot transfer them to anyone else.

Rousseau discusses the notion’s significance in explaining a passage from Grotius:

If a private citizen, says Grotius, can alienate his liberty and make himself another man’s slave, why should not a whole people do the same, and subject themselves to the will of a King? The argument contains a number of ambiguous words which stand in need of explanation. But let us confine our attention to alienate. To alienate means to give or to sell.

This then begs answer to the question, why would anyone in his or her right mind give away the right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness?

Of course, today, the discussion over assisted suicide and the right to die is precisely a discussion over whether life is an inalienable or an alienable right. John Locke, for example, comments that suicide is impermissible because life is an inalienable right.

As for alienating liberty, it’s easy to imagine in the past a community willingly ceding their liberty to strongmen in what is effectively a protection racket. Aristocrats initially were the warrior class. A community might give away a lot in terms of rights to be protected by a class of warriors from the depredations of roving bandits. Or even in the Bible, because of the pressure of famine, the Egyptians effectively sold their liberty to Pharaoh. They alienated their liberty to preserve their lives.

The practicality of affirming that rights are inalienable is when one observes despotism one does not need to inquiry into the history of consent and agreement to know that the despotism is wrong. If rights are in fact alienable, then it’s entirely possible that through a long trail of problems and pressures, a community was consensually reduced to the status of effective slavery. One would need to go, as it were, through all the past paperwork to know whether the despotic power was in fact just or unjust, consensual or not. But when rights are inalienable, it does not matter what the paper trail says, whether people purported to transfer their rights to the despot in the past. The despotism is perforce wrong because the people never had the ability to transfer the rights in the first place. They were inalienable rights.

To return to the original question, then, what is the relationship between a Creator and inalienable rights? Moderns often take the god-talk in the Declaration as little more than a nod to the superstitions of the time. Jettisoning the god-talk, however, jettisons the possibility of rights being inalienable.

In Locke, for example, the reason that life is inalienable is because humans don’t own themselves, God does. No one can dispose of the life of another person because doing so trenches on God’s rights. This includes the human himself or herself: We cannot commit suicide because God owns our lives, not we ourselves. So, too, we cannot become slaves to another because we are already, as it were, God’s slaves. The irony is that the more abased humanity is before God the greater the dignity humans must accord to each other; liberty, as well as life and the pursuit of happiness, are all the more protected because of rights humans don’t and can’t have over themselves. They are “unalienable.”

I realize that I haven’t discussed what it means for the right to pursue happiness to be inalienable. The phrase “pursuit of happiness” is read so differently today than when it was written that it needs its own column to discuss. (Here’s a hint, although a likely unhelpful one: The King James Bible, the one used predominately in the era, renders, for example, Proverbs 3 as “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom.”)

The bigger point is that the increasing skepticism of our age undermines the prerequisite for affirming the Declaration’s assertion that certain rights are inalienable. Don’t get my argument wrong. This is not an argument for religious belief: I think that promoting religious belief in order to make sense of the Declaration of Independence is a silly, even frightening, notion. Nonetheless, if indeed the argument of the Declaration is an argument fitted particularly for a religious people, then we need to ask ourselves what the implications are when Americans fail widely to affirm a crucial postulate in the Declaration’s argument. Put differently, the question is what the implications are if Americans as a people are today ill-suited for the Declaration’s argument, and what the implications are if the Declaration’s argument is ill-suited for America.

Reader Discussion

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on April 07, 2017 at 10:54:50 am

James Rogers mentions Locke and Rousseau in relation to "unalienable rights," but he fails to mention two more relevant sources: Rev. Francis Hutcheson (who coined the phrase "unalienable rights") and Jean Jacques Burlamaqui (a professor of jurisprudence at the University of Geneva and the era's leading authority on natural law). In a nutshell, unalienable rights correspond to the inescapable duties of piety and benevolence, and governments exist to secure these rights to be pious and benevolent. See "The Declaration of Independence without Locke: A Rebuttal of Michael Zuckert's 'Natural Rights Republic'" at https://www.academia.edu/29164747/The_Declaration_of_Independence_without_Locke_A_Rebuttal_of_Michael_Zuckerts_Natural_Rights_Republic_

Regarding the Ciceronean view of leading American Founders, in which piety and benevolence are characteristics of the mature human and the prerequisite for happiness, see "Nature's God: Cicero and the Declaration of Independence" at https://www.academia.edu/6508461/Cicero_Natural_Law_and_the_Declaration_of_Independence

For a discussion of the Founders' May 1776 anti-Lockean DEFINITION OF HAPPINESS (essential for understanding the "pursuit of happiness"), see "Safety and Happiness: The American Revolutionary Standard for Governmental Legitimacy" at https://www.academia.edu/1479704/Safety_and_Happiness_The_American_Revolutionary_Standard_for_Governmental_Legitimacy

