We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. — John Adams, October 11, 1798
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. — 2 Chronicles 7:14
A few days ago I attended a Bill of Rights celebration at the Wrigley Mansion here in Phoenix. The promoter and much of the crowd were Libertarian in their political views. Their support and advocacy for the Constitution was heartfelt and encouraging. I am quite Libertarian in much of my thinking, too. But I found the evening’s events somewhat ironic. Why?
Because ultimately, I don’t think our system of government is compatible with Libertarian/Objectivist principles.
Adams had it right all those years ago. The fundamental principle upon which our government is formed is that rights come from God. It is written into the Declaration of Independence. It is what sets us apart from every other nation. It is the basis on which all the Founders agreed. It is the basic tenet that used to be taught in schools to successive generations. It is even reflected on our currency – In God We Trust.
The system worked, but it does have this prerequisite – a belief that rights are unalienable because they come from God. However, with rights come responsibilities. If God is the source of our rights and the reason that government should hold them inviolate, then it follows that God is the source of our values as well. These two truths cannot be separated. They are sides of the same coin.
It is not that the Founders intended a theocracy. It is merely that they built a system that depended on a set of shared beliefs in a common morality – e.g. the duties and obligations required for self-government. Without them, the system no longer holds together.
This is why I cannot be a Libertarian. Our government cannot work without God. Many Libertarians consider themselves Objectivists, disciples of Ayn Rand. Objectivism is a type of secular Humanism, and shares the basic premise that “there is only the real world, that reason is our means of knowledge, and that human well-being in this life is the proper aim of human action.”1
In these general terms, Objectivism is a humanist philosophy, because all of these doctrines are true of Objectivism as well. Because Objectivists are humanists in this sense, Objectivism and Humanism can profitably make common cause, particularly in advancing the most fundamental premises they share.2
It is these general terms to which I refer and I will use the terms Humanism and Objectivism interchangeably.
Pride is the unifying principle of Objectivism. Whereas humility is the reason our government functioned as well as it did, for as long as it did.
Humanism is predicated on the assumption that man is perfectible. It is a belief system that supposes man is an ever-evolving rational being that, given proper education and information, will make right choices. It is a religion, but without God. It is the hubris of Humanism that denies there is anything greater than man. Therefore, rights are merely a product of evolving human reasoning. By extension, then, these rights are arbitrary, not unalienable.
On the other hand, a belief in God is an admission of the existence of something greater than man. This means that there is such a thing as absolute truth, no matter how imperfectly we may comprehend it. The Founders didn’t set out to define morality, but they acknowledged its existence. They built a system grounded in an understanding of human nature and the moral attributes indispensable to self government.
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity,” Washington wrote in his Farewell Address, “Religion and morality are indispensable supports.” These are the pillars upon which rest the dispositions and habits that make republican government possible. God , not man, is supreme and men and the government framed by them are both accountable to Him.
Adams said that no government can restrain unbridled human nature. Without a moral citizenry, there is no earthly power that can impose reason on passion or replace vice with virtue.
If Adams is right when he says, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other,” Then I ask the question: Do we have a government that suits us?
If the progressives want us to put our faith in them, and the Libertarians only believe in mankind, and there are others who think that science and technology have supplanted God, then by definition they are no longer comfortable with God as the basis of our rights and values. That’s not to say that Libertarians or anyone else are required to change their beliefs. It just seems ironic that Libertarians are among the foremost advocates of a system that is grounded in “self evident truths,” expressed in the Declaration of Independence as anchored in “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” principles that are basically at odds with their professed beliefs.
If there are no transcendent truths, but only the perfection of our reason to guide us, how do we elevate the products of our reason above those that motivate other systems? China’s one child policy, that included forced abortions, was a rational means to control population growth.
Siberian labor camps in the old Soviet Union removed dissident elements from the general population and provided labor for difficult jobs that served the state.
The French Revolution was based on the principals of equality and the reason of man. It explicitly attacked religion and belief in God as unnecessary, unenlightened, and harmful to society. The civil government slaughtered about 40,000 people and ultimately under anarchy sought structure and turned to a dictator who could provide order.
But because our government is founded on moral values and a belief in accountability to its people, and its people to God; its actions have been restrained. It has never been perfect, but it has been a force for good in the world, a haven for the oppressed, a source of innovation, and a font of prosperity.
If we reject the philosophical basis on which our system is built, we will end up with another form of government, because without that core belief our system cannot function. The evidence grows clearer every day.
1 Humanism vs Objectivism, The Atlas Society