Posts tagged with: declaration of independence

4th-of-July-1819-Philadelphia-John-Lewis-Krimmel

Fourth of July Celebration in Centre Square, Philadelphia (1819)

“Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right to do what we ought.” – Lord Acton

Today, people across the United States will march in parades, set off fireworks, and don red, white, and blue to huge family cookouts, all in celebration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. In the years since those first Americans pledged their loyalty to the philosophy of natural rights and the equality of all men, the document has remained a national symbol of pride and freedom.  However, in the years since the founding of the country and the later drafting of the Constitution, the true intentions of the Founders and the spirit of their work has become intermittently lost and misunderstood.

Among the most common and consequential misunderstandings is the idea that the Founders were worshipers of rights for their own sake, radical individualists with the goal only to secure those liberties to which humans believe, through reason or instinct, they are entitled. In truth, even among libertarian heroes like John Locke or Founder Thomas Jefferson, the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were not in pursuit of license.  In fact, many of those who formed and secured the natural rights tradition of the American Founding outright rejected the idea that rights exist for their own sake, without a higher purpose or end.  Our freedoms were thought to exist and were secured for much more than a pleasure-guided exercise of free will. (more…)

laughton-465-(1)1Today marks the 152nd anniversary of the Gettsyburg Address, the speech given by Abraham Lincoln after the battle which left 7,000 American soldiers dead and 40,000 wounded.

Given its power and permanence, it may seem strange to memorialize it by pointing to an obscure comedy film from the 1930s. But it’s one that stirs all the right sentiments.

In Ruggles of Red Gap, the great Charles Laughton plays Marmaduke Ruggles, an English manservant who has been gambled away by his master (a duke) to a pair of unsophisticated “self-made” millionaires from America (Egbert and Effie). Ruggles sails to the New World, settles in with his rambunctious new employers, and hilarity ensues. (more…)

rockwell religionChuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship and BreakPoint, spoke in a 2009 Breakpoint broadcast about religious liberty. His words apply even more today.

Allow me to make a very direct statement. I believe it is time for the Church in this country to stand up for religious freedom.

Especially over the course of the last few years, we have seen repeated efforts — in the courts, in state legislatures, in Congress and on Pennsylvania Avenue — to erode what has been called the first freedom: religious liberty. (more…)

declaration-facts-wideToday in The Federalist, Acton director of research Samuel Gregg looks ahead to Pope Francis’ American visit. Gregg, of course, cannot predict the future, but he can respond to others’ speculation; in particular, he takes issue with Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs, in America magazine

argued that another old-style Jesuit—Pope Francis—will be coming to an America uninterested in virtue, mired in consumerism, and fast becoming a hyper-individualistic society obsessed with rights.

Turning on the television soon confirms there’s some truth in Sachs’ analysis. Witness the relentless advertising that tells you that you’re not fully human unless you have the very latest whatever. Yet materialism and consumerism are just as widespread in, for instance, social-democratic Western Europe, klepocratic Russia, Communist China, and crony corporatist Latin America. Hence, it can hardly be described as a particularly American problem.

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decPerhaps the most enduring legacy of the Declaration of Independence is that it sought to overturn the long abuses and powers of tyrants. It revealed the truth of self-government and that power is inherent in the people. In the second introduction of the document, Jefferson declared:

…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Jefferson, always the philosopher, reminds the reader that governments are instituted to protect the natural rights of man, to preserve their freedom above all else. Government is not intended to serve the bureaucracy, rulers, or an elite class.
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Coolidgepic Next week at Acton University I am giving a lecture titled, “Calvin Coolidge and his Foundational Views on Government.” One of the great things about studying Coolidge is that he is extremely accessible. Coolidge noted during his political career that practicing law was valuable for honing communication skills that promote brevity and clarity in speech. The Coolidge lecture at Acton University will attempt to do likewise. He’s a president that probably would have little trouble with the 140 character limit on Twitter. If you aren’t able to attend Acton University, I’m told the lecture will be recorded, and at some point will be available for a very small fee.

One of the most relevant things about Coolidge today is that in his era he was battling the progressive scheme to perfect man in an attempt to move beyond the spirit of America’s founding principles. In one masterful broadside against the progressive scheme delivered on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, he declared:
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Crisis Magazines Gerald J. Russello has written a review of Tea Party Catholic, the new book from Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg. Russello outlines the premise of Gregg’s work:Tea-Party-Catholic-196x300

Gregg has three competing stories to tell. First he wants to explain how a Catholic can responsibly defend limited government and the free market in accordance with Catholic teaching.  This remains a crucial argument to make; since the 1980s, the welfare state has only expanded.  As the financial and housing crises of 2008 show, many still look to government to control the economy, and bail out entire industries.  Second, he wants to defend the substance of those teachings against both liberal Catholics and other sorts such as libertarians. Catholicism is not capitalism, and its defense of free-market exchanges and limited government is rooted in a certain view of the human person that is not the same as a secular liberal one.  The Catholic view promotes human flourishing, but holds that flourishing must be consistent with the natural law and the ends of human life, such as the cultivation of virtue and the common good.  Third, he wants to reconcile Catholicism specifically with the American form of republicanism. Gregg argues that the example of Catholics in America shows that the two are compatible, and that indeed the American experiment is consistent with the long tradition of Western liberty inaugurated by the Church.

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