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Reinventing the Founders, or: A Response to Jill Lepore on July 4th, 2014

While sipping my tea this wonderful July 4th, I came across an article on Bill Moyers’ site where the author stated that the Founders would not recognize the Tea Party or their ideas; in fact, they would be appalled by them. Jill Lepore, the author of the piece, seems to know her subject, and she brings up some good points regarding how the Right Wing in general and Evangelical Christians in particular view the Founders. You can read her remarks here, but I’m going to provide a summary of her opinion with my response to follow.

Basically, the Founders are no help to us today. They wrote and said so much to so many, in some cases contradicting each other and themselves as time went on, that to strictly interpret their words and our Constitution is moot. We’re on our own in interpreting their words for our time and following the spirit of their efforts to shape America into what she should be, and that means the Founding Documents must evolve too. They aren’t written in stone, after all, but paper that degrades over time. The Founders didn’t create a perfect union; they created a flawed one, and it’s up to us to get it right. They weren’t the faithfully religious Christians the Evangelicals would like you to believe, so presenting them as such is also an error, and we cannot rightfully claim that the U.S. was built on any kind of Biblical or moral foundation because their recorded remarks simply don’t back that up. In other words, they just ain’t the guys you want to hold up as a standard-bearer. In fact, they got it so wrong the first time that we had to fight a Civil War to make corrections.

I think she’s right on a few things. Christians and conservatives have built the Founders into Saints, and they don’t belong there. They were men of their time, following the passions and ideas of their time, and if they were here today….well, I don’t think the Church would approve, certainly not of Ben Franklin and his dalliances with French ladies. Jefferson’s pantheism would send conservative Christians into furious rage.

I will go on record as saying that the experiment in self-governance that the Founders initiated was simply that. They read some books and considered some ideas and were able to take advantage of a situation in which to stir up a rebellion. They were in the minority. Plenty of Colonists were perfectly happy living under British rule, but the Founders were passionate enough to try. In other words, they weren’t fighting for the freedom of you or me. They were fighting for their own freedom, a chance to see if self-governance could work. Did they have future generations in mind? Surely they at least considered it. Some of them, like Jefferson and Franklin, didn’t think we could keep this Republic going. In the end I don’t think they looked further ahead than their own lives, and they lived long enough to see America grow as a free nation. When the last of the Founders passed, that was the end of their involvement in this experiment. It was a success, and left to the rest of us to carry on, if we could keep it.

While, philosophically speaking, man should be free to govern his own affairs, the fact is that only a small percentage of man is capable of doing that. The rest want a “safety net” and somebody to look after them should a problem arise; even more want a king to tell them what to do because life is tough, and it’s tougher when you’re stupid.

Man’s natural state is to live on his knees. He wants somebody to rule over him, not necessarily violently, but he certainly wants control over his life because of the chaotic state which is life’s way of doing business, assuming, if we must, that “life” is sentient. Because sentient life is out of control, we need some sort of man-made control to weather the storm. When you look at other governments around the globe, none are like ours. Progressives love to point out that because we don’t have some of the programs and ideas that other governments have, it means we’re less civilized. There are people who not only want to live in shackles, they indeed race to the front of the line to get their shackles before anybody else. It’s a badge of honor.

The Founders and those that inspired them refuted that, and it doesn’t matter if their own words contradict each other. Let’s go to the basics of what inspired them: Man should be free. What did they do? Create a government in the best way they knew how to ensure that man could be free. What happened instead? Those unable to take care of themselves, over time, made enough noise so that they could have the government take care of them, and since we are all our brother’s keepers, we must all contribute to the welfare of those who are unable to help themselves. Those same people exploited the flaws in the personal lives of the Founders to discredit their ideas and cast doubt on this great experiment.

And as for putting these men on a pedestal….well, that’s what man does, too, going well back to the golden calf. Man not only wants to live on his knees, he wants to worship what he can see. For all the talk the Church makes of not worshiping idols, we sure have a lot of them. It puts a burden on the Founders they were never meant to have, and gives ammunition to the progressives who gleefully point out that they can’t measure up to their Sainthood.

The Founders, though, are partially responsible for where we put them. Their recorded words still resonate; they have resonated with future generations that agreed, yes, man should be free, and those future generations have done everything possible to keep their ideas alive, because they are worthy ideas.

Instead of worshiping the men, however, what we should look to instead is the spirit of their ideas, and to the writers and philosophers of the Enlightenment who inspired them, to see how we too can be inspired today. The idea is more important than the man who communicates it.

Man should be free. Man should not oppress other men. Man should be allowed to forge his own way with as little restrictions as possible considering he must coexist with other Men. That means compromise, which is now a dirty word that neither the left nor the right will admit exists in our vocabulary.

In a perfect world, that’s what we would have. Instead we have strife. Man vs. Man. Conflict. Each side thinks it knows best and works to subdue the other side. Because my enemy rises against me, I must smite him because I was meant to be free. Today I use words same as Thomas Paine, though certainly he was far more eloquent. Perhaps someday I will use a rifle as those many nameless Revolutionary soldiers were forced to do, so many years ago, because the enemy refused to allow their freedom. As far as this nation has fallen, I’m frankly surprised I’m not writing this from a trench somewhere in the middle of America with enemy guns over the horizon as we march toward Washington for a final battle, because still we fight for an experiment that is by far the most worthy experiment ever devised.

Jill Lepore is wrong. In trying to discredit the Founders, she has shown her own bias and continues to fan the flames of a conflict we cannot afford. We can indeed look to the Founders for how we should govern ourselves today. They laid it all out in great detail; problem is, the progressives think we must all live as a Collective, with their own ideas of “mild” oppression, and here I am being kind. Conservatives have their own “mild” oppression on the agenda, too, which is equally repugnant. Examples will occur to you.

If we are to truly honor the ideas of the Founders, none of the above can happen here. Does that make me a pariah for not toeing the party line? Does that make me a Communist? I don’t think so, but plenty will accuse me of exactly that. So be it. My bullets will go wherever I aim them. Because the more I examine the ideas of the Founders, the more I am absolutely forced to toss religion and the “party” out of the discussion, the more I have to admit that there is a lot we haven’t done right, and if we truly believe in this experiment of self-governance than we need to stop fighting and forge the perfect union that has so far eluded us. Am I making Lepore’s point? Absolutely not, because I’m not arguing from the side of the Collective; nor is she truly arguing from the side of the ideas expressed by the Founders. She advocates her own progressive interpretation, which is wrong. I also don’t think I’m arguing for the conservative side. I want to get back to basics, to the original, uncorrupted ideas, which is what we need to do in order to keep this Republic. Unfortunately, we have dug so deeply into our parties and our “sides”, I do not believe that kind of compromise is possible.

 

BRIAN DRAKE’s new novel is The Rogue Gentleman: Mine to Avenge, available at Amazon.Com.

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  1. Yobirdi says:

    Excellent! The Founders gave us a roadmap. Individuals like Jill Lepore used it for ass wipe. Again, it’s the fault of we individual Americans, especially those who would vote for a persons race or gender rather then their ability.

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