Thomas Hobbes on Accidental and Essential In “Leviathan”

In his book “Leviathan”, Thomas Hobbes prefaces his discussion of politics and the “social contract” with a discussion “Of Man”. (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3207/3207-h/3207-h.htm) (My references to “Leviathan” are to the Penguin Classics version, 1987, ISBN 0-14-043195-0 http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?bi=0&bx=off&ds=30&isbn=0140431950&recentlyadded=all&sortby=17&sts=t )

Hobbes recognizes that one must study the nature of man before discussing how men should be organized into society and what sort of political system they should adapt. He also recognizes that the nature of the human mind, and how it acquires knowledge, is key to understanding the nature of man.

In historical context, Hobbes lived in a time when some of the scientific assertions of Aristotle, which had been re-incorporated into Western thinking by Thomas Aquinas, were being questioned.

Galileo Galilei had presented evidence that tended to overthrow the Ptolemaic system, which had described the Earth as the center of the universe. This idea had become official doctrine of the Church with its adoption of Aristotle, through Thomas Aquinas, at the beginning of the Renaissance.

Hobbes wrote against this backdrop, in which all of Aristotle’s science, especially his cosmology, was starting to be questioned.

Despite his declared rejection of Aristotle, Hobbes didn’t go far enough in questioning the philosopher when it came to the distinction between “essential” and “accidental” properties of a thing. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accident_%28philosophy%29)

Although Hobbes was right to reject the Platonic/Aristotelian view of “essences”, his embrace of the idea of “accidental” features in things that are not man-made lead him to believe that definitions are based on mere “accidental” features.

An alternative to both Hobbes and the “realists” (Plato and Aristotle) holds that essential features are characteristics perceived by a particular type of mind, the human mind, to serve human purposes -ultimately, man’s life.

There is a long-standing debate in the history of philosophy about where the essential feature(s) that comprise a concept come from:

“The problem of universals is the problem of the correspondence of our intellectual concepts to things existing outside our intellect. Whereas external objects are determinate individuals, formally exclusive of all multiplicity, our concepts or mental representations offer us the realities independent of all particular determination; they are abstract and universal. The question, therefore, is to discover to what extent the concepts of the mind correspond to the things they represent; how the flower we conceive represents the flower existing in nature; in a word whether our ideas are faithful and have an objective reality.” (E.C. Moore, American Pragmatism: Peirce, James, and Dewey. New York: Columbia University Press (1961), quoting DeWulf, M. Catholic Encyclopedia, XI, “Nominalism, Realism and Conceptualism”(1909).)

“Since man’s knowledge is gained and held in conceptual form, the validity of man’s knowledge depends on the validity of concepts. But concepts are abstractions or universals, and everything that man perceives is particular, concrete. What is the relationship between abstractions and concretes? To what precisely do concepts refer in reality? Do they refer to something real, something that exists -or are they merely inventions of man’s mind, arbitrary constructs or loose approximations that cannot claim to represent knowledge?…To exemplify the issue as it is usually presented: When we refer to three persons as ‘men’, what do we designate by that term? The three persons are three individuals who differ in every particular respect and may not possess a single identical characteristic…If you list all their particular characteristics, you will not find one representing ‘manness.’ Where is the ‘manness’ in men? What, in reality, corresponds to the concept ‘man’ in our mind?” (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd Ed., “Forward to the First Edition”. New York:Meridian (1990).)

Plato said that “essences” exist in pure form in some other realm, and that the world we see around us is just a vague, shadowy approximation of that real world of forms. This is probably what was meant by Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave

Plato said we are all like people who are chained and forced to face the wall of a cave with a fire behind us. We can see the shadows of people and other things as they pass by, but we cannot see the actual things. This is a metaphor for the idea that human senses do not perceive actual entities or things, just the shadows of things that actually exist. What actually exists are the “forms”, which are in some other realm. Human beings are merely perceiving the shadows of those forms. Those “forms” are what we mean when we speak of the essence of a thing. The “manness” that we perceive in men actually exists in some pure form in another realm, and the individual men that we perceive are just shadowy approximations of the “Platonic form” of man.