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John Schmeeckle
on April 07, 2017 at 20:36:48 pm

Perhaps, the question is:

Without anything GREATER than one's own self, can rights be secured? Upon what are they grounded?
correspondingly, and what I suspect may be an underlying, if unstated theme of the essay, is without such ground can (again, ought?) one expect that the citizenry will recognize that rights are simply the other side of the coin of *obligations.*

As to "happiness", as understood in the day, it was rather different than the modern understand which tends toward the hedonistic / avaricious; that era's understanding of happiness presupposed a moral, religious(ly) inclined or aware people pursuing a virtuous life BY fulfilling their obligations to others and themselves (wisdom, learning, prudence, temperance, etc.). Only then may rights / happiness be said to being pursued.

Far cry from the modern lament: " I want the world and I want it now!"

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on April 10, 2017 at 16:12:17 pm

Keep in mind that the DOI was the continuation of the Declaration of Rights issued by the Continental Congress of 1774. The rights referred to in the DOI were the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Rights. The DOR was a complaint of the violation of certain rights. The issues of rights discussed in 1774 were not resolved to satisfaction. The successive document of 1776 redressed those failures in accordance with natural law.

Other issues over rights could have been mentioned in the 1776 document, but were not. King George public denied that he would continue to protect the colonies. That alone was cause for separation from Britain because it is the protection by the King that enables his sovereignty. This fact was not mentioned in the DOI. One would think that such an important issue of natural law would find a clear and prominent mention in the DOI. But it would not have been appropriate to include it in the DOI because it was not mentioned in the DOR. The DOI of 1776 was the redress of the failure of rights discussed in the DOR of 1774, no more, no less. Those certain unalienable rights were the rights mentioned originally in the DOR.

There was no international court to make judgment in the case, but a judge still had to be called upon if the Americans were to have an authoritative ruling. The God of Natural Law was called upon to make the natural law case authoritative. Without the invocation of such a judge the DOI would have no standing since there would have been no court to have standing in. No court, no ruling. Therefore the court of God had to be appealed to.

The theory of law in the DOI was theory found in natural law. Natural facts that did not need to be introduced were simply noted as being self evident. The non-self evident facts presented in the DOI were the facts of failure to respond appropriately to the violation of rights given that complaints had been made previously when a reasonable amount of time and effort were given to redress the violations. The redress did not occur. Therefore the judgment of God's court of natural law must be that the colonies were independent.

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Scott Amorian
on April 10, 2017 at 20:43:51 pm

In response to Scott Amorian, I think that the Declaration of Independence goes far beyond the 1774 declaration of rights and grievances by including HAPPINESS. The 1774 declaration mentioned the rights of life, liberty and property, which were summed up as SAFETY in the May 1776 resolution for independence, which also defined happiness in terms of virtue. The Declaration of Independence should be read as a continuation of this May resolution, which prominently mentions the principle of protection and sovereignty. Scott Amorian is mistaken in claiming that the Declaration doesn't mention this principle. To quote from the Declaration's denunciations of King George: "He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us."

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John Schmeeckle
on June 26, 2017 at 13:09:31 pm

“The question is what the implications are if Americans as a people are today ill-suited for the Declaration’s argument, and what the implications are if the Declaration’s argument is ill-suited for America.”

The preamble to the constitution for the USA offers hope for life much as a person’s religion may offer them hope for death.

In our proposal for an achievable, perhaps better way of living, the Declaration’s argument served its purpose for the people past and present: the USA is independent of England. However, it is time to put English-derived “common good” aside so as to collaborate for the promise of the constitution for the USA.

Willing citizens today may collaborate for comprehensive safety and security (worthy of another post and a book) so that each person may responsibly pursue personal interests during their brief journey in life rather than accept imposed religious-political doctrine. By “responsibly” I mean observing statutory law and cooperating-with if not collaborating-for comprehensive safety and security; amend the law when injustice is discovered. Institutions that cooperate for comprehensive safety and security may flourish in the USA, and dissident institutions may face constraint by statutory law. Thus, international institutions with canon that conflicts comprehensive safety and security must have accommodation that assures believers, both domestic and foreign, observe US statutory law.

It seems self evident that the Declaration became obsolete when on June 21, 1788, nine states ratified the draft constitution for the USA. They established a nation of nine states which the four remaining free and independent states could join. The 1788 ratification was a consequence, but not a purpose of the Declaration of Independence.

The history is boring to some: The loyal thirteen were English colonies until 1774, when they changed their style to states. In 1776, they declared war for independence. In February, 1778, the states signed a military alliance with France. France was in the Second Hundred Years War with England. France strategized and helped execute entrapment of the British at Yorktown, VA in 1781. England surrendered to France and the states. The Treaty of Paris, 1783 recognized thirteen free and independent states, naming each of them; the Continental Congress ratified it in January, 1784. The states struggled to remain a confederation, but some concluded they needed a nation.

