The Founders’ error dooms our Republic, but not the next

Summary: The Republic is dying. The usual reasons given are wrong. The Founders made a mistake, which points to a solution for us. It won’t be easy or quick, but should give us hope.

“The sphere of rights was to be the arena of moral passion in a democracy.”
— From Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom. This was the great mistake at the Founding.

“But this universe consists of paired dualities.”
— From Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (1959).

Constitution - dreamstime_31431626
ID 31431626 © Daniel Thornberg | Dreamstime.

I have come to believe that the Second Republic (based on the Constitution) probably cannot continue in its current form. Others with the same belief seek structural changes as fixes: new laws, new and complex forms of elections, and even changing the Constitution (e.g., amendments or another Convention). None of these will work because the problem is more fundamental.

The Founders made an error. They wrote the Declaration of Independence as war-time propaganda, but we took it too seriously. The subsequent 244 years have proven that it was a flawed basis for a political regime.

“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 …”

It was a masterstroke to offer lavish rights under the new regime, with few accompanying duties. This was the political equivalent of offering a job with high pay that requires little work. In his great Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom explains this success.

Closing of the American Mind
Available at Amazon.

“Reciprocal recognition of rights needs little training, no philosophy, and abstracts from all differences of national character. Americans were, in effect, told that they could be whatever they wanted to be or happened to be as long as they recognized that the same applied to all other men and they were willing to support and defend the government that guaranteed that dispensation. It is possible to become an American in a day. …

“The notion that man possesses inalienable natural rights, that they belong to him as an individual prior, both in time and in sanctity, to any civil society, and that civil societies exist for and acquire their legitimacy from ensuring those rights, is an invention of modem philosophy. Rights, like the other terms discussed in this chapter, are new in modernity, not a part of the common-sense language of politics or of classical political philosophy. Hobbes initiated the notion of rights, and it was given its greatest respectability by Locke. …

“The spring that makes this social machinery tick is the recognition …that if he agrees to respect the life, liberty and property of others (for which he has no natural respect), they can be induced to reciprocate. This is the foundation of rights, a new kind of morality solidly grounded in self-interest. …It signifies the rules of the game, within which men play peacefully, the necessity of which they see and accept, and the infringement of which arouses moral indignation. It is our only principle of justice. From our knowledge of our rights flows our acceptance of the duties to the community that protects them. …

“Everyone in the world today speaks of rights, even the communists, the heirs of Marx, who ridiculed “bourgeois rights” as a sham and in whose thought there is no place for rights.”

Rights and duties

“But in modem political regimes, where rights precede duties, freedom definitely has primacy over community, family and even nature. …Rights are not the opposite of wrongs, but of duties.”
— From Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom.

The universe requires balance. Yin-Yang. The Law of Equivalent Exchange. Conservation of mass-energy. America has become a people focused on their rights with little awareness of their dutues. Robert Heinlein explains the problem in his 1959 book, Starship Troopers.

Starship Troopers
Available at Amazon.

“The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to group that self-interest has to individual. …The society they were in told them endlessly about their ‘rights.’ The results should have been predictable, since a human being has no natural rights of any nature. …

“Life? What ‘right’ to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What ‘right’ to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of ‘right’? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man’s right is ‘unalienable’? And is it ‘right’?

“As to liberty, the heroes who signed that great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called ‘natural human rights’ that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.

“The third ‘right’ – the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives. But neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it. …

“Their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of ‘rights’… and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.”

What comes next?

“Choice. The problem is choice.”
— Neo in The Matrix Reloaded.

What could make us change our political regime so fundamentally? Probably only obvious failure of our political regime. History provides many examples, such as civic unrest, miltiary defeat, or a deep economic depression. The slow decay of our regime makes all of them more likely. What matters in such events is how we respond. Do we blame others for our problems, try to patch the system, or seek to build a stronger new regime?