Plato’s student, Aristotle was somewhat more “this worldly” than his teacher. Aristotle rejected the idea that “forms” exist in some other realm. Instead, some scholars interpret Aristotle as saying that the “form” or “essence” of a thing exists within each concrete instance. http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/dbanach/arist.htm The practical result of this would be that for Aristotle, studying concrete particular things is important to understanding them, since that “essence” of the thing exists somewhere within it, whereas Plato said the “essence” isn’t in the thing –the thing is just a shadow of that “pure essence”. Plato’s view of knowledge would tend to suggest that one gains knowledge by learning about some other world, other than the one you perceive, while Aristotle at least believed that you should study the things you can actually see and perceive in order to learn about their essence.

Starting in the late Middle Ages, the ideas of Aristotle were rediscovered by Western Scholars like Thomas Aquinas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Aquinas By the time of the Renaissance, much of Aristotle had been incorporated into Church doctrine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renaissance The ideas of Aristotle and Aquinas became part of the “scholastic” tradition. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholasticism

In the 1600’s, Hobbes, and other thinkers and scientists, began to reject the ideas of the “Schoolmen” (the Scholastics).

“Lastly, the Metaphysiques, Ethiques, and Politiques of Aristotle, the frivolous Distinctions, barbarous Terms, and obscure Language of the Schoolmen, taught in the Universities, (which have been all erected and regulated by the Popes Authority,) serve them to keep these Errors from being detected, and to make men mistake the Ignis Fatuus of Vain Philosophy, for the Light of the Gospell.” (Leviathan, Pg. 708)

Along with the doctrines of Aristotle, Hobbes also denounced, amongst others, the idea of Papal infallibility (“…that the Pope In His Publique Capacity Cannot Erre…” Leviathan, Pg. 706) and transubstantiation (“…they assure the same, by the Power they ascribe to every Priest, of making Christ; and by the Power of ordaining Pennance; and of Remitting, and Retaining of sins.” Leviathan, Pg. 708)

Hobbes likely regarded Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as an “abuse of speech”:

“Secondly, when they use words metaphorically; that is, in other sense than that they are ordained for; and thereby deceive others.” (Leviathan, Pg. 102)

The allegory of the cave could be considered a “metaphorical” use of words, aimed at deceiving others into doubting the evidence of their senses.

If Hobbes rejected the essentialism of Plato and Aristotle, what did he believe we were referring to when we speak of an essential, defining characteristic of a thing?

For instance, I read an article about a chimpanzee that lost all of his hair in a zoo because of alopecia –a disease. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1322472/Guru-chimp-suffering-alopecia-looks-human-star-zoo-attraction.html)

This is what Hobbes says the schoolmen would say:

“From these Metaphysiques [the philosphy of Aristotle], which are mingled with the Scripture to make Schoole Divinity, wee are told, there be in the world certaine Essences separated from Bodies, which they call Abstract Essences, and Substantiall Formes…” (Leviathan, Pg. 689)

Aristotle tried to draw a distinction between “essential” and “accidental” properties of a thing to account for something like a chimpanzee without hair, and why it is still a chimpanzee. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accident_%28philosophy%29)

The fact that most chimpanzees have hair on their bodies must be an “accidental feature” of a chimpanzee. Something else must be “essential”.

Although he is not always clear on this point, I believe Hobbes thought all definitions ultimately rest on “accidental qualities”:

“Of Names, some are Proper, and singular to one onely thing; as Peter, John, This Man, This Tree: and some are Common to many things; as Man, Horse, Tree; every of which though but one Name, is nevertheless the name of divers particular things; in respect of all which together, it is called an Universall; there being nothing in the world Universall but Names; for the things named, are every one of them Individual and Singular.

