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William S. Gee
It is very rare that the hypothetical world of philosophy and the regulated, orderly world of politics unite. However, a great attempt at uniting these two distant fields took place during the founding of the United States of America. Whether successful or not, this grand, idealistic experiment was the most ambitious of not only its time, but of history. The American founding fathers united the enlightenment philosophies of freedom, justice and equality, with the corresponding political theories of democracy.
The Philosophies of the Revolution
The definitive philosophical treatise of the American Revolution was The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776:
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; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its power in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
This statement reflects many philosophical views. The most important statement from this passage is that, ďall men are created equal.Ē He does not think that all men are gifted in the same right in all fields, that view would be ignorant. However, he does think that there are certain properties of life that all men are given, which creates a basic foundation of equality for a just civilization. The rights that he lists shadow John Lockeís views on natural rights. Locke stated that a creator gave certain natural rights to all people at birth. The first of these unalienable rights was life. Through this statement Lock asserted that no person, government or thing could justly take life from another human. The second right was liberty. Liberty is the idea that all men could act and think as they chose to, and unless they infringed on anotherís natural rights, could do so without fear of punishment. The third and final right was that of the pursuit of happiness. Men should be able to do what they felt should to further the cause of their happiness, again as long as they did not violate anotherís natural rights.
Jefferson applied these ideas to the creation of a new sovereign nation, birthed with a political dissolution from Great Britain. He maintained that Great Britainís monarchy took away from his natural rights, along with those of his fellow Americans, as well as infringing on their basic equality. He then used this justification to declare independence, and seed a new nation, which was to be dedicated to the preservation of these innate rights.
Another philosopher that Jefferson echoes is Hobbes. They share the view that government is a practical, physical necessity for preserving spiritual and metaphysical absolutes. Without government, Jefferson holds anarchy and would prevail, and there would be no force or authority to preserve and protect the common good and peopleís natural rights. However, one cannot install a governmental system merely for the sake of having a governmental system in place. It must be carefully chosen so that in action it will neither infringe on the rights of its constituents, as well as preserving the rights of its constituents.
The Politics of the Revolution
The founding fathers decided that a representative democracy, or republic, was the best means of fulfilling Jeffersonís philosphies. A representative democracy is only one type of the three different forms of democracy. A government can be described as democratic if its decisions are made with the interests of the people as the primary motivation. The first of the other two types of democracy are democratic centralism, which is an autocratic rule, and though the people themselves cannot vote nor have a say in policy, the policy is instituted with the peopleís interest at heart. The third type of democracy is a direct democracy, in which the people vote on every policy decision that is passed. The founding fathers decided that direct and centralized democracy werenít practical, for different reasons.
Direct democracy could not
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Democracy, Libertarian theory, Political terminology, Forms of government, Elections, Natural and legal rights, Federalist No. 10, Liberty, American Revolution, Types of democracy, United States Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson
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