Two thirds of delegates signed the draft constitution on September 17, 1787, leaving 1/3 dissident-delegates for their reasons. Among reasons were 1) desire to include theism, in particular Christianity, in particular factional Protestantism, and 2) preference for governance by a confederation of states rather than by the people in their states. The purpose and aims of specifying the nation are in the civic agreement stated in the preamble. However, most people, encouraged by the political regimes, have neglected for 230 years the agreement stated in the preamble.

The First Congress erroneously re-established factional Protestantism by hiring congressional chaplains. Today, in Greece v Galloway, a citizen who complains about legislative prayer is labeled “niggling.” I’m niggling. Further, they established theism, in particular factional Protestantism, now Judeo-Christianity in the practice of the First Amendment’s religion clauses. Islam seems to differ from Christianity and Judaism in that it is first a political doctrine and second a religious one. The religion clauses may be revised to promote thought, a human duty, rather than religion, an institutional imposition on the people.
Political regimes revise history to advance their agenda. For example, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said a nation emerged in 1776 and Civil-War-soldiers died so “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” However, a government with sufficient citizen-involvement had not existed and yet does not exist. Benjamin Franklin’s republican form of government has not been established much less preserved by the people. The people will always be divided between the willing and the dissidents to the moral agreement stated in the preamble. Likewise, President Trump is revisionist to say “Make America great again.” America cannot be great without a super-majority, perhaps 2/3, of citizens willing and collaborating to observe the civic agreement that is stated in the preamble.

Inhabitants of this land have never been uniform. Daniel Boorstin in The Americans: the Colonial Experience (2010) quotes the Rev. Hugh Jones, in 1724: “If new England be called a Receptacle of Dissenters, and an Amsterdam of Religion, Pennsylvania the Nursery of Quakers, Maryland the Retirement of Roman Catholicks, North Carolina the Refuge of Runaways, and South Carolina the Delight of Buccaneers and Pyrates, Virginia may be justly esteemed the happy Retreat of true Britons and true Churchmen for the most Part; neither soaring too high nor drooping too low, consequently should merit the greater Esteem and Encouragement.”

Ending the African slave trade was a subject of the Frist Continental Congress as well as the Constitutional convention. Inhabitants of 1790 were 20% slave and among freemen 99% factional Protestant with 5% able to vote. Today, 100% of non-criminals may vote and less than 15% practice the traditional Protestant factions. A black faction, perhaps 3%, that holds white Protestantism as the oppressor cannot be ignored. Today, nearly 25% of citizens are non-religious, and the next nearest faction is Catholic at near 21%. The non-religious are the largest faction in the USA! They (we) will not yield freedom-from oppression.

The human being seems too psychologically powerful to negotiate or collaborate about another person’s God or none. In other words, no one enters a public forum to disclose his or her God and consider amendment. If soul is involved in the-objective-truth, no one wants to take responsibility for another person’s soul: Responsibility for one person is enough. Naïve or arrogant people cite their God hoping to appear to have the higher opinion, but the people don’t subjugate to personal opinion. The days of dominant public opinion beyond comprehensive safety and security may be over. There seems no place for “God talk” in collaboration for comprehensive safety and security.

National independence was accomplished on June 21, 1788. That day, government according to the preamble to the constitution for the USA was made possible: government by willing people. When a super-majority of the people recognize the promise and power of the preamble, there may be a quiet revolution toward comprehensive safety and security according to the-objective-truth---collaboration for civic justice.

We now celebrate each June 21 as Personal Independence Day. We think it is an appropriate holiday before the 4th of July, because personal independence is required for national independence without tyranny against the people.

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Phil Beaver
on June 27, 2017 at 11:51:52 am

Phil Beaver, you appear to be confused. You speak of "the promise and power of the preamble" to the Constitution but want to dismiss "English-derived 'common good'". But "common good" is just another way of saying "general welfare," which is part of the preamble to the Constitution! Furthermore, you repeat the English-derived phrase "safety and security" in relation to the Constitution. This phrase "safety and security" comes from John Locke, as opposed to the phrase "safety and happiness" (derived from Cicero), which George Washington, James Madison, and a unanimous First U.S. Congress used in relation to the Constitution. I am not writing to opine on the validity of your libertarian vision for improving the political climate in the USA today. What I am saying is that your vision is NOT synonymous with the political theory that motivated the Founders.