One Universall name is imposed on many things, for their similitude in some quality, or other accident: And whereas a Proper Name bringeth to mind one thing onely; Universals recall any one of those many. ” (See Leviathan, pg. 103)

“Secondly, it may enter into account, or be considered, for some accident or quality, which we conceive to be in it; as for Being Moved, for Being So Long, for Being Hot, &c; and then, of the name of the thing it selfe, by a little change or wresting, wee make a name for that accident, which we consider; and for Living put into account Life; for Moved, Motion; for Hot, Heat; for Long, Length, and the like. And all such Names, are the names of the accidents and properties, by which one Matter, and Body is distinguished from another. These are called Names Abstract; Because Severed (not from Matter, but) from the account of Matter.” (See Leviathan, Pg. 107.)

In the above passages, Hobbes says there are “accidental qualities” that make up “matter” and “body”. Hobbes initially did seem to suggest that one “…Universal name is imposed on many things, for their similitude in some quality, or other accident…” (Leviathan, Pg. 103)

This could be interpreted as meaning he made a distinction between “similarity” and “accident”. So, for instance, the chimpanzee with alopecia has no hair as a result of an “accident” (a disease). However, given what he then gives as examples of “accident” (“living”, “moved”, “hot”, “long”, etc), the logical implication is that all characteristics of any given entity would ultimately be considered “accidental”.

Additionally, for Hobbes, a “body without us” is what is commonly called an “object”. “Objects” are the things we perceive with our senses:

“Concerning the Thoughts of man, I will consider them first Singly, and afterwards in Trayne, or dependance upon one another. Singly, they are every one a Representation or Apparence, of some quality, or other Accident of a body without us; which is commonly called an Object. Which Object worketh on the Eyes, Eares, and other parts of mans body; and by diversity of working, produceth diversity of Apparences.” (Leviathan, Pg. 85)

Every “object” that we perceive, according to Hobbes, is a “Representation” of “Apparence” of “some quality, or other Accident of a body [an object] without us; which is commonly called an Object.”

The logic of Hobbes’ view of knowledge is to say that everything about a particular entity that we call “matter” or “body” is just an accidental feature. Therefore, all of our concepts must be based on “accidental features”. There is no “essence”, as Plato or Aristotle speaks of them.

One of the strengths of Hobbes is his commitment to good definitions:

“Seeing then that Truth consisteth in the right ordering of names in our affirmations, a man that seeketh precise Truth, had need to remember what every name he uses stands for; and to place it accordingly; or els he will find himselfe entangled in words, as a bird in lime-twiggs; the more he struggles, the more belimed. And therefore in Geometry, (which is the onely Science that it hath pleased God hitherto to bestow on mankind,) men begin at settling the significations of their words; which settling of significations, they call Definitions; and place them in the beginning of their reckoning.

By this it appears how necessary it is for any man that aspires to true Knowledge, to examine the Definitions of former Authors; and either to correct them, where they are negligently set down; or to make them himselfe. For the errours of Definitions multiply themselves, according as the reckoning proceeds; and lead men into absurdities, which at last they see, but cannot avoyd, without reckoning anew from the beginning; in which lyes the foundation of their errours. From whence it happens, that they which trust to books, do as they that cast up many little summs into a greater, without considering whether those little summes were rightly cast up or not; and at last finding the errour visible, and not mistrusting their first grounds, know not which way to cleere themselves; but spend time in fluttering over their bookes; as birds that entring by the chimney, and finding themselves inclosed in a chamber, flitter at the false light of a glasse window, for want of wit to consider which way they came in. So that in the right Definition of Names, lyes the first use of Speech; which is the Acquisition of Science: And in wrong, or no Definitions’ lyes the first abuse; from which proceed all false and senslesse Tenets; which make those men that take their instruction from the authority of books, and not from their own meditation, to be as much below the condition of ignorant men, as men endued with true Science are above it. For between true Science, and erroneous Doctrines, Ignorance is in the middle. Naturall sense and imagination, are not subject to absurdity. Nature it selfe cannot erre: and as men abound in copiousnesse of language; so they become more wise, or more mad than ordinary. Nor is it possible without Letters for any man to become either excellently wise, or (unless his memory be hurt by disease, or ill constitution of organs) excellently foolish. For words are wise mens counters, they do but reckon by them: but they are the mony of fooles, that value them by the authority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas, or any other Doctor whatsoever, if but a man.” (Leviathan, Pg. 105-106)