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon. Also, see a story about our future: “Ultra Violence: Tales from Venus.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about political violence, about civil disobedience, about reforming America: steps to new politics, and especially these …

  1. Fear the rise of political violence in America. We can still stop it.
  2. Civil war is coming to America – our latest doomster story!
  3. More ideas: Inspiration. The missing element that can reform America.
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  5. America abandons the ideals that made us great.
  6. Make a better future. Pick up the War Arrow.
  7. About the coming civil war (our third).
  8. Sources of inspiration to survive the coming bad times.

Books about the American Republic

American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony by Samuel P. Huntington (1981).

Shakespeare’s Politics by Allan Bloom. We an learn much from the Master.

Shakespeare's Politics
Available at Amazon.
American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony
Available at Amazon.

36 thoughts on “The Founders’ error dooms our Republic, but not the next”

  1. OT, Even their grammar critics are more aggressive at WUWT.

    LK: At present I don’t share your pessimism. Just as battling the socialists on the left and right seems to be hard from their ability to avoid facts, logic, or history, which I think of as inertia, so to do I find our concepts of rights. To me that is why the left is pushing so hard to bring about the destruction of our rights. It is competition.

    I think it more likely that the change of the population by immigration and birth control will end our republic than that it is flawed. But I will consider it and get back with you if I think of anything noteworthy.

    YMMV

    1. John,

      “At present I don’t share your pessimism.”

      As the About Page explains, the FM website discusses things on the “edge of the known. There are few (or no) certainties out here.

      We tend to run 3 – 5 years ahead of the pack. This is btw, a bad business strategy. I learned to run posts from several years ago, when the subject has become hot – and find that they get 2x or 3x the traffic they originally got.

  2. Larry-

    Excellent post.  Perhaps this will be the year I start writing again.  I’d like to explore our differences in stoicism and christianity. 

    As it pertains to this post, the founders were steeped in the classics and could probably not even fathom a world where the educated class didn’t discuss them.  Rather, can you imagine their shock if they knew we made up ideology and policy based on collective feelings???

    I’d argue that it starts with understanding philosophy before trying to do structural reform on the constituation- who are we? why are we?

    For now, some of my generation (and the younger generation) are doing their own take on stoicism. In my mind, this is the first part.  If you’re full of ego and pride, then you only focus on your rights not your duty.

    “In Everything is F*cked, Manson argues that hope is the coal that keeps the existence train rolling. It’s hope that gives a reason to continue on and find meaning in a seemingly meaningless existence. The message is simple, though Manson humorously expands on it by writing that if he were a barista at Starbucks, he would happily write the following message on every customer’s morning cup: 

    ‘One day, you and everyone you love will die. And beyond a small group of people for an extremely brief period of time, little of what you say or do will even matter. This is the Uncomfortable Truth of life. And everything you think or do is but an elaborate avoidance of it. We are inconsequential cosmic dust, bumping and milling about on a tiny blue speck. We imagine our own importance. We invent our purpose—we are nothing. Enjoy your f*cking coffee.’

    At first glance, Everything is F*cked almost appears to be an argument for nihilism, the basic assertion that life is utterly meaningless. But Manson is actually insisting the opposite. Once we acknowledge this Uncomfortable Truth, that our existence is objectively insignificant, then we can slowly begin to build a hopeful and meaningful life. Not just any kind of hope or meaning, Manson adds, but one that is sustainable and benevolent in nature. Meaning is derived from our subjective hopes—what we’re trying to do and accomplish. The harder we look for an objective meaning to life, the more we’ll struggle and lose hope altogether.”  

    Mark Manson, Everything is F*cked: A Book about Hope
    https://dailystoic.com/everything-is-fcked-by-mark-manson-book-summary-key-lessons-and-best-quotes-2/

    -Mike

    1. Mike,

      Here’s an excerpt from my post discussing how we’re falling as the Roman Republic did (not, as commonly said, like the Empire).

      The story of Rome’s evolution from Republic to Empire is well known. Less so is how its people adjusted to this change from citizen to subject. They used several means to retain their self-respect. We probably will use them, too (perhaps we have already begun).

