Friday, July 4, 2008

Divine Right of Who?

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, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. -- From the Declaration of Independence

We do indeed hold these truths to be self evident. In fact, it is difficult to imagine anyone seriously suggesting that democracy is not the absolute, hands down, very best way to organize a government. It is such a part of our culture and the spirit of our age.

Assistant Village Idiot recently published a thoughtful post on taking scientific method for granted. Science as we know it, and the worldview that comes with it, is a recent construct in the history of the world. We tend to think that it is the only right thinking way to think. And yet, as AVI points out, hundreds of empires have risen and crumbled without the use of the scientific method. Men have not always relied upon the positing and testing of hypotheses to determine how to live their lives, or build a society.

But we have. The implications of this are enormous.

We tend to think the same way about democracy. Of course the people have the right of overthrow despots, and establish a government amendable to our inalienable rights. Of course! But, what it that’s wrong? What if we have no such right. Or what if that right is much more tightly circumscribed than we like to think? Our Declaration of Independence even says we have a duty to do so. Do we?

What if we the people have no inalienable rights? What if kings really do have a divine right?
What would we do then?

And, if we are going to talk about rights, who grants us these rights? Rights are by rights a grant. The originate somewhere, and are grounded in some authority. If we remove, or refuse to acknowledge that authority, can we have any actual rights? Or do we just strut about claiming them even though they don't exist? Or, as I think is more likely, do we just strut about claiming them with no sense of their source, like spoiled children who simply expect to receive their allowance regardless of....well, of anything else.

I guess every idea has it's unforeseen consequences. There is no avoiding it. This idea of democracy has now finally been around long enough for us to begin to see it's real unfolding. It's not over yet. What will the history books say about it 500 years from now?

1 comment:

The Scylding said...

You gave me an idea: How does the Declaration of Independence, or the Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms, compare to the Magna Carta? I did some quick reading, and there is much scope for investigation there.