I don’t know how to do this without giving the impression that I am purposely trying to fight with Utah. This past week or so has been very hard on me. I consider Utah to be my friend, and even my ally in our struggle for individual rights and liberty, but I am also steadfast in my position as to how we best achieve this goal. This is why I have been pushing back so hard against my friend (not to mention Boss). Unfortunately, this has resulted in a lot of blood loss. I can assure you that this has not been lost on me, which makes this post all the harder to write, but write it I must. Utah’s post, “My Last Words on Jefferson,” has presented me the perfect opportunity to illustrate the battle I believe all those who seek individual rights and liberty must have between before any progress can be made in that direction. I simply cannot allow this opportunity to explain and demonstrate the difference between our positions to get away from me. I believe the issue is too important to the future of this nation. So, take this however you will. All I ask is that you try to read this post as dispassionately as you can, and carefully consider the principles I am trying to address and not the personalities involved. I understand that it may seem as though I am being harsh to my friend, but I love him, and it is with great love that I write this piece. If, however, afterward you read this you believe I have been unfair or am wrong, then by all means, feel free to judge me however you wish.
I’d like to start by explaining something a good friend of mine helped me realize as I was writing the original draft of this post. Had it not been for him, this post would have been much different (thanks, Bill). We – and I mean all of us – have been so divided that we can no longer recognize and agree on matters of right and wrong. This applies to us as individuals, but, politically, it is especially applicable to Party politics. When the Democrats are correct about an issue, the Republicans oppose them out of reflex. It happens without thinking. And when the Republicans are correct about an issue, the Democrats oppose them in the same manner. Well, this is a sure-fire way to insure this nation ends up under the control of tyrants.
What we need to understand is that it is not always the goal that determines good from bad, but the means by which we seek to achieve it. In this sense, it is possible for both Parties to have the same goal. It is equally possible for one Party to pursue it in a good way while the other pursues it in an evil manner. This is a house divided against itself and it will not stand. At the same time, both Parties can seek the same goal with through equally good means, and this is the realm where compromise is not only possible, but desirable. Unfortunately, it is also possible for both Parties to have the same goal and both to pursue it through evil means. When that happens, we do not have a divided house because evil is always an ally of evil. This is why I cannot and will never knowingly compromise with evil: because a lesser evil is still evil – period. So, what I have been trying to get those who profess to embrace individual rights and liberty to do is to look first to the morality mirror and make sure they do not have any planks in their own eyes before they turn their gaze upon those they perceive as enemies. In this way, hopefully, we can all come together to pursue the same goal and through good means.
With that said, I want to turn to Utah’s post. When I saw this early in the post, I was concerned:
“We must remember that “politics” are a function of the times contemporary to the people and the actions and beliefs of individuals can only be defined or explained in context with those times.”
This is the exact same line reasoning that was used to justify the “living document” paradigm of interpreting the Constitution. That manner of interpreting the Constitution represents an evil approach to law because it seeks to allow changes to the law without ever changing the letter of the law. This paradigm was developed specifically to get around the constraints of the Constitution. That is not upholding the law, but subversion of the law, and, as such, it is the breaking of the social contract. It is also deceptive, and anything that must be done through deception is evil. In this case, the “living document” paradigm is intended to control others rather than to preserve individual rights and liberty.
If you allow people to change the definitions and understanding of words and issues today from those at the time they were created, then we not only destroy the law, we destroy our language and – with it – our culture and society. There is a reason that Progressives are so obsessed with language, and why I have tried to detail and explain this in past RNL posts. Now, I am reasonably sure I can conclude Jefferson would have opposed such a line of reasoning, either in considering history or in the application of the law. Therefore, I would urge us to be extremely cautious not to employ it – especially where it comes to the issue of individual rights and liberty. Utah is correct: the issues of our times will change, but the principles of right and wrong are fixed; they do not change with time:
“Nothing… is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.”
So, keeping this in mind, let’s look at another point Utah asserted in his post:
“What Jefferson was, above all, was a fighter for liberty. It was a lifelong battle for him and in it, he employed any tool or philosophy that he determined useful and might provide the greatest individual liberty.”
This is a true statement, and I am in total agreement with it. However, as I said earlier, it must be understood that two people can have the same goal while adopting opposing means of achieving it. It is the path to that goal that differentiates between a tyrant and a lover and defender of individual rights and liberty. In this sense, we need to recognize that – when we read what he actually believed and advocated – we will find that Thomas Jefferson advocated for goals that are Progressive, even by our modern standards. To say otherwise is to ignore historic fact and definition. But what prevents Jefferson from being labeled as a modern Progressive is the means by which he sought to achieve his goals.
Let’s look at the definition of “Progressive:”
1. favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters: a progressive mayor.
3. characterized by such progress, or by continuous improvement.
4. ( initial capital letter ) of or pertaining to any of the Progressive parties in politics.
5. going forward or onward; passing successively from one member of a series to the next; proceeding step by step.
This is essentially the same definition of “progressive” as those asserted by the founders of the Progressive movement, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. And, in this sense, it applies equally to Jefferson – as it actually applies to many who would otherwise consider themselves to be “conservatives,” “libertarians” and “classic liberals.” Whether he was aware of it or not, Utah actually illustrates this point in his post:
“Some of those ideas would be considered socially “progressive” by today’s standards. In Jefferson’s time, they were merely experiments as there had never been anything attempted that was remotely like America in scale, scope or philosophy and therefore there were no definitions with which to pigeonhole his ideas.”