      First, they pretended nothing had changed by retaining the outward forms of the Republic. The Senate still met, Rome’s laws still remained in force. “SPQR” still appeared on coins, on public documents, on monuments and public works, and on the standards of the Roman legions (Senātus Populusque Rōmānus, The Senate and People of Rome).

      Second, they hoped for a miracle that would restore the Republic. Better times are coming! A good emperor will come and restore Rome’s past glamour, or Rome’s people will rise up (as they had in the past). Dreams are cheap, albeit ineffective.

      Third, they adopted philosophies of passivity and withdrawal — some combination of irony, detachment, and resignation. These became Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Hedonism. The religiously inclined adopted one of the mystery religions (Mithraism was popular in the Army), or something radically different like Judaism or Christianity. (This insight stems from Hegel, developed by Nietzsche and others)

      1. Larry-

        That’s the post that I was referring to, and your readers should definitely check it out.

        My position is that Stoicism and Christianity are forms of revolution / rebellion NOT passivity / withdrawal.

        It’s an interesting discussion. Again, I enjoyed this article, and I do not want to hikejack it.

        Mike

    2. Thanks for the post Larry. Your list of responses that Romans had to the loss of their republic reminds me of Arnold Toynbee’s list of responses that are typical after a society experiences what he called a breakdown. Toynbee noted that people would seek a savior of some sort: saviors with time machines (into past or future Utopias), saviors with a sword and saviors with transcendent philosophies. While these saviors can delay or ease the decline of a society they cannot repair the damage done by the breakdown. The breakdown is a loss of spiritual growth in society marked by the loss of a creative minority and its replacement by a dominant minority. Concurrent with this change is the transformation of a willing populace led by the creatives into an oppressed proletariat.

      In a growing society prior to the breakdown, there are positive rewards for those who respond to the call of duty and sanctions against shirkers. The costs of duty were borne by all, with the privileged bearing a greater share commensurate with their greater privilege. After the breakdown, the burdens of duty are borne mostly by the lower classes, while dominant minority uses their privilege to avoid it.

      Toynbee is not perfect but I think that he had some good observations on the nature of social change. There is hope in his scheme in that a social crisis does not have to lead to breakdown but it can be an avenue to reforms that restore spiritual growth. So there is grounds for optimism but I fear that the time for reform is long past by at least four generations.

  3. Robert Landbeck

    Restoring the link between rights and responsibilities, one absent from human nature, is the same link to restoring a moral order that has become lost to relativism. That religious failure is at the heart of the problem. And resolving that problem must begin with questioning the all to human, theological construct that calls itself religion.

    The question has become this: could two millennia of scholastic exegesis, tradition and the faith of almost a billion people be wholly in error? No more than a theological counterfeit! And no longer a rhetorical question for mud slinging between atheist and religious, re-examining the foundational claims of the ‘church’ is well under way, and using ‘new’ scriptural discoveries, we are on the threshold of discovering that answer.

    And the ‘church’, theology and tradition as we know it could be facing extinction! And that will be the last revolution. More at https://www.dunwanderinpress.org

  4. Heinlein would also agree with the fable of the ant and the grasshopper, an understanding of which underlay the success of the Republic. The thought that life could be different was not widely held in 1792, but today it is seen as the duty of the sovereign to see that grasshoppers flourish.

    If the new republic is to enforce the “duties” of grasshoppers called to its maintenance there must be the power to enforce that duty. Keeping those entrusted with that power from “abusing” it is the trick (actually, they will be doing what comes naturally when they “abuse” that power).

    No state can support a vast body of unproductive citizens forever. We have only done so for the last 50+ years by expanding credit. The credit expansion is near its inevitable end, and when it ends the delusion that we can support the unproductive will also end.

    If the population of the USA (and the world) is to be maintained near its current level there will be serious limits placed on liberty – but this is not China. We do not have a largely homogeneous population nor a population enured to thousands of years of despotism. The forces resisting that imposition of rule will be enormous.

