As an originalist at heart, I’m always skeptical of any form of “modernization” that anyone attempts to institute on government functions, ideas, or philosophies. That’s not to say that I want the world to work strictly from rules made in the 18th century, but human nature in general and progressive nature in particular tend to corrupt through modernization rather than improve.
One exception that should be discussed would be the modernization of the unalienable rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Unlike the Constitution or the Amendments that should only be tampered with through the prescribed amendment powers given to the federal government as well as the states, the Declaration of Independence should be examined for the sake of its 21st century validity. We are no longer under the rule of England. We have a nation that is sovereign, a government system that is tested, and a people that are empowered. By examining the unalienable rights as they apply today, it’s possible to bring them back into a focus in a way that is more applicable today.
This isn’t an exercise in hypotheticals. I believe that we are at a point in American history when the Declaration of Independence needs to be remembered and applied. No, I don’t mean that it’s time to overthrow the government or kick California out of the Union once and for all. Because we are a people who are not oppressed by outside governments, the need for independence is not applicable. However, the unalienable rights mentioned in the document apply today perhaps more so than they applied back then.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are listed as unalienable rights called out specifically from the group. They are endowed by our Creator and apply today. Unfortunately, they don’t have the same meaning to modern-day Americans, which is why I believe we need to do a quick examination of how they should apply going forward given the situation.
The first is the one that hasn’t changed in name but has changed in focus. Life is sacred. It is God-given and must be protected. It is a right and it should be unalienable. Today, liberals are trying to redefine life on multiple levels. The most obvious is, of course, pre-birth life. Abortion was not the evil scourge sweeping the nation in the 18th century. TO them, life was a right that could be taken away by other men, but they did not need to specifically call out when life began and when the taking of that life should be considered murder.
Today, we have that issue.
Rather than redefining, it’s important to maintain the same name as, in its purest form, it exemplifies the unalienable right perfectly. Should babies before birth be murdered as if they weren’t alive? Should terminally ill patients be assisted in their efforts to take their own life? Is the death penalty righteous, or perhaps a better way to ask the question is whether or not our justice system can declare when someone has committed enough harm on others to forfeit their right to continue to live?
Personally, I am as pro-life as one can be in regards to abortion and assisted suicide and I’m for the death penalty, not as a deterrent to crime but as an aid in healing the loved ones of victims. As Americans, the question of life is something that should be answered on a personal level by every individual. It amazed me that people can have no opinion on any of these issues. After all, we’re talking about the most precious gift given to man in this world.
There is a challenge. Just as many have said that “conservatism” has been improperly co-opted and redefined to fit a particular paradigm, so to has the word “liberty.” Because we no longer fight for liberty from foreign, but rather from our own government, we have witnessed the original intent of liberty getting mangled in recent decades.
It was telling when the Libertarian nominee for President viewed liberty as strangely attached to feelings. From his perspective, if someone walked into a bakery owned by a devout Jew and asked them to bake a cake shaped like a swastika, the modernized definition of liberty states that the Jewish baker cannot infringe on someone’s right to have the cake they want baked. This is, in my humble opinion, a perversion of liberty. Just as a Christian bakery should not be forced to make a gay wedding cake, we cannot allow liberty to be used as an excuse to take away someone’s liberty.
All of this leads to our first shift in names. Rather than liberty, which only seems to maintain purity when we’re fighting against oppressive outside forces, we should instead embrace its close cousin, “freedom.” This aligns better with the Constitution; freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly – yes, they’re liberties, but when we see them more appropriately as freedoms, we have a more defensible unalienable right. Antisemitism might be viewed as liberty to some, but that liberty cannot be allowed to supersede the freedom of a private business owner who does not want to participate in the celebration or promotion of an organization that killed millions.
Pursuit of Happiness
Like liberty, the left has taken the original concept of our pursuit of happiness and muddied the waters with social justice and political correctness. Today, if a student feels triggered because their happiness is impeded by someone else’s actions, even if those actions had neither the intent nor the realistic expectation of causing harm, they are allowed to feel like their rights are being attacked. It’s ridiculous.
Happiness is not a right! It never has been. The ability to pursue happiness is the unalienable right, perfectly worded in the 18th century and perfectly perverted today.
To me, the clearest way to enable the pursuit of happiness is through reduction of government interference. On the surface, one might wonder how smaller government can be associated with the pursuit of happiness. If you take a moment to truly consider it, you’ll see that it’s through government interaction that the pursuit of happiness is most hindered. In short, more government drains happiness while less government enables it.
If we look at America’s needs through a 21st century lens, we will see that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, freedom and an appropriately small degree of government. If those things become our focus as a conservative movement, we’ll have our best chance of surviving the leftward lurch that the government has been experiencing in recent years.