Studying Jefferson should be a guiding star.
Jamie Gass and Will Fitzhugh write: “Students of reading, writing, and common arithmetick . . . Graecian, Roman, English, and American history . . .,” Thomas Jefferson advised that democratic education “should be… able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens.”
Mid-April marks the 275th anniversary of Jefferson’s birthday. Given his world-changing achievements, this milestone is worthy of recognizing – and of being taught in our public schools. His contributions to the American civilization are incalculable; he was a revolutionary, statesman, diplomat, man-of-letters, scientist, architect, and apostle of liberty.
Rather than forcing a titan like Jefferson to conform to our era’s often Lilliputian-style narcissism, we should study history by entering the past with imagination and humility.
In drafting the Declaration of Independence, the most elegant and universally quoted political document in history, Jefferson displayed his greatest talents. He powerfully combined literary language and self-evident truths to shape the legal and political future of the United States.
The first member of his family to attend college, Jefferson loved books and classical learning. He could read six languages, including ancient Greek and Latin, while his 18th-century education taught him timeless principles.
Jefferson’s trinity of great thinkers – Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke – embodied what’s been called the Enlightenment’s “science of freedom.”
But his favorite writer was the ancient Roman historian Tacitus – a brilliant chronicler of warped, tyrannical emperors. Jefferson’s liberal-arts-centric education instilled in him a vigilance for liberty, which made him ever wary of threats to his republican experiment in ordered self-government.
Legal scholar David Mayer effectively summarized Jefferson’s strict federalism: “constitutions primarily [served] as devices by which governmental power would be limited and checked, to prevent its abuse through encroachments on individual rights…” Jefferson despised the corruptions of kings, standing armies, banks, and cities, which he identified with the Roman and British empires. Read the rest of this entry »
Democracy may be one of the most admired ideas ever concocted, but what if it’s also one of the most harebrained? After many years of writing about democracy for a living, David Harsanyi has concluded that it’s the most overrated, overused, and misunderstood idea in political life. The less we have of it the better.
“Democracy” is not synonymous with “freedom.” It is not the opposite of tyranny. In fact, the Founding Fathers knew that democracy can lead to tyranny. That’s why they built so many safeguards against it into the Constitution.
Democracy, Harsanyi argues, has made our government irrational, irresponsible, and invasive. It has left the American people with only two options—domination by the majority or a government that can’t possibly work. The modern age has imbued democracy with the mystique of infallibility. But Harsanyi reminds us that the vast majority of political philosophers, including the founders, have thought that responsible, limited government based on direct majority rule over a large, let alone continental scale was a practical impossibility.
In The People Have Spoken, you’ll learn:
- Why the Framers of our Constitution were intent on establishing a republic, not a “democracy”
- How democracy undermines self-government
- How shockingly out of touch with reality most voters really are
- Why democracy is an economic wrecking ball—and an invitation to a politics of envy and corruption
- How the great political philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Burke and Tocqueville predicted with uncanny accuracy that democracy could lead to tyranny
Harsanyi warns that if we don’t recover the Founders’ republican vision, “democracy” might very well spell the end of American liberty and prosperity.
David Boaz writes: Not long ago a journalist asked me what freedoms we take for granted in America. Now, I spend most of my time sounding the alarm about the freedoms we’re losing. But this was a good opportunity to step back and consider how America is different from much of world history — and why immigrants still flock here.
[Check out David Boaz‘s book “The Politics of Freedom: Taking on The Left, The Right and Threats to Our Liberties” at Amazon]
Rule of law. Perhaps the greatest achievement in history is the subordination of power to law. That is, in modern America we have created structures that limit and control the arbitrary power of government. No longer can one man — a king, a priest, a communist party boss — take another person’s life or property at the ruler’s whim. Citizens can go about their business, generally confident that they won’t be dragged off the streets to disappear forever, and confident that their hard-earned property won’t be confiscated without warning. We may take the rule of law for granted, but immigrants from China, Haiti, Syria, and other parts of the world know how rare it is.
Equality. For most of history people were firmly assigned to a particular status — clergy, nobility, and peasants. Kings and lords and serfs. Brahmans, other castes, and untouchables in India. If your father was a noble or a peasant, so would you be. The American Revolution swept away such distinctions. In America all men were created equal. Thomas Jefferson declared “that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.” In America some people may be smarter, richer, stronger, or more beautiful than others, but “I’m as good as you” is our national creed. We are all citizens, equal before the law, free to rise as far as our talents will take us.
Equality for women. Throughout much of history women were the property of their fathers or their husbands. They were often barred from owning property, testifying in court, signing contracts, or participating in government. Equality for women took longer than equality for men, but today in America and other civilized parts of the world women have the same legal rights as men. Read the rest of this entry »