    I believe we are approaching a bifurcation. Either population will be drastically reduced or government will assume the vast power necessary to maintain current density. I don’t think either path will be pleasant.

    1. Epicur,

      I have no idea what you’re talking about.

      “If the new republic is to enforce the “duties” of grasshoppers called to its maintenance there must be the power to enforce that duty.”

      In his personal views and in most of his stories, Heinlein was a libertarian. He would consider that statement abhorrent, perhaps tyrannical.

      “We have only done so for the last 50+ years by expanding credit.

      False. Most of our government debt since 1980 was accumulated to build a monstrously large military machine (and fight foreign wars) and to finance tax cuts for the rich.

      “. Either population will be drastically reduced or government will assume the vast power necessary to maintain current density.”

      Absurd. Population density in the US is low, a tiny fraction of that in densely populated nations.

      1. “In his personal views and in most of his stories, Heinlein was a libertarian. He would consider that statement abhorrent, perhaps tyrannical.”

        It is absolutely tyrannical – as is the Pacific Ocean in the metaphor you quote. In the fable of the ant and the grasshopper, the grasshopper dies when winter comes. Modern social democracies have taken on the burden of supporting the unproductive (notice I make no moral judgement about responsibility for being in that state). I am predicting that a state that takes that burden must eventually also have the power to allocate resources and order lives, IOW, it must be totalitarian (watch China).

        “Most of our government debt since 1980 was accumulated to build a monstrously large military machine (and fight foreign wars) and to finance tax cuts for the rich.”

        Government debt is not the issue I raise. The issue is total debt within the system vs. the productive activity to service the debt. While we probably would agree about the wastefulness of the allocation of the money that was “created” and the potential for more productive uses, the fact remains that expanding credit has been required to create “growth” that sustains the population(s). To the point you raise, I (and others) would contend, the vast military machine has enabled global trade to function (maintaining oil flow, e.g.). I make no argument about how artfully that has been accomplished, but the flow has been, so far, maintained.

        “Population density in the US is low, a tiny fraction of that in densely populated nations.”

        It is more of a matter of where people are and what they are doing. At the core, the argument is about whether the credit expansion can continue. My point is that once the credit expansion ends very large numbers of people will be helpless to maintain themselves – this is not the nation it was in 1929.

        I have no argument with your thesis, except that I don’t think the founders would have expected the Constitution to function in the current circumstances (see Adams, below).

        You asked “What next?”

        My reply is that it is going to be impossible to maintain the country without granting the government much more power than it currently has. Perhaps you believe that people can be called to “duties” by moral suasion. I doubt that. Once power is granted one runs into Lord Acton’s dictum about the corrupting influence of power.

        “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion… Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” – John Adams

    2. government will assume the vast power necessary to maintain current density

      Does this thesis survive contact with the numerous dense and reasonably-vibrant metropoles of East Asia? Even Hong Kong is hardly the long-fantasized SHTF Starvation Riot Hellscape I have long seen confidently predicted to be Just Around The Corner.

      1. SF,

        “Does this thesis survive contact with the numerous dense and reasonably-vibrant metropoles of East Asia”

        Nicely done rhetorical question! Doomster fantasies are, however, immune to both fact and logic.

      2. What gets me is when I look at the doomster constellation and I try to figure out what the heck is the anxiety or whatever being addressed (in the way that horror movies address anxieties to some extent). It usually seems to boil down to “I don’t like city slickers, and I may also not hold warm feelings about ethnic minorities,” at least here in the US. I’m sure there are similar constellations in other nations, but the details are no doubt different… an interesting topic but not really an issue on this blog. (Maybe if they were Iranians or some other geopolitical beef-holder with the US?)

  5. Excellent post, Larry. I’ve been struggling in this general direction for the last few years but you’ve managed to crystallize my thinking in far fewer words than I would have used. Well done!

    1. Pluto,

      Thank you for the feedback! As you know, I’ve been struggling in my writings since 2003 to understand what’s happening.

      My goal is to find an operationally useful explanation of our core or root problems. Such a thing can only be asserted and illustrated, not proven.

