What has distinguished the American Federal Union from most of the world is neither our prosperity nor our technology. It is no product of anything Americans have achieved in the past Century--nor of the present universal suffrage. Our unique advantage has been in having at the core of our Political Society or Societies, a moral base that was once the envy of mankind. We have flourished as no people ever flourished before because of the strength of that base. And yet few of the present generation of political leaders--in either party--display even the slightest understanding of the importance of that base, or of in what that base consists. Many will pontificate, to be sure. But in a sanctimonious prattle--usually at the expense of the personal reputations of others--they show how incomplete is their perception of our subject; how flawed their sense of priorities; how poorly defended and endangered is the America we love.
To write of the moral base of any human institution, is to affirm that there is in fact such a thing as right and wrong; that it is possible to determine relevant and ultimate truth ; that ultimate truth is not dependent upon times or social conditions--is not relative.
When one addresses the moral bases of a political society, one deals with such concepts as the postulates and precepts of Jefferson in the Declaration Of Independence; as the nature of Society and Government; as the Natural Laws that govern all human conduct. One deals with the responsibilities of office in terms of those precepts, in terms of duty, in terms of a sacred trust, in terms of respect for the limitations as well as the mandates of legitimate power.
Political morality is not, by contrast, a preoccupation with the personal weaknesses and indiscretions--moral, immoral or amoral--of individual office holders; except where such weaknesses directly inhibit the execution of official duty. Thus, setting aside the possibility of "blackmail" for the purpose of this essay; we are not concerned whether William J. Clinton had one or one hundred sexual frolics in the Presidential office, or whether George W. Bush did or did not use cocaine. Political morality involves the sacredness of that trust, which is involved in carrying out the functions of a political position.
While a man of generally weak character may have a harder time keeping a political trust than a man to whom all trusts are sacred, a judgment on the execution of a political trust should not be confused with judgment over the purely private act. While the essence of private morality is in how each individual lives and pursues truth in his own life, not in how he judges his neighbor; it is in the very nature of responsible citizenship in a Republic, that we attend to how our political leaders carry out their public duties.
In the case of the President of the United States, political morality means above all else, a respect for the limitations on personal power; a recognition that he is not heir to the vast prerogatives of the British Crown; that he has only those powers given to him by the Constitution, he is sworn to uphold; that where his personal wishes--whether based upon ambition or altruism, a desire to do "good" or a lust for power--conflict with his sworn duty; those personal aspirations must yield to that sworn duty.
This is nowise changed by a prospect of crisis--whether real or imagined; spontaneous or contrived. Under the Constitution, the President does indeed have emergency powers. This can not authorize the assumption or arrogation of others, not provided.
Admittedly, there is one area, where questions of personal morality inevitably intrude into the public sector, though the issues remain different. For example, if President Clinton were to willingly discuss his dalliances on the Jerry Springer show--or in one of the other media cesspools --he would violate a standard of public decency that should exclude him from public trust. In public morality, which is a separate category from both the political and the personal, it is often in the publication of an act that the greatest offense lies. There are matters that are supposed to be kept private. This is not hypocrisy, but simple recognition of the effect of exhibitionism and bad taste on those who may be most susceptible to a bad example.
There are also issues, both of private and public morality, in the question of divorce, and in the subsidiary political question of the suitability of the divorced for high position. Yet those issues, as the previous question of examples, remain outside our subject.
The Declaration of Independence [only a click away in the menu below] remains a succinct statement of the moral bases of these United States. Formulated by a committee consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin--men who had spent much of their lives in deep study and in the pursuit of truth--and written by Thomas Jefferson, it was offered for the consideration and approval of a gathering consisting of some of the best minds ever produced by the English speaking world in a single era. They had come to pledge to one another, their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. They were prepared to recognize the pursuit of truth, as the first step in any great endeavor. Thus they began by stating the "self-evident" truths on which they based their newly independent States.
