Archive for August, 2016

Too often we imperfect human beings forget (perhaps some of us do not even know) that ‘Light’ is not possible without ‘Darkness.’  This is a paradox.  For example: How many of us believe that ‘Wisdom’ is all ‘Light’?  How many of us understand that there is a dark side to ‘Wisdom’?  Among other things, the ‘Dark Side of Wisdom’ includes (but is not limited to): war, human-made famine, pestilence, and fear of the ‘stranger/other.’

Salvatore Quasimodo’s quiet and profound poem on Auschwitz captures this.  ‘Auschwitz’ is a powerful classic poem of compassion, empathy, reason and reminder.  It is not devoid of horror – how could a reflection on Auschwitz be devoid of horror – yet it invites inquiry and contemplation (‘specifically, in what ways do I support the darkness that envelopes my/the world today?’).

Auschwitz is one sign, one unnerving reminder, of the depraved wisdom of men who judge by the measure of hubris rooted in fear (today, in our country, for example, the ‘alt-right’ appears to be rooted in fear).  The ‘Light of Wisdom’ is rooted in ‘man the creator’ and the ‘Dark Side of Wisdom’ is rooted in ‘man the exterminator.’

Auschwitz is ‘the judgment’ upon those who said ‘yes’ to a philosophy which held that some people were not fully-human and hence they were a threat to the ‘pure’ – to those who ‘lived in the Light.’  The ‘Wisdom’ of those who said ‘yes’ to this philosophy morphed into a ‘solution’ – a ‘final solution’ – their ‘Wisdom’ was the parent that produced the offspring Auschwitz.

The ‘Dark Side of Wisdom’ judges itself by its own impotence and its own incapacity to bestow on us anything but death: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spiritual Death.  Auschwitz is one sign of judgment.  Auschwitz is also a reminder that ‘people of the light’ are capable of becoming ‘people of the darkness.’

Do I, you (gentle reader) and ‘we’ truly believe that we are, at our best living paradoxes?  We are both ‘good and evil;’ we are both ‘virtue and vice;’ we are both ‘light and darkness.’  We are capable of creating, if not Auschwitz, a society that espouses ‘freedom and equality’ but not for all (lest we forget, our Founding Fathers fought for freedom and equality – but not for all.  This was the ‘Dark Side of Their Wisdom’).

We fear our ‘Dark Side’ and so we attempt to export it by projecting it upon ‘the other’ – the stranger, the immigrant, the ‘evil empire,’ or the ‘other political party or the other candidate,’ etc.  We fear our ‘Dark Side’ and so we attack anyone who we believe is ‘not with us’ – thus, the person who criticizes our actions or who questions our motives or who reveals and names the ‘Dark Side’ of our Nation becomes the ‘IT’ that must be dealt with.

This week, for example, one of those seeking to become our next President told a non-violent protester that he should find another country to live in – so much for freedom of voice.  What is sad, and frightening for me, is that there was virtually no push-back in response to this candidate’s position.  No voice from any of his fellow political party members condemned this candidate’s words; none in his party decried his blatant attack on one of our most espoused and cherished freedoms.  The ‘Dark Side of Wisdom’ was revealed and was greeted with ‘silence.’  In 1936 the ‘Dark Side of Wisdom’ was also greeted with ‘silence’ and out of the void was birthed Auschwitz.

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They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.   –Benjamin Franklin

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of liberty.   –Abraham Lincoln

‘Liberty’ was no vague term with our revolutionary fore-bearers.  It had not yet acquired the fuzzy overtones of economic choice that has accrued since then (think: capitalism = democracy).  To the Americans of 1776 ‘Liberty’ meant, first, freedom under laws of their own making; and, second, the right to do anything that did not harm another.

The proper way to secure liberty to posterity was to set up a representative government, limited in scope by a statement of natural rights with which no government may meddle.  Consequently, every state constitution included both a ‘Rule of Law’ and a ‘Bill of Rights.’  The first, Virginia’s, was drafted by George Mason and adopted by the Virginia convention on 12 June 1776.

This Virginia Declaration of Rights is one of the great liberty documents of all time.  It parented not only all other American bills of rights, but the French ‘Declaration’ of 1789 and, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Virginia begins by asserting, ‘that all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot…deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursing and obtaining happiness and safety.’

Certain clauses of the Virginia Declaration came down from the Magna Carta of 1215 – the right to a jury trial, the right not to be deprived of liberty except by the law of the land or the judgment of one’s peers.  Other clauses are derived from the Petition of Rights with which Charles I was confronted in 1628: that a man cannot be compelled to give evidence against himself, that standing armies in peace time should be avoided as dangerous to liberty, ‘and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power.’

The prohibition of excessive bail and of cruel and unusual punishments was derived from the English ‘Bill of Rights’ of 1689.  Still others were developments from principles merely hinted at before such as freedom of the press and religious liberty.

