"One's first step in wisdom is to question everything--and one's last is to come to terms with everything." ~ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
The Divine Right of Kings in Sheeple's Clothing
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The art of political discourse is the art of deception. Since government is, by definition, an unethical enterprise masquerading as an ethical organization, then whatever comes out of a politician's mouth or pen is necessarily meant to deceive his audience. Whatever the politician proposes is unethical in that it is based on aggression, and so the proper spin must be applied so that he can appear to hold the moral and ethical high ground.
If this inherent deception is indeed true, then we should suppose that the most revered political speeches and documents are in fact the greatest of deceptions, and we would expect these masterpieces to be associated with the epic political events of history (here is one example).
The rejection of the English government by the American colonists certainly qualifies as an epic political event and not many would argue that the Declaration of Independence qualifies as a masterpiece in the pantheon of political documents. Superlatives have been exhausted in describing this document and any sharp criticism is near impossible to find, with "magnificent but flawed" being about as harsh as one may encounter.
After all, it was the first political document to recognize that all human beings are created with equal inalienable rights. The very heart of libertarian thought was being used as a basis for an original and radical type of government that promised to issue in a shining new era of human freedom and enlightenment. The Divine Right of Kings doctrine was to be banished this side of the pond, as the common man would now step forward and replace the monarchs in a new system of government that was to be based on the consent of equally and inalienably rights-endowed human beings.
So goes the popular interpretation. But the Declaration of Independence was a political statement framing a truly epic political event—the birth of a new government. True, the Constitution and the actual birth of the new nation was not to follow for another eleven years, but the Declaration of Independence stated quite clearly the intent of its authors—the eventual creation of a new government.
But if our suspicions of inherent political deception are to be confirmed, what was the truth that the Declaration of Independence set out to obscure?
Since it was hailed as a declaration for the desire to create a new type of government based on the consent of the governed—one that would respect the individual rights of all human beings and in doing so reject the Divine Right of Kings doctrine—then we should suspect that this document is in fact merely the Divine Right of Kings doctrine incognito.
Let’s dig in and see:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,
Right off the bat we see the document is written about the plural "one people" and not the individual. This will not change throughout the course of the entire document.
and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station
Governments, not individuals, are said to be the powers of the earth, and this particular group of people wish to add another member to this exclusive club.
to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them,
And now natural law is invoked to justify the existence of government. Natural law implies universality across time and space. By declaring government as being in accordance with natural law, then there can be no discussion as to if government should or should not exist, rather only what kind of government should exist. The authors are stating that it is unnatural for human beings not to have government, and that all humans who have ever lived, are living, or will ever live should be subject to some type of government rule.
Now, one of government’s raisons d'état is the manufacture of positive law. Positive law then becomes a subset and inevitable consequence of natural law and government. This leads to the conclusion that positive law is in fact natural law.
Additionally, the authors couldn’t resist invoking God here. Not only is natural law natural, it is in accordance with Nature’s God. Read the words. God entitles governments to exist. Government is declared a divine institution right there in the Declaration of Independence.
And let’s not forget that government is made up of human beings—human beings with a divine mandate to rule. I’m not quite seeing the rejection of the Divine Right of Kings doctrine here.
a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Actually, no. What was necessary was sufficient force to resist the English government’s attempt to subdue them. But how fortunate that they won, and this document could then be held up as a moral and ethical lesson of how good triumphs over evil.
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.
Profound truths have been stated here, and I have no argument with them. However, it has nothing to do with the rest of the content of this document. It is merely the hook—the sexy model sitting on the hood of the sports car. It has nothing to do with the product, but it sure helps sell it.
The all men are created equal phrase is commonly pointed to as another rejection of the Divine Right of Kings doctrine. Kings and other royalty are not inherently superior to any other human beings, and so have no innate right to rule over others. Invoking natural law here, applying it to the individual, would be the logical support for this argument. But natural law has already been invoked in this document—as a rationale for the existence of sovereign governments, not sovereign individuals.
And so the misdirection has been performed. While you were thinking this, they were saying that. The illusion is that the authors were asserting their inalienable right to freedom as sovereign individuals wishing to extract themselves from government control, a downright noble endeavor. But in fact the authors are actually declaring that they have the right, as a group, to split off and form yet another government, the previous sentence notwithstanding.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,
And now that the audience’s attention has been misdirected with fine words about individual rights, the prestidigitation is executed. Governments cannot exist without restricting the rights of men, and so the claim being made here is that in order for rights to be secured, they must be taken. Inalienable rights and government are necessarily mortal enemies, but this document has alchemized the two into a shiny new element.
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
And yet another rejection of the Divine Right of Kings doctrine appears. Only by the consent of the governed, not by divine decree, are governments to be instituted.
Except if you remember, the document has already declared that governments are in fact instituted by divine decree. Therefore any individual who does not consent to government is taking up a position contrary to natural law, which places the individual, not the government, in the position of acting in an unjust manner. Love it or leave it, but if you leave, you are obligated to give your consent to be governed by someone else. The individual’s inalienable right to freedom has just been declared null and void.
The remainder of the paragraph goes on to explain how the People (again, plural) have the right to rise up and violently overthrow government (but only if things get really bad) and replace it with another. Dissatisfied individuals have no choice but to stick with the program until a critical mass of disenchanted People decide to break out the long knives and start slitting throats. The violent mob will then install a new government based on their honorable consent. Everybody sing: Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss…
After a list of grievances, the conclusion of the document includes the following:
… and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.
Read those words carefully, the summation of what the Declaration of Independence is all about, and see if you can find the libertarian theme therein.
The Declaration of Independence was an argument made by a government-to-be, addressed to other governments. It had nothing at all to do with individual human beings and their inalienable rights, although it gives the illusion of doing so.
Deception: Expected and detected. Case closed.
A group of people wanted to extract themselves from the control of one government and establish a new government for themselves. New politicians wished to take control of the wealth over which the old politicians reigned. Let's see, they thought to themselves, how can we make this transfer of power sound just? How can we appropriate the Divine Right of Kings for ourselves but at the same time make it look like we are actually rejecting that doctrine? How can we remake the facade of government so that the masses think we have something new and exciting here? How can we fool the herd into thinking that they themselves are participants in the halls of power, and that those who previously ruled over them—the hated government officials—would now be their servants? In other words, how can we make the sheeple believe the exact opposite of the truth while we, the wolves, carry on with business as usual?
Well played, sirs. Well played indeed.