Discourse / Editorials / February 21, 2008

Country-fried egalitarianism

“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.” We all know (or should know) this line from the preamble of the United States Declaration of Independence from England. Considering the fact that almost all of us can, at the least, nearly recite this entire line, it seems to often get caught in the crossfire, and its meaning lost and replaced but both legitimate and ill-hearted efforts to solve the problems of the world.

Shall we analyze? First off, the following truths are “self-evident”. Don’t really know what to say about that, except that they are “truths” and “self-evident”, enough said, I suppose.

Truth numbero uno: “All men are created equal.” Okay, so all are equal. These truths are “self-evident”, right? Some might claim this seems to imply some sort of socialist, universalized regime, which would allow for all people to live in equality. The problem here is that the phrase implies all are “created” with equality. It, unfortunately, does not mean we all will, should, or can receive total equality. There will always be the wealthy and the poor, the loved and the hated, the philanthropic and the egotistic.

These separations should not imply those people on one end of the spectrum or the other are “less equal” but that these diversifications will always exist, and have in every human society since the beginning of time. Basically, this line implies, although we all start out equally, we will find a place in society. Yet, due to this preexisting equality, just persecution is a fallacy. Hence, as later stated, all people have “certain unalienable rights.”

Second Truth: “They are endowed by their creator…” At a school which sometimes makes me feel ashamed of my belief in God, I refer to the Declaration itself. Notice that the founders were careful to be non-specific, but do acknowledge the existence of a higher power, as we do today in our courts, on our monies, and in the Pledge of Allegiance. Though some might disagree, this does not disenfranchise those who are non-religious.

To the discontent of some, I will state that this is not an atheistic nation, and yet, neither is it a Christian nation. The United States is one of the most open and free nations on the earth. This does not mean we have to eliminate the tradition or one group (the religious) must succeed to another (the secularists) in order to make this free. Religion should not be closeted, as a matter of fact, the founders found religion to be a self-evident truth.

The last of the truths are sometimes separated, but can better be considered as one; that we have “certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Often times, these three ideas are separated, and claimed as the right to be alive, the right to not be subjugated, and the right to search for joy. Yet, I have always seen them presented slightly differently.

Consider the correlations between life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What if this, in reality, means that each of us has the right to live freely while pursuing our dreams? This slight change has huge implications to the meaning of the sentence, as it becomes an editorial on the founders’ belief that we all should be non-restricted in our opportunities to live a life not defined by our class, racial, ethnic, or creedal status. According to Hobbes’ Leviathan, life in the state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” And yet, it seems men such as Franklin and Jefferson hoped to create a nation that could substantially change life for the better.

The abolitionist men who started Knox College, such as George Washington Gale and Hiram Kellogg, believed in the ideas of the founders, and sought to work towards this goal. For those of you who do not know, the Republican Party was founded on these same ideals.

What is this passage truly implying? What can we do to make this a better place? The way I see it, it simply asks each of us to treat each other (as the third-grade saying goes) as we ourselves would like to be treated. To respect people based on their individual identities. Today though, our country seems to be moving away from this ideal. Racist programs such as affirmative action make illegitimate the college admission offers received by thousands of fully qualified, able minority students, and handout programs like welfare help maintain social classes and separation.

There are better ways to go about fixing the problems of our nation. These include fixing education, supporting the American family, and blind admission. This can, perhaps, one day bring this nation out of Hobbesian shame and into the level of greatness that Jefferson, Lincoln, Gale, and Kellogg hoped would one day persevere.

The problem is that making this work would be difficult. Perhaps though, just perhaps, if each of us attempts not to be as quick to judge and to regard everyone we come into contact with as equal, we can truly begin to pursue our own happiness. We may find we have not only helped ourselves but helped others in their searches as well.

Marc Dreyfuss


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