As I have discussed elsewhere, the phrase "safety and happiness" was defined in the May 1776 congressional independence resolution (see http://startingpointsjournal.com/may-resolution-declaration-of-independence/ ). This May resolution was the starting point for the Declaration of Independence AND for the original State constitutions (except for South Carolina's) AND for the U.S. Constitution (as implied by Chief Justice Marshall in Marbury v. Madison). As I see things, to properly understand the original mindset of the Founders as these documents were drafted, it is necessary to familiarize oneself with the political thought of Cicero and his eighteenth-century followers Francis Hutcheson, Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, and Emer de Vattel -- as opposed to today's common anachronistic (and arguably Orwellian) projection of a "modern liberal" reading of John Locke onto our nation's founding documents.

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John Schmeeckle
on June 28, 2017 at 00:47:32 am

Thank you for your comments. I read both of Rogers’ posts, all comments (some needing more attention), and two essays of yours---the academia one and the startingpoints one. Your scholarship seems appreciable.

I think “God Talk” is a private pursuit with no standing in the discovery of civic justice. “Civic” refers to persons who collaborate for comprehensive safety and security more than for other institutional or ideological causes.
I promote the preamble as it is. The constitution for the USA neither modifies nor limits the preamble. Neither government nor God limits the preamble. It is an agreement by willing people in their states to collaborate for the goals stated in the preamble. A civic people amend the articles of the constitution as needed to remedy discovered injustice. Their religious institutions flourish.

Moreover, I paraphrase the preamble with 2017 terms that motivate me to use it without losing the 1787 essence. For example, “more perfect Union” referred to the perpetual commitment by people in 13 states. Now there are people in 50 states (and Puerto Rico wants to be the 51st). But I want a phrase that refers to the people who collaborate for 2017 living. Thus, I use “integrity” rather than “Unity.” It’s only my preference, because I have not yet collaborated with others people. Others might have a better idea. I use “integrity” to mean both understanding and wholeness. ”More perfect integrity,” may not make sense, so I might suggest “promote public integrity.” I want to collaborate with willing people and hope you are willing, because you know so much, have read so much, and care.

I want better than the past and don’t dismiss “common good.” I have a different idea as to what is the common good (also what is general welfare). The term I prefer is “comprehensive safety and security," derived in collaboration with my friend Hugh Finklea. John Locke missed “comprehensive,” perhaps asserting his theism defines the common good. Cicero’s “safety and happiness,” isn’t working. In short, we have no particular desire to be synonymous with writers, old or new. However, we work hard to write ideas scholars may understand and improve through collaboration rather than domination and ridicule (Alinsky Rule No. 5).

The world seems at a nadir of erroneous competition for dominant opinion, especially among the Abrahamic religions. I work to comprehend what the ascent might be. I think the ascent may include ideas that are made possible by American history, derived from its inspiration for independence from England. Otherwise, perhaps ascent could not be emerging in 2017. However, I want to accept and advance America’s potential more than preserve its traditions.

A couple of considerations might help us collaborate. First, it matters not whether a civic person is Christian, Jew, Muslim, other religious, or non-religious. Every civic person has the best possible beliefs for him or her. This is so whether the person is young or old, well or not. Perhaps the American dream is freedom-from tyranny so that each person may acquire the liberty-to perfect his or her unique person.

It is important that someone coaches each newborn to imagine perfecting their unique person. Ralph Waldo Emerson gave that message in “Divinity School Address,” 1838, and he refers to a messenger. If the person’s unique quest is promising, their religious beliefs or non-religious beliefs are valid for them, and are of no civic interest. A civic people know there will always be dissenters for reasons the dissenter may or may not comprehend. A civic people’s tools include the preamble, statutory justice, the-objective-truth, and fidelity. Every civic religion flourishes in the privacy of minds, homes, churches, and voluntary associations that either collaborate for or cooperate with discovered, statutory justice.

I presented quite a bit to talk about and hope you are willing to collaborate. I realize you may oppose comprehensive safety and security, but your collaboration may lead to a better phrase.

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Phil Beaver
on June 28, 2017 at 12:54:32 pm

Phil Beaver, your posts contain a number of interesting ideas worthy of discussion. I'll try to keep this selective response more or less within the parameters of the topic of James Rogers' article.

You wrote, 'I think "God Talk" is a private pursuit with no standing in the discovery of civic justice. “Civic” refers to persons who collaborate for comprehensive safety and security more than for other institutional or ideological causes.'

That is a common view these days, but it does not fit the prevailing view of the Founders and of the society that they lived in. For example, "God talk" was a prominent part of the Declaration of Independence. As every colonial lawyer at the time knew, the English jurisprudence in which they were trained was grounded on the Law of Nature, which in turn included the theological suppositions of a transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent divine being commonly referred to as "God."

The Founders understood "unalienable rights" in terms of the moral duties of piety and benevolence. At the time, atheism was considered scandalous, and deism only slightly less so.

