Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rewriting Thomas Jefferson--All Men Are NOT Created Equal

There is a specific reason why Americans opted to embody "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in their founding document, not "liberty, equality, and fraternity" like the French. This comes from an unfortunate missing word in Thomas Jefferson's otherwise-rousing Declaration of Independence: all men are created morally equal. Or, if one believes God is the great law-giver of the universe, one might have have said "all men are legally equal." However, such a creed would not arouse the sort of loyalty that held the Colonies together. Perhaps he might have written, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created morally equal; that, being sovereign unto themselves, they are endowed by certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Why does all this semantic quibbling matter? Because we are not (dig it, accept it) a democracy. Such a conceit is heresy now, when the democratic impulse (liberty, equality, and fraternity) is being imposed ruthlessly across the land. No one wants to admit their little darling is a C-minus student; thus, No Child Left Behind. No one wants to admit that Junior isn't going to be QB for the Bears; so we get rid of competitive sports so as not to hurt his precious feelings. No one likes the fact that Betty Beautiful's parents can afford personalized new pencils and school supplies while Polly Poor's parents had to borrow and scrape just to get the kid dressed; so we have teachers redistributing richer kids' school supplies to them that have none. No one wants to see some little punk insulting their D student because he can spell, write, and form thoughts more clearly, so we get rid of grades, encourage self-esteem, and cut funding for gifted programs to one tenth of what we spend on education for the developmentally disabled. Equality is the rule of the day, and it's not just confined to the world of education.

The pursuit of happiness is not a guarantee of outcomes. That's what comes from promising "equality." Instead, it is a promise for equality of opportunity. The Founders hoped to create an aristocracy of merit, and the bottom-line measure of one's success became money. There are people on this Earth who better writers than I am. There are millions who are more physically capable or technically knowledgeable, and thank God for it, because you don't want me designing a rocket motor or fixing your plumbing. Each person has the freedom to pursue individual own gifts to the limits of his or her abilities.

When you expect equality, you have to find ways to enforce it (see the examples given above). The lofty phrase "All men are created equal" created an unreal expectation of how the world should work. The French took that idea as holy writ, eliminated all forms of privilege or inequality, and thus enjoyed the Terror and eventually the dictatorship of Napolean. They haven't had a stable government since 1789 because they've embraced the socialist philosophy that insists on equality of results. Money means little, a plumber must make the same as a rocket scientist much make the same as a ditch digger, and if there are signs that inequality is appearing, it must be suppressed until someone raises hell over all the regulations.

We're heading there. How far are we willing to go to enforce democracy? Equality? We need to think very hard before the guillotine appears on the streets of Beverly Hills and Manhattan to take down the aristocrats of our age.

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