The first of these was the affirmation of an act of Creation (All men are created.) The second was that men were endowed with unalienable rights. The third was that Governments were established by compact to secure those unalienable rights. The fourth was that when any Form of Government becomes destructive of that purpose, the people have a right to alter or abolish it.
It should be observed that the Declaration was not a plea for a particular form of Government, whether Monarchical or Republican. It was not a plea for "one man, one vote" Democracy, or any other silly idea of the 20th Century. It postulated a relationship, based upon moral truths, between any Government and the individual (and it was the individual's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that they referred to). And it made no difference, whether that Government had the support of the few or the many; it had no right to encroach upon the God given Liberty of any citizen or subject. Finally, after reciting the long list of specific grievances directed against the British Government that compelled the separation being declared, the Fathers affirmed an additional moral understanding in appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions--thus acknowledging a far higher Authority than popular opinion--and proclaimed State sovereignty.
The Constitution, which was proposed a little over eleven years later, allocated some of the sovereign powers assumed by the Declaration; but clearly affirmed the same concept of a moral base for all legitimate Government in the same eternal truths. And because from first to last, the Fathers recognized the profound limitations on legitimate Government, no powers were granted to the Federal Government to deal with such things as poverty or civilian health; and very few with respect to crime or personal morality. The Police powers remained with the States. The question of the success or failure of the individual--the pursuit of happiness--remained the responsibility of the individual.
Because we freed man by limiting Government upon moral principles, we freed creativity and set a virtuous example for its employment. Because we put the individual on his mettle to provide for himself, we spurred a maximum application of the diverse talents of the population in general. It is the economic history of America, that under this climate of limited Government and personal responsibility, virtually every group that ever came here, did better here than their ancestral cousins had ever done in the homeland of their race.
A moral based political society, is a truth based political society. And our heritage is truly its vindication.
The challenges to the American way over the past century, have come primarily from the Socialist World: From the British Fabians, Communists and the National Socialists of Germany; Godless movements that treated the individual as expendable, and looked to collective solutions for every problem. With the apparent collapse of World Communism, it has appeared to those who do not fully understand the moral bases of our Political Society, that the last great threat has expired. But the reality is that we are now more vulnerable than ever before.
On the surface, it appears that most of the world has now embraced the market economy. Freedom of enterprise is accepted even in those countries that are still avowedly Socialist. "Profits" are no longer an ugly word--except perhaps among certain leftwing Democrats in Washington. But if one looks a little closer, it is not that the world has suddenly embraced the moral insights of the Fathers. Rather, the world has seen the economic magic of America, and partially misread the reason. The Free Market is seen as Utilitarian. It is not the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin that has won the world; but that of Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Adolph Hitler--the Utilitarians, who extolled the idea of the greatest good for the greatest number.
The world has not suddenly recognized the sacred right of the individual, or the moral responsibility of Government to respect the individual; it has merely jumped aboard the train that our individualism launched--with scant understanding of what drives the locomotive. With the next major economic downturn, there will be a rush to find new socialist nostrums; the mobs will again be in the streets; demagogues will again be heard across the globe. Those who hate men, will again be demanding equality for all mankind. The individual capable of a higher calling, a nobler aspiration, will again be sacrificed for what is imagined to be the collective good.
And where stand America in all of this? Well look around you! How often in the media, in academia, even in the mainstream pulpits of America, does anyone show either understanding or concern for the actual moral bases of American Society? How often in the Halls of Congress? (I will not engage in the rhetorical device of even mentioning a recent President, in this context.)
To be sure, there will be many who will talk about "Social Conscience," about "those who have been left behind," as though Communist egalitarianism was the moral basis for America. The more moderate, may take an argument out of Bentham, Mill or Hitler, as to the "greatest good," etc.. In a debate in Iowa in 2000, newsmen moderators asked two of the current crop of Republican Presidential hopefuls about a statement from a coalition of prominent Churchmen calling for more "Gun Control"-- as though taking away one of Americans' most cherished and essential freedoms was somehow a vindication of morality. (And, if so, whose morality? Certainly not yours or mine.)