The Founders considered it of utmost importance to promote the development of virtue in the children of the community. In their wisdom, they decided that organized religion, not government, should play a dominant role in doing this, although compulsory prayer in public schools is one example of universally practiced government support of the promotion of virtue.

Your emphasis on "comprehensive safety and security" would seem to be more restricted than the Constitution's phrase, "promote the general welfare," and I'm inclined to wonder why you choose not to use the Constitution's phrase. What do you think of the following quote citing examples of what the government should do to promote the general welfare?

"Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people."

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John Schmeeckle
on June 29, 2017 at 12:25:51 pm

The Declaration of Independence served its purpose. It is obsolete respecting comprehensive safety and security. The thirteen colonies declared they were states, fought the war, partnered with France in their Second Hundred Years War with England, accepted Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, and negotiated the Treaty of Paris, 1783. The treaty names the thirteen independent states. Independence of the thirteen states is history.

Comprehensive safety and security is introduced by the preamble to the constitution for the USA, signed on September 17, 1787 and ratified by nine of thirteen states on June 21, 1788, establishing the USA, the world’s first nation for the people more than the government. The other four states eventually ratified the preamble on agreement to amend the draft with a Bill of Rights. The articles of the constitution have subsequently been amended 17 times after the Bill of Rights that was ratified on December 15, 1791. Willing people’s trust and commitment in the preamble remain unchanged and I assert are inalienable even if neglected. To put this another way, Personal Independence Day, June 21, 1788, is essential to National Independence Day, July 4, 1776.

“On topic,” for the propriety to discuss God with a human being, a person may admit to self that he or she doesn’t know that God exists---only hopes. Otherwise, the person dehumanizes—or attempts to deify---self and takes unneeded risk. James Madison took such risks more than others. See Memorial and Remonstrance, June 8, 1785 and his thoughts on citizenship: first a person has to be a theist.

Admission to authority beyond self does not infer that it is wrong to hope the beliefs a person pursues conform to the-objective-truth. But it admits to the possibility that God, whatever that is, has independent thoughts. That is, what a person hoped for may emerge as the unexpected. For all I know, in my immediate afterdeath I will be judged by Jesus. I am prepared for that possibility, even though I doubt it.

Two persons may agree to discuss God, much as two people agree to attend a play or concert and discuss its meaning. However, they need to be in agreement that the purpose is to collaborate for living rather than to coerce or attempt to force opinion or proselytize the other party.

In agreement, the first step may be for each party to define “God.” I’m influenced by Plato to say that my meaning of “God” is “good,” and good is a satisfactory topic---no need to equivocate “good.” I prefer to trust and commit to discovering comprehensive safety and security among citizens rather than exploring the mysteries of human constructs, such as monotheism. For example, I’d like to discuss the education of children rather than the theory of “Star Wars,” the movie, or the factional theories of monotheism as expressed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Of course, the western thinkers prior to September 17, 1787* did not have the benefit of Albert Einstein or “Star Wars.” However, they debated the African slave trade that was “authorized” by the Church and is yet erroneously condoned in the Bible. Like all humans, they had the psychological power to observe that if they lied to themselves, they lied to humankind. Therefore, they are without excuse if they did not admit that each person only hoped their factional God existed. Albert Einstein is exemplary in that he said we do not lie to each other so that we may communicate rather than to observe a divine rule. See the Einstein essay that is published at samharris.org/blog/item/my-friend-einstein .

However, it is not essential for willing citizens to share regard for religion, a private interest or not, any more than regard for symphonic music, in order to collaborate for comprehensive safety and security. Your claim that this phrase is not novel or common is erroneous, and you have yet to admit to or consider the modifier “comprehensive.”

*That’s the date the preamble to the constitution for the USA was signed by 2/3 of the thirteen independent states’ representatives, only 12 states represented.

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Phil Beaver
on June 30, 2017 at 00:06:58 am

Phil Beaver, you say that the Declaration of Independence "is obsolete respecting comprehensive safety and security." I have no idea what you mean by that, as you have never explained what you mean by "comprehensive safety and security," which is a bit of a polysyllabic jawbreaker.

Perhaps you will agree that it doesn't make sense to talk of natural or inalienable rights without presupposing the existence of God. Does that make such talk out of place in today's ideological landscape?

You wrote, "It is important that someone coaches each newborn to imagine perfecting their unique person. Ralph Waldo Emerson gave that message in “Divinity School Address,” 1838."

Here Emerson was paraphrasing Cicero's De Legibus. The American Founders followed Cicero in promoting piety as a bulwark of personal and civic virtue. I imagine that you disagree with that approach, but what other way would you propose for cultivating a tendency toward habitually virtuous and/or civic-minded behavior in the youth of our society?

