The upcoming presidential election is certainly the most important of my lifetime, and perhaps any since the Civil War era. The winner will not just direct policy over the next four (or more) years, but will affect the fundamental structure of our nation. Indeed, many of today’s candidates, following the lead of former President Obama, wish to “fundamentally change America.” But they don’t tell you what that means.
That’s the purpose of this discussion. My goal here is not to tell you whom to vote for, but rather, to argue what to vote for. To begin with, let us understand exactly what the fundamental principles of America are. Only then can we make an informed decision about whether to vote to change them.
The Declaration of Independence
The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence sets forth the principles upon which America is built. It states, in part:
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 …
This simple statement sets out five fundamental truths about our beliefs, which are:
1. God created man,
2. We are all equal,
3. God (not government) grants humans certain rights, in particular, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,
4. Those rights cannot be taken away, and
5. Governments are created to protect those rights.
As you go into the voting booth this November, ask yourself, which of these fundamental principles do you wish to alter or abolish? Let’s discuss them in more detail.
The Right to Life
The great William Blackstone, the English jurist and legal philosopher, wrote in his Commentaries on the Law, that life is the “immediate gift of God.” He declared that the right to life is one that is inherent in every individual. Blackstone noted that that no man has the power to destroy life, but through the law of God, “who is the author of life.”
Many politicians today argue that there is an individual choice whether an unborn child should live or die. Many such politicians argue that this choice exists right up until the moment the child is born, and perhaps, astonishingly, even immediately after the child is born.
Instead, God tells us we are not to kill the innocent (Exod 23:7). Rather, in Deuteronomy 30:19, he says, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
God is so concerned with life that he created life in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27); He sustains life (Job 12:10); He redeemed life (I Corinthians 5:19); and He sent his Son not only that we may have life, but have it to the fullest (John 10:10).
Would you vote to fundamentally change the idea that humans have an inherent right to life? If so, in whom would you vest the power to decide who will live and who will not? What government bureaucracy would you trust to make that decision about your life and that of your family?
If you said “no” to my first question, then you must vote to uphold the right to life.
The Right to Liberty
If man is created by God, as so stated in the Declaration, and if man has an absolute right to life, then it naturally follows that he also has an absolute right to liberty. Man is born free of bonds. In a state of nature, as explained by John Locke in his first Essay on Civil Government, men are free to “order their actions” as they see fit.
This is the essence of liberty: the freedom of every person to make full use of his own God-given gifts and talents. As explained by Frederick Bastiat in his classic essay, The Law, liberty is the union of all other freedoms. It is the combination of the freedom of conscience, education, association, travel, press, labor and trade. God placed a call on every human. He endowed each person with unique gifts and talents, as well as vision, drive, courage and commitment. He expects each of us to use those gifts—each according his ability (Matthew 24:15)—to build God’s Kingdom.
Yet a bevy of today’s politicians somehow believe that you are not smart enough to carry out God’s call on your life. Rather than recognize the liberty that naturally flows from the gift of life, they intend to intervene in the conduct of your personal affairs, using the force of government to direct your life. We see this in the areas of the education of your children, your ability to contract with others for goods, serves and compensation, your capacity to provide for your own medical insurance and healthcare, the management of your retirement savings and investments, your general business practices, and so on, with an endless list of government regulations ostensibly intended to protect you from yourself.
To borrow Bastiat’s phrase, this “philanthropic tyranny” is merely the means by which governments make despotic inroads into every aspect of your private life. The net effect is to reduce people “under absolute despotism” (Declaration of Independence). People are thus denied their natural, God-given right to liberty and are instead subjected to a growing list of whimsical social programs dreamed up to supplant God’s call on your life. In this way, political elitists seek to “arrange, organize, and regulate it according to their fancy” (Bastiat).
Would you vote to fundamentally change the idea that you have an inherent right to liberty? If so, in whom would you vest the power to determine how your life should be run? What government bureaucracy would you trust to make critical decisions about every aspect of your private life?
If you said “no” to my first question, then you must vote to uphold the right to liberty.
Right to the Pursuit of Happiness
The right to the pursuit of happiness flows directly from the right to liberty. If one is free to pursue God’s call on his life in an honest and peaceful manner, he has the natural right to the ownership of the property that grows from such exercise. In fact, in his Essay on Civil Government, Locke used the term “property” and the idea of property ownership to describe the essential liberties with which every person is born. The American Founders chose to use the phrase “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration expressly to broaden the idea of this natural right, not to limit it.
Yet we have a strong movement of existing and aspiring politicians whose philosophy directly and violently attacks the concept of private property ownership. We see this chiefly in tax policy, with proposals for wealth taxes, confiscatory estate taxes, and a graduated income tax system. All of these policies—admittedly—have little to do with raising revenue to fund legitimate functions of government as expressed in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. Rather, they have everything to do with destroying the wealth of individuals which was earned lawfully and peacefully, and purportedly transferring that wealth to others who did not earn it.
The clarion call of Socialism/Communism is the destruction of private property rights. The first plank of Marx’s Manifesto calls for the abolition of private property in land. The second plank calls for a “heavy progressive or graduated income tax” to purposefully transfer wealth to the state. This is done, according to Marx, by making “despotic inroads on the rights of property.” In other words, Socialism/Communism stands for the outright theft of private property by the government.
Would you vote to fundamentally change the idea that you have an inherent right to the property you peacefully acquired through your honest labor? If so, in whom would you vest the power to determine how the fruits of your labor will be allocated or distributed? What government bureaucracy would you trust to make the final decision about what your labor is worth, and what of its fruits you are allowed to keep for yourself?
If you said “no” to my first question, then you must vote to uphold the right to the pursuit of happiness—the right to own and control the fruits of your own labor.
What is the Current Mind of America?
In 1825, Jefferson wrote a letter to Henry Lee to explain the thought processes behind the language in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, the chief author of the document, said the intention was to capture and present to the world “an expression of the American mind.” That is to say, the Founders intended to craft a “plain and firm” statement to the world about the British government’s destruction of the rights to life, liberty and property in the Colonies. On this matter, Jefferson said, “there was but one opinion on this side of the water.” That opinion was that these rights were granted by God and no government had the lawful authority to usurp them.
Is this no longer the mind of America? Do we now truly wish to fundamentally change America? Are we to divorce ourselves from the principles of liberty and limited government that made us the freest and the richest nation the world has ever seen? And what would we have replace our fundamental principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Would we be better suited to the European models of hereditary monarchy and tyrannical dictatorship that looted and oppressed populations for centuries?
Or would we leave the development of our system of government—like so many nations of the world throughout history and even today—subject to the whims of war, chance and conquest? As Patrick Henry said in his famous “Liberty or Death” speech, “Forbid it Almighty God!”
When you cast your vote in November, whether at the national, state or local level, I encourage you to vote for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Dan Pilla is a tax litigator and author of 15 books. He is a frequent guest with Pat Robertson on the 700 Club. His book, Salt and Light: The Secret to Restoring America’s Culture, is available here: https://danielpillabooks.com/index.php/dan-s-books
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