“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 is the vision statement for the American Revolution that was already in process when it was inscribed on paper. The body meeting held very different understandings for equality and liberty. The writer of those words, Thomas Jefferson, had derived his vision of liberty from his own broad reading and from introspection and dialogue among his peers.
This vision is the common understanding among Americans, including Libertarians, today. It is an idea that bridges the past, present and future. It remains the article of faith and point of direction for an ever growing humanity. When projected into the future the differences of source and weight blend and merge. Concepts such as freedom and equality then take on a clarity that is impossible when we look at them through the everyday political dialogue.
The Declaration of Independence assumed that governments are human inventions. It asserted the absolute right to alter them, acknowledging that they are malleable, and making it clear they are the tools for creating outcomes that enforce a vision of human equality and freedom. They placed no limit on this right to edit the cultural institutions they put in place or those that preceded them.
Governments possessed no rights. They were institutional tools for the protection of human values.
If all of human kind are actually created equal it has to mean that equality is not connected to the individual’s intelligence, attractiveness, abilities, age, race or gender. This is not a statement of biological reality. It is not a statement of present day institutional practice. It is a principle of cultural intention; a defining, but intuitive, assertion. It spoke to the nature of each individual before the existence of human institutions, something about which the Founders knew very little. Their basis for understanding the forces of creation and human evolution came from religiously founded mythologies. These are also the foundations of philosophy, science and all human institutions today.
This vision statement is still both valid and unattaineable. That is what the Libertarian Movement needs to change.
Immediately following the Revolution an interesting cultural sorting took place. Individuals and families pulled up stakes and moved. Some slaver-holders in the North moved to the South. But the far greatest movement was from the Southern states to those whose cultural practices expressed the more individualist values of the Puritan/Quaker spiritual model. People voted with their feet to abandon the culture that supported the practice of slavery.
The consequences for this would not become evident for decades. The logical consequences of the very different meanings held in the words, ‘liberty and equality,’ would make the conflict we know as the Civil War inevitable. That the Civil War also became the instrument of Federalism means that the content of the dialogue had shifted from an understanding of liberty to a debate over which form of state oppression best protected the privileges of the few.
Three cultural strategies fatal to freedom joined forces. The first of these was the shift in American thought that made the experiment with a form of government more central to their national identity than the ideals that it was supposed to protect. The second was the alliance of government with special interests that gained weight and force beginning with the Civil War. These haunt us today. But it is the third factor that provides the justification for the present form of government and arms them with the moral high ground.