      What matters is the degree and extent to which it gets adopted by others. That is one reason I illustrate this using popular books and films.

    2. The one piece of feedback that I can offer towards your new republic is that it needs to be able to be adapt to new technological and social changes better than most other developed countries (but not necessarily as well as the current Republic, which does so by rewarding leaders of these changes with incredible amounts of money and influence).

      1. Pluto,

        “it needs to be able to be adapt to new technological and social changes better than most other developed countries ”

        I have no idea what that means. The current rate of tech progress is glacial compared to that of roughly 1850-1945. Nations had to scramble back then. People today are agog at the rate of tech because they no longer remember what rapid tech was like.

        Adapting to tech is imo low on our long list of challenges.

      2. Larry: “Adapting to tech is imo low on our long list of challenges.”

        You make a solid case for your point and you are correct about the rate of tech change between 1850-1945. But it didn’t have the extraordinary (for better or worse) effect on social and business interactions as people adapt cell phone and internet technology to do old tasks in new ways.

        Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google, NetFlix, Microsoft and other giants that have sprung up in the last 30 years and present both a problem and a source of revenue that would be very helpful to the future of the US.

        Ten years ago K-Mart was a major (if cheap) retailer, they were destroyed by several aspects of the new technological retail space that hadn’t even been imagined at that time. Lots of other retailers are likely to follow in the near future (Pier 500, for example).

        The trend is beginning to impact the service industry as well (see a lawyer online and save money!).

        The new republic needs some sensible way to handle/survive that sort of change or it may find itself irrelevant before it begins. It would also be helpful if it could find a way to avoid creating the mega-fortunes of the likes of Zuckerberg, Gates, and Bezos. We need to reward these incredibly driven success stories but we also need to avoid owing them fealty when they are finished creating their new tools.

        These guys could buy the presidential election with sufficient forethought if they wanted to and someday somebody will decide that is a good idea. I know Michael Bloomberg is trying to do that right now without much success, but that is primarily due to bad planning, not lack of funds.

        If a Bezos-like person decided on a steady plan of legal regime change in the US, he could recruit politicians, build a wave of support over a 2-4 year cycle, spend some of his petty cash fund (say $1-2 billion) and do so without major problems if he was careful to stay in the shadows and let the talking heads keep the attention.

      3. Pluto:

        …could recruit politicians, build a wave of support over a 2-4 year cycle, spend some of his petty cash fund (say $1-2 billion) and do so without major problems if he was careful to stay in the shadows and let the talking heads keep the attention.

        Extend this out to 20 years and make it “a coalition of very wealthy people” vs. “one ultra-super-wealthy people” and you kind of have the Republican Party (on the institutional level – Trump seized the reins, but has left most of the judicial etc. machinery be)

        I think we have kind of discovered some of the limits of money in politics. The main thing I have heard Bloomberg would contribute to the Democratic side in 2020 would be a willingness to fund GOTV efforts and more frequent polling… which will no doubt be helpful but is hardly “buying the election.”

      4. SF,

        There is a common belief among those not familiar with politics that money rules. It’s unfounded. Money is a factor, but not the dominant factor. An easy demo is to look at the candidates with an early lead in fund-raising, but don’t get the nomination. I suspect that the money-vote relationship is even weaker in general elections.

        There are some famous demonstrations, such as John Connally who outspent everyone in the early stage of the 1980 GOP presidential primaries – spending $11 million (back when that was real money) to get one delegate.

  6. “It was a masterstroke to offer lavish rights under the new regime, with few accompanying duties. …Hobbes initiated the notion of rights. …”Then citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of rights …and lost track of their duties, no nation so constituted can endure.”

    In some historical sense it seems that both the liberal left and and right initially converged around variants of individualism and now the anti-liberal extremes are converging around variants of statism (through centralized bureaucracy, the market, or a combination). Both perspectives seem to view politics as oscillating between two binary poles: the isolated individual with rights and liberties and the collective power of the state/market either to secure or override these same rights.