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John Schmeeckle
on June 30, 2017 at 18:08:41 pm

Comprehensive safety and security comes directly from the preamble to the constitution for the USA. My most recent paraphrase is: Willing citizens in their states routinely, voluntarily, collaborate for connected morality in each and all of continuity (for self, children, grandchildren; beyond), integrity (both reliability and wholeness), justice (assure freedom-from oppression), fidelity (uphold obligations), defense (prevent or constrain harm), prosperity (earn the liberty-to pursue choices), privacy (discover & pursue harmless personal goals), lawfulness (conform to law and reform injustice), and cultivate the constitution for the USA.

It is amazing to me how many changes I have made since I started this practice for June 21, 2014, now dubbed annual commemoration of Personal Independence Day, that day in 1788 when nine states had ratified the draft constitution for the USA, establishing the nation.

The preamble has been falsely labeled a secular sentence, because it seemed to some to oppose religious freedom. However, the preamble has no reference to religion, thereby leaving it to willing citizens to be religious or not and still trust and commit to the preamble for civic justice. “Civic” refers to citizens who collaborate for living during every decade of their lives more than for a municipality, tradition, ideology or competitive opinion, reserving personal matters for privacy. No one subjects their beliefs to public collaboration.

Temporal validity of the Declaration of Independence is the reason it is obsolete. So much has been discovered in these 241 years! In the first place, we discovered that everything emerges from physics, the objective of study more than the study. That is, energy, mass and space-time from which everything on earth emerges. (That’s the point of Albert Einstein’s 1941 essay, referred to earlier. His only example to make his point is that willing people do not lie to each other so that they may communicate. How not lying derives from physics is the subject of another essay or book, and I’ve written a lot about it already. I try to avoid the shock from “physics” the subject to lying by writing the-objective-truth, which stands on its own merit. Einstein asserted that not lying derives from physics rather than “natural law” or God’s law. I agree with Einstein: civic morality does not derive from God. (To understand these references requires reading them.)

To expect the world to appreciate war “authorized” by “Laws of Nature and of Nature's God” is obsolete. To debate my statement is necessary for social reasons but not for civic reasons. In other words, civic morality overrides, social morality, religious morality, and dissident civilizations. For example, issues concerning salvation of the soul are not involved in collaboration for comprehensive safety and security or trust and commitment to the preamble.

Readers will find in Emerson’s “Divinity School Address,” Emerson’s reference for the message that Phil Beaver has the opportunity to perfect his person, and the citation is not Cicero, unless by mystery. Check it out, please, and tell me to whom Emerson attributes the insight that I am that psychologically powerful but did not suspect it before reading Emerson.

It seems to me the first task is to persuade the adults who vie for dominant opinion that comprehensive safety and security may be established using the-objective-truth. Based on history and the world’s current nadir in civic morality, I hope to involve 2/3 of adult citizens, with the customary 1/3 dissidents. With exemplary living by a super-majority, the youth will follow, delighted with the hope for peace after some 7 trillion man-years of conflict over dominant opinion.

Of one thing I am certain. My message cannot be shared by coercion. That is so not because civic morality is such a change from social morality: Each person may recognize the value of comprehensive safety and security only from experience and observations when that idea is in existence. And civic people (defined above) neither impose nor brook coercion. As far as I know, even though safety and security, happiness, freedom, liberty, individuality, social order, civility, truth and lots of words and phrases exist, none of them express comprehensive safety and security, which seems attainable, even though perhaps no people have ever tried it.

Thank you for opening this iceberg of ideas for collaboration for a better future.

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Phil Beaver
on July 06, 2017 at 14:20:24 pm

It seems to me that if "temporal validity" is the reason why the Declaration of Independence is obsolete, then the same argument can be applied to the Constitution. You mention Einstein, who did indeed dabble in metaphysics, but I would hesitate to take his views as some sort of gospel. Einstein believed in the "Spinoza's God," which might work for you if you're into pantheism. James Madison rejected pantheism in favor of the transcendent God of the law of nature.

You state in passing that the Declaration of Independence tried to justify war. I think that isn't accurate; the Declaration recognized that the King of England had brought war to the colonies, who resorted to the Declaration in self-defense, which is certainly justifiable according to natural law.

Instead of your unwieldy phrase "comprehensive safety and security," I hope you will consider the phrase "safety and happiness," which was used by George Washington (as he sent the newly-drafted Constitution to the Confederation Congress), John Adams (who defined "safety" and "happiness" in the Continental Congress's May 1776 resolution for independence), Thomas Jefferson (who wrote "safety and happiness" into the Declaration of Independence) and James Madison (who used the phrase "safety and happiness" as he invoked the transcendent god of the laws of nature in his Federalist defense of the Constitution), not to mention Samuel Adams, George Mason, and the unanimous First U.S. Congress (including many signers of the Constitution) as they requested that President Washington proclaim a Day of Thanksgiving for the successful implementation of the Constitution.