“Where the young America was concerned, Jefferson understood that the great could never allowed to be the enemy of the good and for the new country to succeed, it must avoid internal entanglements to maintain forward motion – and he did what was necessary to sustain that motion while keeping within a broad framework of individual freedom.”
“This “forward motion” philosophy is what led to the Louisiana Purchase.” [There is an important lesson here, especially since it involves Jefferson: the Louisiana purchase was actually unconstitutional!]
Definition 3. characterized by such progress, or by continuous improvement.
In making these statements, Utah also makes a point that I think is the source of our contention: and not just between him and I, but among all those who seek the heritage of our founders. Note these words again:
“…Jefferson understood that the great could never allowed to be the enemy of the good and for the new country to succeed, it must avoid internal entanglements to maintain forward motion…”
Now what does “great” mean? Well, if we consider that it must be something with the ability to inhibit the good, and we accept that the good is that which preserves individual rights and liberty, then it follows that the great must be that which can subvert individual rights and liberty. Today, whether they want to admit and accept it or not, this includes international corporations and individual billionaires. It also includes organizations such as giant trade unions and political action organizations. But it also includes the law and those who have a stranglehold over it. So, while I agree with Utah — Jefferson would have opposed allowing powerful people and organizations from becoming an enemy of good — I also believe he would have never have endorsed the subversion of the law in pursuit of that goal. When the law is used to enact what today is termed “social justice,” it violates one of Jefferson primary founding principles concerning the law:
Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever persuasion, religious or political.
–Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801
Here is an even better assertion of the same sentiment, and from the same speech:
All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.
–Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801
Notice how Jefferson embraces the Progressive ideal of allowing the will of the people to prevail, but notice too the difference between his method and that of the modern Progressive. Where the modern Progressive will use the law to trample the rights of minority groups and even specific individuals, Jefferson insists that the law should never be allowed to be used in such a manner else it ceases to be law and become oppression, which is what it has become today. Utah even points out that Jefferson would see our current system of laws as tyrannical, and again, I agree with Utah:
“But we must also recognize that the full weight of our governing model rests on laws that Jefferson would describe as “the tyrants law”…”
But where Utah and I differ – where many “conservatives” and I differ – is in our approach to correcting this tyranny:
But we must also recognize that the full weight of our governing model rests on laws that Jefferson would describe as “the tyrants law”…but law is law and the way to battle a system like this is to change and eliminate the laws, not to break them.
Obeying tyranny is obeying evil, and any compromise with evil is – itself – evil. So how does one expect to defeat evil by embracing evil? Remember, evil against evil is not a house divided: it is just different forms of evil. To divide, one must have truly opposing forces, and that is where I believe Utah has misread Jefferson. Let’s look at Jefferson’s position on tyranny in relation to how likely he would have been to support tyranny:
“When the government fears the people there is liberty; when the people fear the government there is tyranny.”
“I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
–letter to Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800
“Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”
Now, I ask you, how does one obey evil and God at the same time?
Now, I understand that this leads to the inevitable and accusatory question of “So, what do you suggest we do?” I don’t know! I have never said I have the answers, only that there are historic examples that provide us with alternative paths to our goal which are not, themselves, evil. Again, as Utah has explained, there are ideas men, such as Jefferson, and men of action, such as Madison. Utah is correct: the pair made a brilliant team. So I defer to those who are better at action. All I know is how to point people in the right direction and to round them up when they start to stray.
Ideally, we would have stopped this slide toward tyranny before it began:
“The time to guard against corruption and tyranny is before they shall have gotten hold of us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold, than to trust to drawing his teeth and talons after he shall have entered.”
–Notes on Virginia Q.XIII, 1782. ME 2:165
Now, it’s too late for that. But there are other means of affecting the change Utah advocates, ways that are good and not evil and for which Jefferson advocated:
Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day.
–letter to Dupont de Nemours, April 24, 1816
But of all the views of this law none is more important, none more legitimate, than that of rendering the people the safe, as they are the ultimate, guardians of their own liberty. For this purpose the reading in the first stage, where they will receive their whole education, is proposed, as has been said, to be chiefly historical. History by apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views.
–Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 14, 1781
So, we educate, and the most important thing we can teach others is from where their rights are derived:
A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.
–Rights of British America, 1774
And because only a moral and religious people can be free and self-governing, we teach people of the importance of moral character and honor again:
Give up money, give up fame, give up science, give the earth itself and all it contains rather than do an immoral act. And never suppose that in any possible situation, or under any circumstances, it is best for you to do a dishonorable thing, however slightly so it may appear to you… From the practice of the purest virtue, you may be assured you will derive the most sublime comforts in every moment of life, and in the moment of death.
–letter to Peter Carr, August 19, 1785
An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens….There has never been a moment of my life in which I should have relinquished for it the enjoyments of my family, my farm, my friends & books.
–letter to John Melish, January 13, 1813
And we can never stop, never tire, never sleep in pursuit of these endeavors, because:
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
But there is one last point Jefferson makes to which we must pay careful and considered heed:
“God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
—November 13, 1787, letter to William S. Smith
Read those words again, carefully: read them all. Now hear me clearly, and understand: I am not advocating sedition or revolution! I am not calling for anarchy nor do I want lawlessness. I am, however, calling for civil disobedience in the spirit of Jefferson’s words here. The moment we reject this counsel, counsel from the very mind that wrote the Declaration of Independence, we have surrendered to those who would control us. Now, if all those who seek to preserve individual rights and liberty would spend as much time and energy looking for peaceful means to apply force in opposition to those who seek to control us as they do telling voices such as Jefferson’s that they are advocating the destruction of the nation, maybe we could find a path to our goal that does not require us to become that which we claim to oppose.