    Such a situation suggests, to me, that the supposed neutrality of a rights based policy conceals from view a type of hidden war of all against all that consists of a clash of rival rights in a type of endless “will to power.” of some over others.

    Have we paid too high a price by replacing substantive notions of the good we share in common with a liberal freedom of choices that cannot decide what should be allowed and encouraged and what should not? Can we have a healthy politics without a language of sacrifice?

    But from the liberal perspective–will our constitutional structure endure only because it creates a formal structure that lacks substantive statements of principal–that purposely lacks a substantive notion of the good?

  7. Godfree Roberts

    What could make us change our political regime so fundamentally?

    One thing that will help is being beaten at everything–which seems to be China’s strategy.

    They’re already ahead of us in functional areas like State effectiveness, in moral areas like human rights (read the Universal Declaration if you doubt this), and in social and financial areas.

    By mid-2021, every Chinese will own a home and have an income, plenty of food and clothes, education, safe streets, health insurance, pensions, and old age care. By then, 300,000,000 urban Chinese will have more net worth and disposable income than the average American, their mothers and infants will be less likely to die in childbirth, their children will graduate from high school three years ahead of American kids and live longer, healthier lives and there will be more drug addicts, suicides and executions, more homeless, poor, hungry and imprisoned people in America than in China.

    They launched 27 warships last year, and more rockets than the US, while their economy grew 300% faster than ours…and they’re just getting warmed up. Their goals for 2035 and 2049 are breathtaking.

    Our media have hidden these inconvenient truths from us for so long that we have become complacent and failed to reinvest in ourselves with the result that China outspends us 3:1 on R&D and (thanks to logarithmic scales and 4x population) has 10x more geniuses to spend it.

    When this news gets out it will help change our political regime fundamentally. To what, who knows?

    1. Godfree,

      “They’re already ahead of us in functional areas like State effectiveness, in moral areas like human rights (read the Universal Declaration if you doubt this), and in social and financial areas.”

      It’s always interesting to see your delusional comments. Say hello to the others in Wonderland! However, your comments are too nutty, so I’m moderating them. Anything sensible will be posted.

      “They launched 27 warships last year, and more rockets than the US”

      Since our fleet is already bizarrely large vs. our needs, and theirs is too small – your comment is quite mad.

      “while their economy grew 300% faster than ours…and they’re just getting warmed up.”

      China is a middle-income nation. It’s per capita income is roughly $16k vs. $60k for the US. Of course it grows faster. That’s good news, showing that other nations can grow to developed nations’ levels of prosperity.

      1. scipioafricanus114

        Ah yes, Godfree Roberts and his wild-eyed China boosterism. Hey Godfree, how are those PLA checks coming along, comrade?

        Seriously, though, the reason China has grown so phenomenally is that 1) it has very high levels of human capital (avg. IQ 105+), 2) it’s emerging from a long stretch of events that were keeping it way, way down for a long time (closed society -> humiliation / abuse by colonial powers -> civil war -> Japanese invasion -> more civil war -> Maoist communism), so it was starting from an absurdly low level relative to its capability.

        But most nations don’t have such levels of human capital and did not suffer such a long run of geopolitical bad luck.

        As you probably know (I would hope) you can pretty accurately predict per capita GDP for a country using the scores of their students on standardized tests, if you also control for countries with a legacy of socialism and those with a resource windfall, mainly oil. As the legacy of socialism continues to fade, the countries that experienced it are regressing up to the trendline of the developed countries (and, as oil resources wind down, countries in that category will regress down — sorry KSA). China still has a long way to go, so we can expect continued growth. But, sadly, most other countries are already at their predicted level so their prospects are less sanguine.

        C.f. Anthony Karlin’s work on this here: https://akarlin.com/2012/02/education-elixir-of-growth-3/ and here: https://akarlin.com/2012/02/irrelevance-of-corruption/ for starters.

