Sunday, December 13, 2009

Highly Recommended: Harry Jaffa's A New Birth of Freedom

It is my opinion that a modern history book on the Civil War or on the life of Abraham Lincoln without a reference to Harry Jaffa's A New Birth of Freedom, however brief, can only be incomplete. But not only books on the Civil War and Old Abe, along with tomes discussing of the rights and/or wrongs of secession.

More than that: any book on Thomas Jefferson, on James Madison, on the revolutionary era, and, in fact, on American history in general, old and modern, without a reference to Harry Jaffa's latest book is incomplete, as is any book on today's liberal and progressive ideology…

Some excerpts of the book that discusses natural law versus positive law and constitutional rights versus revolutionary rights, while mentioning Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Karl Marx, and Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government:
No one can write properly about the American Civil War without taking note of the fact that Jefferson, in 1774, declared the "abolition of domestic slavery" to be "the great object of desire" in the American colonies

Slavery, of course, is nothing but taxation without representation carried to its ultimate extreme

Individual rights become valuable only insofar as they result in a good society — a society in whcih man's moral and intellectual virtues can find their fullest measure of opportunity. There is in Jefferson none of that radical individualism that sees the rights of the individual transcending and opposing the moral demands of a good society. The opposition between the demands of society and the rights of the individual, so familiar in our time, arose only as those rights were no longer understood to be natural rights subject to the natural law.

An elected government has no more moral or legal right to arrogate authority or employ powers not delegated to it by the people through the Constitution than a nonelected government

No one can rightfully demand obedience of another, however plausible his claims to superior ability, until he has proved that his ability will be devoted, not to exploiting, but to benefiting the other

Jefferson: "that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them"

A morality governed by prudence is largely beyond the ken of our latter-day abolitionist historians. For them, prudential compromises in dealing with slavery are regarded as mere excuses for inaction. They have much in common with Chief Justice Roger Taney, who in the Dred Scott decision of 1857, declared that the Signers of the Declaration of Independence could not have regarded slavery as wrong, since they did not abolish it — ignoring the fact that, in any event, they had no power to abolish it! For such historians as these, the portrayal of a "racist" American Founding is a necessary preamble to the disavowal of any authority to the principles of the Revolution, notably those enshrined in the Declaration

We understand … why it is against our interest to become tyrants as why it is in our interest to prevent tyrants from ruling us. That is the argument of Plato as well as Aristotle. It is the argument of the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Gettysburg Address. Yet it is an argument held in almost no esteem today. How is that possible?
The answer is that in our time, truth has been disarmed by the opinion that reason is impotent to know what it just or unjust, right or wrong, true or false. If there is no truth, or if the truth is beyond the power of the human mind to know, then free argument and debate as means of arriving at the truth are meaningless. Truth is thereby disarmed of her natural weapons a priori. This challenge to the principle of a free society is one that neither Jefferson nor Lincoln anticipated. Nonetheless, we assert categorically that the common sense of the subject as it appeared to Jefferson and Lincoln, although it has been denied by the mainstream of Western thought for more than a century, has not been refuted.

Self-realization was in fact the only correlate of the new atheism. As there could no longer be any distinction between man and God, which distinction is as fundamental to the Declaration of Independence as to the Bible, there could be no distinction between base and noble desires. All desires were understood to be created equal, since all desires were seen as originating in that highest of all authorities, the self-creating self. Each human being was to be his own God, obeying only those restrictions that were enforced upon him by the fact that he was not yet himself the universal tyrant. In time, however, Science would enable everyone to act as if he were the universal tyrant.
As these doctrines were filtered trough the intellectual establishment of modern liberal regimes, of which Chief Justice Rehnquist is a typical representative, the emancipation from morality was itself seen as moral progress, and the opponents of that emancipation were seen as the reactionary enemies of both freedom and morality. The essence of the new Liberalism was to make each human being, as far as possible, a universal tyrant within his own world, commanding all the pleasures possible in that world, and emancipated from everything except those limits upon his power which Science had not yet conquered. Thus would the return to a Garden of Eden — but one in which there would be no forbidden fruit — be accomplished.

The great proposition of human equality, the central idea of the Gettysburg Address as of the Declaration, … means that laws are rightfully for the benefit of the governed, not of the government. It means that those who live under the laws should share in making them and that those who make the laws must live under them.

It was hardly remarkable that a nation of slaveholders, upon declaring independence, did not at once abolish slavery. What was remarkable — perhaps more remarkable than any other event in human history — was that a nation of slaveholders declared that all men are created equal and thereby made the abolition of slavery a moral and political necessity.

Some latter-day critics of Lincoln wrongly attribute to him the leveling egalitarianism of twentieth-century socialism and welfare statism. In taking property from those who earn it and giving it to those who do not, in coming between the hand and the mouth of the producer or laborer, such egalitarianism reproduces the essential characteristics of slavery. Lincoln's doctrine of the relationship of capital and labor, which he elaborated in his first annual message to Congress, proposes no such thing. For Lincoln, the guarantee of rights means the guarantee that there shall be no intervention by law or government, as far as possible, between the work of any man's hand and his mouth

Those who live under the law have an equal right in the making of the law, and those who make the law have a corresponding duty to live under the law.

It is impossible to understand the quarrel over the right of secession that Lincoln addresses on July 4, 1861 — as it is impossible to understand either the American Revolution or the Civil War — without understanding the divergent interpretations of this doctrine [the right of revolution] of the Declaration as applied to the transformation of the Union from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution

The freedom and equality of rights propounded in the American Revolution were never understood to describe conditions belonging to or enjoyed by human beings without struggle or effort. They were not "entitlements" in the sense of gifts bestowed from above

[A historian like] Allan Nevins … thought that the institution of slavery was wrong because it was anachronistic, differing in this from Lincoln, who held slavery anachronistic because it was wrong.

Since Napoleon, the plebiscite has been the resource of tyrants to claim democratic (or republican) legitimacy for their regimes

Interview with the Hoover Institution's Peter Robinson:
Almost everything, the great statements of Lincoln, most of them are reviving and rephrasing things that he got from Jefferson. In the Notes on Virginia, Jefferson says that "Will the liberties of the people be secure when we have abolished their only sure foundation, the belief of the gift of God may not be violated but with his wrath?" And that is followed by "I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just." Lincoln's second inaugural was all there, see?!

What is the institutional root of evil in the world in which we inhabit? There is no question but that it is in the universities. That's where the teaching begins, that's where the high school and grade school teachers go to college and they learn that morality is subjective and they think [that] that is sophisticated thing to say

Imaginary dialogue with Ted Bundy: "I used to believe that [in the moral law] until I took my first college course in philosophy"