President Barack Obama quoted principles of human equality and liberty rights from the Declaration of Independence as the theme for his second inaugural address. He asserted that fidelity to our founding principles is important if we are to meet future challenges to our way of life. However, I question his vision for the future that relies on appeals to the authority of custom and to uncertain liberty principles.
"Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional -- what makes us American -- is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:
"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."
(President Obama inaugural speech 1/21/2013)
Obama's remarks wrongly suggest the founders wrote the Declaration of Independence and Constitution for the same purpose and that both expressed the same principles of human equality.
Writings during the 17th and 18th century affirmed ideas of human equality and personal liberty rights over principles of inherited privilege or servitude that were common during Europe's centuries of feudalism. The Continental Congress included those emerging principles in the 1776 Declaration of Independence as one justification for ending rule over
Americans by the British king. A year later, the same Continental Congress asserted different ideas of liberty in the Articles of Confederation that continued slavery. Ten years later, delegates from the States wrote in the preamble of the constitution:
"We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Nevertheless, this Constitution approved slavery and the slave trade in the American Republic. Therefore, the founders created the United States Republic on constitutional principles of inherited liberty and inherited servitude more like feudalism laws than like principles of human equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
Human equality is a self-evident condition in a society only if all people have liberty and human rights at birth. Otherwise, the people shift authority over human rights from them to government when they limit liberty to certain groups. The Declaration of Independence described government's role in a free society: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." A society is not a free where the government has authority to grant or withhold liberty.
The ability to reason and to decide self-image, worldview, and survival are defining traits of humans. All reasoning takes place in the reasoning center of the individual based on his or her self-image, interests, knowledge, and worldview. Nobody has the ability to reason within another person's reasoning center, store of knowledge or worldview. Liberty is an expression of human equality, because equals lack authority to decide thought or action for one another. Therefore, all humans have self-directed reasoning ability at birth, and they are equal.
Where principles of human equality were self-evident and accepted in society, the people respected one another's human rights. In other societies, deviant personalities took advantage of confusion from ignorance and fear to set up a superior ruling status for them over other humans.
America's social policy and law made liberty a privilege of race. As a result, racial-group identity exerted undue influence on self-image of Americans. This corruption of self-image is common in American society where most people still commonly name race when describing themselves and strangers. However, they cannot reason from a vague racial-group image decided by others. Therefore, race-corrupted self-images reduce people's reasoning skills and ability for self-government.
Government also extended the Constitution's protection of human rights to corporations as artificial persons. This government action showed contempt for the principle of humans having unalienable life and liberty rights endowed by god or by nature. The Constitution approved in 1789 refused liberty to some humans based on skin color so wealthy families and corporations could profit by enslaving them. Then, in 1886, the Supreme Court approved corporations as artificial persons and advanced their economic interests and powers over all workers no matter their race label. This government policy against the people's human rights should have motivated Americans to examine the foundations of their culture for uncertain and contradictory moral principles and change them. It did not. Americans continued to support old ideas of human inequality.
A big threat to liberty is Americans' willingness to surrender self-image and personal autonomy for an uncertain group-image they believe will entitle them to economic advantages. Those expected advantages decided by others are fleeting for most and costly compared to freedom they surrender. Any social principle, custom, or law that destroys or weakens personal autonomy threatens liberty. All assumptions against human equality threaten liberty. Loyalty to any unexamined custom or authority threatens liberty. Americans will secure their liberty when they adopt true principles of human equality and end allegiance to founding principles of racism and inequality.