L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 176, June 3, 2002
Prove Me Wrong!
A Non-American Reading Of the American Declaration of Independence
Special to TLE
The Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776, is one of the greatest documents human history has produced. The more one reads it, the more meaningful, more insightful it becomes. Another aspect is its way of asserting certain things negatively. That is what I am interested in presenting here. Let us see whether the Declaration substantiates this sort of reading between the lines.
The first para of the Declaration states that when a People separate (or dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another) from other People, it is necessary to declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.
The second para asserts that there are self-evident Truths, such as i) all Men are created equal; ii) they are endowed by their Creator certain unalienable Rights; iii) among these Rights are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Then, it concludes that Governments are instituted among Men just to secure these Rights. The Governments derive their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed. When any form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, People do have the Right to alter or abolish it. It is also their Right to institute a new Government as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
The same para makes it clear that Governments should not be changed for light and transient Causes. But, if a Government reduces its People under absolute Despotism or absolute Tyranny, it is both the Right and Duty of the People to throw off such a Government.
As to what could be the causes which impel the Separation, it can be formulated now that Men have certain Rights; it is the only purpose of any Government to secure these Rights; and, if it fails in doing so, it must be overthrown.
Here we can ask what is absolute Despotism or absolute Tyranny. It is evident from the above that any form of Government may be termed as Despotic or Tyrannical that commits repeated Injuries and Usurpations as regards the unalienable Rights either of its own People or another People with whom it has Political Bands. As a result, any such Government loses its just Powers to rule (which it has derived from the Consent of the Governed) its own People or another People.
Now we may safely surmise that the causes other than the stated above are light and transient. They are not sufficient to impel a Separation from the Government of another People or throwing-off a Government of the same People. Hence, it may not be out of place here to put forward another conclusion, also: that, any Government be it of another People or of the same People makes no difference; what makes the difference is that how far a Government is successful in securing the unalienable Rights to its individual citizens.
After that, the Declaration submits the particular ways (or the Facts) in which repeated Injuries and Usurpations were, or can be, committed by one People (Great Britain) to another People (the thirteen states of America). They are 18 in number but inestimable in importance; and include from the ordinary such as calling together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records to the extra-ordinary such as forcing People to relinquish their Right of Representation in the Legislature.
Giving due importance to the Men under a Government, the Declaration describes the warnings given from time to time to British Brethren of the attempts by their Legislature to extend an unwarrantable Jurisdiction over another People. But they too, like their Government, were deaf to the Voice of Justice and Consanguinity. This gesture on the part of the Declaration suggests that the Men under a Government are equally responsible for the repeated Injuries and Usurpations their Government commits against them or against another People over whom it rules.
The Declaration has made recourse to two terms that need special attention: People and Men. Apart from other uses, the term People has been used to mean a collection of men and women with a distinct identity which appears to give them the status of a State or a Country, such as Great Britain, thirteen states of America. The Declaration introduces the other term, Men, where/when it has to describe the self-evident Truths. As these Truths are about the individual persons, men and women, so the term People has been replaced here by Men; meaning that Men (individual persons) form People, not vice versa. The argument to this effect is: That to secure these (unalienable) Rights, Governments are instituted among Men; and that the People, the Government, or other things are not Ends; they are only Means to the Ends, the Men. The Men, the individual persons are Ends-in-themselves.
From this reading of the Declaration, following points may be derived:
1. 'Political Bands connect one People with another' means governing the people; it may be a governing of the same people, too.
2. The Political Bands may be dissolved. Men have the right to overthrow a government of another people as well as of their own people.
3. There must be causes which impel one People to separate from another. The same causes may impel a people to dissolve the Political Bands with their own government, too.
4. If these causes do not exist, no Separation or dissolution of the Political Bands will be needed. There may be other light and transient Causes but they do not dictate change of a government.
5. The causes sufficient for a Separation or the dissolution of the Political Bands become manifest when any form of government usurps the unalienable Rights of the Men. No matter, it is the government of the same People or the government of another People.
6. The sole purpose of instituting a Government is to secure the unalienable Rights to individual citizens; so, who governs and whom it governs is immaterial.
7. It means the differences of State, Government, Race, Color, Culture, Religion, Ideology, Truth, History, Tradition, Language, Dialect, Class, Status, Manners, Dress, etc., are but light and transient causes.
8. Freedom movements, wars, etc., in the name of State, Government, Race, Color, Culture, Religion, Ideology, Truth, History, Tradition, Language, Dialect, Class, Status, Manners, Dress, etc., are misleading. They all ultimately lead to absolute Despotism or absolute Tyranny.
9. A freedom movement or war which does not culminate in the institution of a government securing the unalienable Rights to its individual citizens is a Tyranny in disguise.
10. What is supreme are Man or Individual and his unalienable Rights. As duties presuppose rights, it is his Right to protect his Life and Liberty; and, it is the duty of the Government or the State to protect his Life and Liberty so that he could pursue his Happiness in whatever way he likes.
11. Also that if there establishes a despotic or tyrannical government of the same People or over another People, the onus is upon the individual persons, men and women, of both People. British Brethren were equally responsible for the British Tyranny over the states of America.
12. That leads us to the conclusion that any form of government or state is ultimately unable to protect the life and liberty of its citizens unless they themselves are prepared to protect their own lives and liberties.
In a nutshell, America’s Declaration of Independence did not declare the independence of America’s thirteen states only; it is a Declaration for all the individual persons to assert their independence and to rise up for securing their unalienable Rights: the Rights to Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness.
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