These ‘Rights’ were valid not only as derived from American and English experience, but because they were based on the ancient theory of natural law.  These ‘unchangeable, unwritten laws of Heaven,’ as Sophocles called them in the Antigone, twenty-one centuries before became the basis of the American constitutional system.

The other states followed Virginia in their bills of rights.  Pennsylvania had stronger statements than Virginia on religious liberty, added freedom of speech to Virginia’s freedom of the press, protected conscientious objectors to military service, and gave immigrants ‘of good character’ the right to buy land and to become citizens.  The Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, declaring ‘all men are born free and equal,’ was construed by the courts of that commonwealth as freeing all slaves from bondage.  And a separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial departments was enjoined, ‘to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.’

It was BECAUSE our forefathers were immersed in ‘politics’ and in ‘compromise’ and because they were educated in political thinking and were thus able to learn from and borrow the ‘best’ from what had become before and because they sought ‘common ground’ upon which to build a nation rooted in ‘The Bill of Rights’ and ‘The Rule of Law’ that we, today, enjoy their legacy of liberty.  This ‘BECAUSE’ gives me great pause as I strive to discern how I will cast my votes in November.

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A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.   –Thomas Jefferson

The clearest way to show what The Rule of Law means to us in everyday life is to recall what has happened when there is no rule of law.   –Dwight D. Eisenhower

As I have previously noted, during this important election year we have a number of folks at the local, state and national levels declaring themselves to be ‘political outsiders.’  Their belief: Somehow being a political outsider will help them function more effectively once they are in office – and in doing so we the people will benefit.

Lest we forget: The American state and federal constitutions were the work of ‘political insiders.’  These men were also well educated in ‘political theory.’  They were rooted in ‘theory’ and ‘practice.’  As educated men they had studied and learned from the ancients: Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Polybius and others.  They had devoted deep thought – individually and collectively – to the problems of political reconstruction.  They had spent years preparing themselves so that when the ‘time came’ they were able to respond and we, today, are the beneficiaries of their efforts.  The arrogance and hubris of those who label themselves as naïve political outsiders should at minimum cause ‘we the electorate’ to pause and consider and should at maximum cause us to recoil in horror at their hubris.

Those men who provided us with the state and federal constitutions were deeply influenced by what ancient and contemporary publicists had written on government; yet they were no mere dogmatic and uncompromising divas.  Each of them had had political experience in colonial assemblies, local conventions and the Continental Congress.  They knew, by experience, that ‘compromise’ rooted in the ‘good thinking of the collective’ was crucial to what they were attempting to create – a representative democracy rooted in a ‘Bill of Rights’ and in the ‘Rule of Law.’

These ‘founders’ were, via compromise and collective good thinking, able to synthesize classical disciplines with practical politics.  This synthesis accounts for the striking success of America when it comes to defining our ‘Bill of Rights’ and our ‘Rule of Law.’  Their efforts won the admiration of the Old World – and the entire world still benefits today (when we are at our best in living into the ‘Bill of Rights’ and the ‘Rule of Law’ there are few other nations that come close – at our best we are still the ‘model’ and the ‘beacon of light’ for many).

Gentle reader, do you remember or do you know who some of these men were?  Here is a short list of names – you might choose a few and read about them and their contributions to our development as a representative democracy and a ‘federal republic’ rooted in ‘The Bill of Rights’ and ‘The Rule of Law.’  This short list of names should be enough to get you started:

George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Dickinson, Gouverneur Morris, Robert R. Livingston, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay.  In 1775 the youngest was 27 and the oldest was 70.

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It seems to me that it is crucial for us, as citizens who live in a representative democracy, that we remember – or learn – that the principles of our American Revolution were essentially ‘conservative-progressive.’  Our Founding Fathers sought to preserve and secure the freedom the colonies already enjoyed; this was, indeed, conservative.  They also wanted to move the colonies beyond simply preserving/conserving.  They believed – and history has proven them correct – that only by a ‘progressive’ broadening and deepening the freedoms they already had by emerging a ‘Bill of Rights,’ that would be supported by a ‘Rule of Law,’ would the colonies actually have a shot at becoming ‘United.’

The ‘Federalists’ sought for a ‘United States’ and many of the individual colonies sought to emphasize ‘Colonies/States Rights.’ [AN ASIDE: If you, gentle reader, have not immersed yourself in ‘The Federalist Papers’ I suggest that you do so and you can then read the ‘other’ side by immersing yourself in ‘The Anti-Federalist Papers’]  At best, they wanted a loose confederation of autonomous states.  The Federalists compromised (think: accepted slavery in certain States) in order to form a more perfect union.  Our Founding Fathers knew that a democratic union could only survive – and hopefully thrive – via compromise.  They also knew that a balance needed to be held between ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive.’  History has shown them to be spot-on when it came to the need for this balance.

