|Our first visit to Hillsdale College, 10-2009|
I'm thoroughly enjoying Hillsdale's free Constitution 101 online class. Below is the introduction to the second lecture. It lays out what the founders meant by the terms liberty and equality. These two terms have come to be defined very differently by modern liberals.
The Declaration of Independence (Overview)
The soul of the American founding is located in the universal political principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence. The meaning of equality and liberty in the Declaration is decisively different than the definition given to those principles by modern progressivism.
Liberty is the right to be free from the coercive interference of other people. It is derived from nature itself, and is a natural right—something possessed simply because one is a human being.
Equality means no one is by nature the ruler of any other person. Each human being is equal in his right to life, liberty, and property which the Declaration calls “the pursuit of happiness.”
Equality, liberty, and natural rights require a certain form of government: republicanism, based on consent of the governed. Legitimate government, based on the consent of the governed, must accomplish three things: the establishment of civil laws that protect man’s natural rights; the punishment of those who infringe on others’ natural rights; and the protection of natural rights through a strong national defense.
The people themselves also play a vital role in protecting their rights. They must be educated in “religion, morality, and knowledge.”
Modern liberalism uses the same language of “liberty” and “equality” as the Declaration of Independence. Yet modern liberals mean something other than what the Founders meant by those words. For the Progressives, “equality” means equal access to resources and wealth, while “liberty” means the ability to utilize a right, rather than the right in itself. Both of these ideas necessitate government programs that help mankind liberate itself from its “natural limitations.”
The Declaration of Independence and modern Progressivism are fundamentally opposed to each other. The modern misunderstanding of “equality” and “liberty” threatens not just the Declaration of Independence, but the whole of the American constitutional and moral order.
~Thomas G. West