  8. The notion that man possesses inalienable natural rights, that they belong to him as an individual prior, both in time and in sanctity, to any civil society, and that civil societies exist for and acquire their legitimacy from ensuring those rights, is an invention of modem philosophy. Rights, like the other terms discussed in this chapter, are new in modernity, not a part of the common-sense language of politics or of classical political philosophy. Hobbes initiated the notion of rights, and it was given its greatest respectability by Locke.

    This is probably literally true if we confine ourselves to looking in philosophy, but that isn’t the important place to look. The place to look is the Common Law of England. You will not, at least I think it is true, find there the concept of inalienable rights, nor will you find refined theories about the origin of the legitimacy of civil society, something which the practise of the Common Law takes for granted.

    But you will find concepts of rights which well precede Locke and Hobbes.

    Political theories are like theoretical physics. The Common Law is an engineering manual telling you how to use the tools everyone knows exist as a result of the laws of physics.

    Now, to be fair, its many decades since I studied this, and then didn’t study law as such, so I am relying on recollections of impressions. But I did not then have at all the impression that Locke and Hobbes got their notions out of their heads. They drew on what they could see around them. At least that is what I recall from those long ago studies.

    Its also worth reading the essays in critique of Bloom:

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Essays-Closing-American-Robert-Stone/dp/1556520522/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=essays+on+the+closing+of+the+american+mind&qid=1578989250&sr=8-1

    He is interesting and penetrating, but there are long sections where he seems to me to go completely off the rails.

    1. Henrik,

      “The place to look is the Common Law of England.”

      I am consistently amazed at the frequency with which you declare experts to be wrong on the basis of stuff you make up. The relevant Wikipedia article (Wiki is good at such things) doesn’t even mention “common law”, but does prominently mention Locke and Hobbes.

      “But you will find concepts of rights which well precede Locke and Hobbes.”

      The other weird thing about your comments is their irrelevance to the post. Bloom isn’t writing a book about the origin of natural rights. This is a brief excerpt from a chapter discussing it. He makes the standard observation that the modern concept of natural rights was first stated with some completeness in Hobbes’ Leviathan. This is philosophy 101. There were, as always, predecessors in its evolution.

      “there are long sections where he seems to me to go completely off the rails.”

      Oddly, that’s what I think when reading your critiques of work by people with a far greater grasp of the subject than you. On the other hand, you do have great self-esteem.

      1. It may be philosophy 101, but that does not mean that either it or the conclusions that he and others would like to draw from it are correct. The certified holder of a ‘greater grasp of the subject’ is not necessarily right and doesn’t get unquestioning belief.

        I have seen enough unjustifiable things in enough areas (including philosophy) presented as indubitably certain and well evidenced not to be overly impressed by appeals to authority.

        You yourself, Larry, have for instance views on climate and a host of other issues which are majorly inconsistent with those of ‘people with a far greater grasp of the subject than you’.

        But you are in my view right about climate and at least interestingly thought provoking about many other things.

  9. I have come to believe that the Second Republic (based on the Constitution) probably cannot continue in its current form.

    I don’t agree. We are speaking about the future and I’m not a very good, or even a good, forecaster, but look back. The Constitution has survived, and the country with it, slavery and its abolition, a civil war, two world wars, a depression, the installation and then repeal of Prohibition, Vietnam, civil rights. It survived the era of the Robber Barons, and it adapted to deliver the New Deal in response to the Depression. It was well designed by men of great wisdom (maybe some women in the background, too!) and will withstand crises and challenges which are visible and coming.

    I also don’t believe the Founders made a fundamental mistake. First because I don’t believe the concept of rights is erroneous in itself. Second, because that was not their fundamental achievement, whether you think it erroneous or not does not materially affect the scale of that achievement. Their fundamental achievement was the design of the system of checks and balances which survived all the crises, and which will survive the arrival of the woke millenarians too.

    What emerges at the end may be changed and adapted and importantly different from what we see now. We may and hopefully will see a retreat from entitlement to an emphasis on duty. This, agreed. It used to be like that, and probably that spirit will come again. I agree, probably as a result of some crisis.

    But I expect the Constitution and the Republic recognizably to survive.