If the newsmen had not been hopelessly lost, they would have realized that the question should have been, "why are these Churchmen misusing the cloth on this issue; why are they not issuing statements, instead, on the lack of reverence for the Creator in the schools of America?" It is reverence for God that is supposed to be their calling--not trying to second guess the Founding Fathers on the responsibilities of a free people for their own defense and safety.
After that, the media--aided and abetted by the demagoguery of certain Democratic politicians--sought to make the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag on the State House in the South Carolinian capital, a "moral" issue in the Presidential campaign. Again, one must ask, whose morality? The idea that we must have one National standard; one allegiance to one Federally decreed set of values, is right out of Nazi Germany; indeed the first step to the one Nation, one movement, one voice, unified collectivist State, that National Socialism sought to achieve. Hitler's first major move--after his contrived event--was to destroy the sovereign rights and diverse cultures and identities of the German States. The central authority--Hitler and the Nazi party--became the sole judge of German values, morals and culture, years before any wartime shot was fired or any disfavored civilian was put into a concentration camp. But one waited in vain for any of the mainstream media to question Gore or Bradley as neo-Nazis.
Why do so few academics, media types, politicians, clergy, etc., even grasp the reality that every venture into social engineering or wealth redistribution is counter-productive; that, to the extent that it has an effect, that effect is to diminish the need for self-reliance, the need for individual initiative and personal responsibility--the human attributes that flow directly from the moral truths that guided the Fathers--the qualities on which our entire social fabric depends.
The vista is not much better, when one surveys the antics of the captains of industry and commerce, now rushing around the world to embrace what they perceive to be the opportunities of the future. It is not the search for opportunity overseas that should bother us. Americans have always been a commercial people. And the most moral of our political leaders have long recognized our Constitutional interest in keeping trade routes open--at least since Jefferson taught the Barbary pirates a much needed lesson in 1801; [and then gave them back their ship because he had no Constitutional right to hold it (see essay on Abuse Of Power).]
The problem is that few, if any, of the upper echelon of corporate management show much greater understanding than the press or academia of the importance of an underlying value system --or even basic aptitudes and attitudes--of these or any other peoples, in assessing the long term opportunities and problems for enterprise. Nor--if the first requirement for any private morality lies also in the pursuit of truth--does much of corporate management stand any higher than the media, academics, politicians and "liberal" clergy in the moral spectrum. Each wants to be "politically correct." It does not matter if that means lying to those dependent upon your integrity, be they students, readers, viewers, constituents, congregants or shareholders.
It is amusing to speculate what would be the reaction of one of the moral relativists, who take the position that we should not expect the Constitution to mean today what it was intended to mean, because "times have changed"; were his friendly banker to call him in and explain that the bank no longer felt obliged to limit its interest charges on his fixed rate 30 year mortgage, because of economic changes over the past twenty years. A lie does not become less a lie because the liar is able to rationalize it into a "different point of view"; and the sacredness of a compact or contract is one of the most important moral bases--if not the most important basis--for any political society.
The answer, of course, is not in despair; but in a return to those truths which made us great. And the essence of truth is in the pursuit of truth itself. We cannot raise the I.Q. level of the typical TV commentator, or make the "liberal" cleric study or understand theology. We cannot give Professors the brains, energy or courage to go back into the archives and really learn their disciplines--though doing so would shatter the "politically correct delusions" they live with. But we are a people who owe everything to the responsibility, initiative and ingenuity of the individual. And Conservatives have a veritable army of intelligent, responsible, self-reliant and creative individuals, quite capable of working together or working alone, as the circumstances warrant. Nor are they, generally, afraid of the verbal abuse of their inferiors.
The time has come to take our Country back from the corrupt gaggle of amoral misfits who would destroy it!