Regarding safety and happiness in relation to good government, I just got an op-ed piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer here: http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/how-does-government-promote-safety-and-happiness-20170629.html

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John Schmeeckle
on July 06, 2017 at 21:24:13 pm

The Declaration of Independence served its purpose: Thirteen states won individual independence, as stated in the Treaty of Paris, 1783. They tried to exist under their confederacy for four years, but realized they could not survive. Led by the Virginia aristocrats, they designed the world’s first governance of, by, and for the people (Abraham Lincoln, 1863). Led by George Washington, they codified his June 8, 1783 image of what it takes to be the country in the preamble written for signature on September 17, 1787.

Bluntly, the will to suggest that the Constitution is obsolete seems beyond strange. The Constitution is amendable as injustice is discovered and more promising statutory law is written. According to the civic agreement stated in the preamble, We the People of the United States, a willing people, is on an ineluctable march toward civic justice.

I doubt Einstein would agree with the assertion “Einstein dabbled in metaphysics,” and “believed in . . . God.” Einstein suggested that people who try to lie may beware: it does not take long for the-objective-truth to make itself known to the liar and anyone else present.

James Madison enjoyed his time, but would have been better informed if it had come after Einstein’s.
Einstein’s general theory of relativity, 1905, was confirmed in 2016: nytimes.com/2016/02/12/science/ligo-gravitational-waves-black-holes-einstein.html, while Madison’s national construct seems arguably dysfunctional after 228 years’ operation. Of course, Madison cannot be blamed for the nation’s competition for dominant opinion when willing people could use the preamble and collaborate to discover the-objective-truth.

England’s standing army in the colonies was indeed an act of war, but the Declaration was the states’ proclamation to the world that they were either going to win independence from England or lose everything. They tacitly expressed, “Congress is equal to Parliament, and our God will beat the King’s God.” The states won the war, so justification became moot and remains so today.

Abraham Lincoln was not the first to interpret the declaration’s claims to authority, but his revisionism in order to overcome the constitution's preservation of slavery without sponsoring an amendment is still influential. See Pauline Maier’s book, “Ratification,” 2010.

My friend Hugh and I surveyed synonyms for “comprehensive” and do not perceive a better choice. The phrase “comprehensive safety and security” refers to the purpose and aims stated in the preamble to the constitution for the USA. Together the purpose and aims offer willing people the opportunity for freedom-from oppression so that each person may acquire the liberty-to pursue unique personal perfection (Emerson and his source), in a word, happiness.

We think writers in the past might not have left so much to the reader’s imagination had they used our semantic tricks or better: freedom-from (oppression) and liberty-to (choose). Freedom-from seems collaborative. For example, in “life, liberty and happiness,” is the meaning of “liberty” freedom-from oppression or liberty-to choose? If the latter, what is “happiness” to that author?

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Phil Beaver
on July 18, 2019 at 07:51:47 am

The inalienable rights of Americans have been destroyed by those who have taken the created offices that were intended to protect them. For instance, the 1816 Indiana constitution's 24th section of Article 1:

Sect. 24. To guard against any encroachments on the rights herein retained, we declare, that every thing in this article, is excepted out of the general powers of Government, and shall forever remain inviolable.

The general powers of government include taxation, so the above forbids the taxation of property of the people. This has never been repealed and is still confirmed by the fact that the newer articles only allow for education to be funded by the property taxes of corporations. Also, the Ordinance of 1789 confirms that the people always have the right to adjudication in the course of the common law, but governments have forced the statutory laws upon the people. This has resulted in the disgusting situation we have today, the servants of the people rule over their masters as gods. Freedom and liberty in America today is a myth.

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on July 18, 2019 at 09:55:56 am

I appreciate this Thursday throwback to my year-ago opinions. Moreover, I appreciate your concern, evidence, and conclusion, " the servants of the people rule over their masters as gods."
In my jargon, intended to lessen the gods' ability to bemuse the people, "[Freedom-from tyranny and liberty-to develop civic integrity] in America is a myth."

Also, three opinions have emerged in the last year.

First, France won America's physical but not psychological independence from England in 1781 at Yorktown, VA. The 13 eastern-seaboard states ratified their statuses as free and independent states in 1784 by ratifying the 1783 Treaty of Paris. The 39 signers of 55 delegates codified the preamble to the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Nine of 13 free and independent states made the U.S. preamble's proposition civic, civil, and legal, ending the confederation of 13 states and establishing the USA as a federalism under the civic citizens in their states. The U.S. preamble defines civic citizens as those who accept the U.S. preamble's proposition. The 1/3 of dissidents among the delegates and among the states had their reasons, and a substantial one was preservation of colonial-British traditions. The dissidents prevailed in the First Congress, beginning with eleven states, by re-institution many colonial-British institutions in defiance of the U.S. preamble's proposition. In summary, 2019 Americans have the opportunity to reform colonial-British tradition to the U.S. preamble's proposition.