    1. henrik,

      I seldom respond to your comments, since they usually ignore the material in the post. But this one is special.

      “but look back. The Constitution has survived … ”

      Since you are alive, I’m sure you don’t drive like you forecast, based only on the past. By your reasoning, no nation ever falls – since they all survived up to that point.

      1. I am just saying, it has been stress tested.

        If you want the driving analogy, you are looking at an experienced off-road driver, who has a track record of making it safely through some very tough courses in a certain model of car. We see that there is trouble ahead, but based on what he and the car have come through in one piece in the past, we feel reasonably optimistic that he will make it through this one too.

        We shall see together if this is right. I hope it will turn out to be, not just for the sake of the US, but also for the sake of the West. I do agree with you that the road at the moment and right ahead looks very rocky indeed.

        And our driver seems to have developed a worrying tendency to stop, get out, and pick fights with bystanders over irrelevant issues. He sure is going to have to stop doing that if we are to make it through.

  10. Peter Chrzanowski

    BUT, the U.S. Constitution contains only what has been called “negative rights.” For example, the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and freedom of religion don’t require that anyone do anything for you, but only require that government leave you alone by not restricting what you can say (although it can limit when and how you say it) and to worship (or not) the deity (-ies) of your choice.

    This is very different from a positive right, such as a “right to medical care,” which requires that someone buy goods and/or services to you which you might not be able to buy for yourself.

    So long as “rights” are limited to negative rights, concepts of “unalienable rights” mostly remain workable. But when “rights” start to include demands upon others, there seems no limit to what may be demanded as a “right,” and thus regarding such things as “rights” can quickly become unsupportable as goods and services are not limitless (and especially so when they require human ingenuity and labor to produce).

    1. Peter,

      “BUT, the U.S. Constitution contains only what has been called “negative rights.”

      That’s grossly missing the point. The Constitution is just a “paper bullet of the brain.” Few Americans even know what it says. Judges no longer pay much attention to it – either ignoring its plain meaning (instead guided by two centuries of what are in effect judical ammendments) OR focusing instead on “penumbra” that they’ve made up.

      Bloom is discussing what matters: people’s understanding of their political regime.

      Your discussion is the kind of thing academics have fun with. Nobody else pays attention.

  11. You miss the point. The rights don’t come from “politics”, nor “modernity”, nor ancientry (that’s a word as of now, damn it! ).

    The rights do not come from man at all. No rights by man can be seen as anything other than being subject to man’s whims of the day. Tear them up! Tear the DoI & Constitution up, so saith the whim of the day!

    The rights must come from a source higher than man and earthly royalty rejected (as Washington did). And so as it says, we are, “endowed by our Creator” with certain “inalienable rights”, which is also why the Bill of Rights does not tell citizens what they may do (except for one, I think), but rather, tell the government what it cannot do. Read it carefully. :-)

    1. Zeuszoos,

      “The rights do not come from man at all. ”

      It would be helpful if you were to reply to direct quotes. This post does not discuss where rights come from. It discusses their background in western political theory.

      “You miss the point.”

      I think that applies more to you than anything in this post.

  12. FM
    The American constitution is a great document. It has three failures in it and the subsequents rights documents. If the existing America collapses or there is another civil war due to a total partisan divide (which we appear to be approaching), I would recommend that the framers of what comes next deals with the following:

    It does not directly say we are a Christian or even a Judeo Christian nation based on the laws and freedoms granted directly by God as a function of His universal creation. In the future, it needs to provide clear cut directions on to what extent religion in the nation comes into play and how rights can be preserved but at addresses the radicals who wish to eliminate Christianity from the public square—this can never happen again!
    It does not provide much direction as to how to stop an insurrection and takeover of the Republic by an internal criminal regime. Although much of this was addresses in subsequent writings and letters from the partriots to each other and elements written into the Congressional record, it should have been part and parcel to the instruction manual.
    Provides instruction on who can enter America and what is expected of citizenship and what will happen if those rules are broken.

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