I wonder what our Founding Fathers would say about the powerful divisions that now afflict our nation.  Rather than ‘compromise’ – which is a major tap root for a representative democracy – we have ‘my way or the high-way.’  Rather than seeking to balance ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ we have ‘either-or’ (sadly, the ‘moderate’ is near extinction).  We are today, more than ever before in our history, a nation divided (we have two States that periodically announce their desire to leave the Union).  Sadly, we citizens blame our elected officials – we refuse to accept that ‘we the people’ elect these folks to ‘represent us.’  It is then our elected officials charge to find ways to balance ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ and to do this via the art of ‘compromise’ – the ‘art of politics.’  It is up to ‘we the people’ to demand that our elected officials achieve this balance (which brings us back to ‘compromise’).

Our experience as ‘Americans’ – especially our ‘political experience’ – prior to 1775 created the templates for us to use as we defined ourselves as a ‘Union’ (we too often forget, it seems to me, that we had been sowing and nurturing the seeds of ‘freedom’ for more than 175 years prior to 1775; our Founding Fathers were anything but inexperienced when it came to ‘politics’ and ‘compromise’).

Unlike the French, who had little or no experience with representative government prior to their 1789 revolution, our Founding Fathers needed merely to maintain (think: conserve) and develop and correct (think: progressive) the state of things, political and religious, which already existed.  In 1775 Americans had enjoyed more freedom than any other people in the world and were so immersed in ‘representative self-government’ that it required, relatively speaking to the rest of the world, a series of manageable steps (although ‘manageable’ these steps were not easy nor simple steps that were necessary).

Like the balance between ‘conservative-progressive’ the balance between ‘Rights-Law’ had to be maintained.  This balance –‘Rights-Law’ – is perhaps the second greatest achievement (next to the balance between ‘Conservative-Progressive’) for us.  Without these two paradoxical concepts, ‘Conservative-Progressive’ and ‘Rights-Law,’ being balanced not only will ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ be lost; democracy will be lost – ‘We the People’ will be lost.

Although we are still the only representative democratic republic that has ever survived it is far from being a given that we will long endure (actually, history is against us).  Rome, which lasted   700 years, died from within.  Like Rome, the seeds for our own destruction lie dormant within us.  On the other hand, perhaps these seeds are not as dormant as we think or hope they are.


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My first major at the university was in ‘History.’  I fell in love with history when I was 12 years old and I have nurtured this love for more than sixty years.  Sadly, I discovered that I did not have the ‘mind’ of a historian – historians have a focus and discipline of mind that I do not possess (I switched majors two more times and then, with my fourth major I found ‘English Literature’ and that became my co-love – History and Literature complement one another quite well).

As you, gentle reader, might know, we in the United States are in an election year and we have a candidate that prides himself on ‘not-knowing’ for he is not a ‘political insider.’  In fact, he has never immersed himself in politics.  In a democracy this is a bit risky.  Why?  Perhaps a brief exploration into our early history will help us understand.  I have chosen two topics for our brief exploration: ‘The Bill of Rights’ and ‘The Rule of Law.’  These are two of the major tap roots – perhaps they are THE major tap roots – that nurture and sustain the seeds of and the garden of democracy.

Gentle reader, you might have an image of what I might now explore – my sense, however, is that your image of what I will (or should) explore is not the same as the image I am holding this morning.  Well, we will see.

There are many things that were remarkable about our American Revolution.  For me, one of the most remarkable is that the radicals of 1774-1776 (the folks who fomented and sustained our Revolution) actually saw it through until the ‘next generation’ (think: 1787) took over and put in place the final pieces (think: Our Constitution, for one).  Why was this so remarkable?

History teaches us that it is easy for a determined minority to pull down a government AND it is exceedingly challenging to reconstruct it, to establish a rule of law, and thus order.  Also, in no other great revolution have the initial agitators (think: John and Samuel Adams, for example) long survived liquidation by those who came after them.  I invite you to do a google search in order to discover the number of nations since ‘The Great War’ that won their independence and how few of these have actually achieved ‘liberty for all.’  I will save you the search: Not many!

Given the ‘natural history’ of revolutions one would expect that the American Confederation would, like so many before, fall apart or that the army or some ‘I alone can fix it’ leader would set up a military despotism (the number of times our Confederation was truly at risk for falling apart is more than many Americans know – or perhaps more sadly care to know).

What actually occurred was the establishment of government rooted in ‘The Bill of Rights’ and ‘The Rule of Law.’

The reasons for this extraordinary outcome lie, first, in the political experience of Americans.  As Emerson wrote, ‘We began with freedom.’  This is a significant beginning – or to hold my metaphor, it is a major tap root this ‘freedom’ that had been nurturing us for more than 100 years.  Secondly, our forefathers believed in the importance of political institutions as ‘a’ – if not ‘the’ – guarantee of ‘liberty.’

Because of the tap roots of ‘freedom’ and ‘political experience’ our forefathers were able to discern a need for a ‘Bill of Rights’ and a ‘Rule of Law.’  Then, miracle of miracles, they actually emerged and gifted us with both.  Then, miracle of miracles, they actually lived into and out of both.  In the history of we human beings this had never been done before.  Think about it – It had NEVER been done before!




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