Second, "consent of the governed" seems a 1453 German idea (Nicolas Cusanus) which John Locke advanced in 1690. Locke smoothed submission or subjugation by partnering human tyranny with the mystery of whatever-God-is using the softer word, "consent," as though the enslaved had made a choice. Nicolo Machiavelli in 1513 had explained the irony of priest-politician-pocket-picking under a people's bemusement in a God. See The Prince, Chapter XI. Americans can choose the U.S. preamble's proposition and retire colonial-British tradition as tyranny.

Third, we encourage every citizen to interpret the U.S. preamble's proposition so as to develop confidence in their personal journey toward individual happiness with civic integrity. My latest interpretation is: Willing citizens collaborate to provide 5 public institutions---integrity, justice, peace, strength, and prosperity---so as to encourage responsible human liberty to living people. Religion, a private option is absorbed into the actual U.S. preamble's Union, Justice, Tranquility, defense, and Welfare to secure responsible human liberty. Americans can encourage each individual to pursue civic integrity rather than preserve religion's institutional freedom.

Subjugation to institutional religious freedom (1791) rather than approval-of and encouragement-to responsible human liberty (1788) seems America's most egregious colonial-British tradition.

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Phillip Beaver
on July 18, 2019 at 10:06:10 am

Sorry, that should be "by re instituting"

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Phillip Beaver
on July 19, 2019 at 07:29:47 am

Regarding consent of the governed, Nicholas of Cusa observed that "all the experts agreed" that governmental legitimacy derived from consent, so that idea is hardly original with Cusa. In medieval English jurisprudence, as with Europe in general, consent was implied in long-standing custom, the third of the six "grounds" of the laws of England according to Christopher St. Germain, as copied into the commonplace book of young James Wilson, whose 1790-91 law lectures are indispensable for understanding the revolutionary American legal mind.

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John Schmeeckle
on July 19, 2019 at 09:48:54 am

Thank you for your comment. I am especially grateful for your attention to Wilson.

We are addressing past agreements-in-opinion that I oppose: Nicholas of Cusa's 1453 opinion that "all the experts agreed" to [tyranny by consent of the enslaved], John Locke's 1690 English impositions founded in the mystery of whatever-God-is, and James Wilson 1791 support of "consent." I also oppose James Madison's 1785 arrogance about whatever-God-is.

Wilson appropriately claimed integrity without infallibility. Perhaps Chisholm v Georgia (1793) changed his thinking so as to favor the 1787 propositions of "We the People of the United States" more than English law.

I need not refer to Wilson to make my case that our generation's opportunity is to accelerate the U.S. psychological reform from colonial-British traditions, such as "consent of the governed" and freedom of religion instead of encouragement to develop civic integrity as fidelity to the-objective-truth.

The fact remains that the preamble to the U.S. Constitution is a proposal to the living people to join We the People of the United States in order to publicly provide Union, Justice, Tranquility, defense, and Welfare so as to encourage responsible individual Liberty to living citizens. The first Congress, 1789-1793 obfuscated the U.S. preamble's proposition by reconstituting as much of colonial-British tradition as they could, and We the People of the United States suffered the consequence.

Nevertheless, civic citizens of the past, the "We the People of the United States," who, aware or not, collaborated, communicated, and connected under the U.S. preamble's proposition, did so to encourage Liberty "to ourselves and our Posterity."

I think I have known people who were aware but could not articulate the essence of the U.S. preamble's proposition. Further, I think some of them were awed by the ultimate future under the U.S. preamble's proposition for civic integrity. I count my dad---who considered many societies, supported some, and always tried to act with civic integrity---among those people. I miss my sister, Dona Bean, who might corroborate my claim.

In 2019, the "ourselves" is us and "Posterity" is our children, grandchildren, and beyond as well as legal immigrants. Our generation is the 12th or 13th since 2/3 of the delegates to the constitutional convention signed the preamble and its amendable articles. We the People of the United States may have begun at 2/3 of property owners and declined in percentage ever since, wounded by the first Congress.

It is past time to render obsolete the colonial-British traditions that hinder We the People of the United States in its ineluctable path toward statutory justice under the U.S. preamble's proposition and the ineluctable evidences I refer to as the-objective-truth.

You and many other writers in this forum have the knowledge to accelerate the reform from 230 years of false "consent of the governed" to civic integrity under the U.S. preamble's proposition and the-objective-truth. With your commitment, the needed reform could happen in a matter of years rather than decades.

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Phillip Beaver

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