Here, Hobbes says that all authority must be rejected (specifically the authority of “…Aristotle…Cicero…[and]…Thomas [Aquinas]…” He says that one must “…examine the Definitions of former Authors…” to see if they are right or wrong. Hobbes says that failure to do so will cause one to “…find himselfe entangled in words…”

But, Hobbes doesn’t always follow his own advice on definitions. Hobbes uses the term “accidental” without thinking about what that means -what its definition is. The definition of “accident” is:

“a sudden event (such as a crash) that is not planned or intended and that causes damage or injury.”
“an event that is not planned or intended: an event that occurs by chance” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/accident)

An “accident” means something that was not planned or intended. With respect to “the metaphysical”, i.e., all aspects of reality that don’t involve human choice, the concepts of “planned” or “intended” do not apply. Only human beings, and, arguably, certain other types of living organisms, are capable of “planning” or “intent”. These concepts pertain to entities that possess a mind like human beings.

Similarly, the concept of “chance” means that an event occurs about which one does not have sufficient information to know for certain what the outcome will be. For instance, if I flip a coin, whether it will come up heads or tails is a question of “chance”, and I can speak of the probability that it will come up heads or tails.

If I had enough data about the original position of the coin prior to being tossed, the angle(s) and speeds of all the forces that worked on it when it was tossed, the wind and weather factors involved, etc., then I could know for certain whether the coin toss would end up heads or tails. It would no longer be a matter of “chance” because I have sufficient knowledge to know all the factors that are playing into its eventual resting state.

All inanimate things act in accordance with their nature, and the nature of other things that they interact with, and they absolutely must act that way. “Chance” is just a way of saying that a human being doesn’t have enough knowledge about the nature of certain inanimate things to know what the outcome will be.

For example, the fact that the Earth and the other planets came to revolve around the sun the way they do, and at the orbits they occupy, had to occur that way because of the nature of the Sun and the other planets. (Their masses, their speeds, their composition, etc.) The element of “chance” comes into play because human beings do not know all of the factors that led to the Earth orbiting the sun in the way it does. “Chance” is just a reflection of some human being’s level of knowledge on a subject.

As far as we know, only human beings make choices. Since only human beings can make plans or intend to bring about some event or goal, only human beings are capable of having their plans or intentions fail due to some ignorance, negligence, or irrationality on their part. Only human beings can have “accidents”, because only human beings can be mistaken.

This means that when it comes to reality, apart from those aspects that don’t involve human choice, nothing is “accidental”, because the concept does not apply. It’s like asking: what is the sound of one hand clapping? Or: what is outside the universe? Since clapping, by definition, is the striking together of two hands, it is a nonsense sentence. If the universe is all that exists, then you cannot speak of anything “outside” it, because anything that exists is part of the universe. “Outside” is also a relational concept, implying that something that exists is not within something else, so there is no “outside” the universe. (Arguably, there is no “inside” the universe, either.) Similarly, speaking of “accidental” aspects or features of reality, that don’t involve human choice, is a nonsense statement.

Going back to the chimpanzee with alopecia, the fact that he lost all of his hair is not an “accident”, nor is the fact that other chimps have their hair an “accident”. Chimps that don’t have alopecia have their hair because of their nature as a living organism, plus the nature of the rest of reality that they interact with. It isn’t an “accident” that chimps have hair. It had to be that way, because reality is what it is. There is no god making choices about how reality is going to be. Reality simply is. Only human beings make choices, that we know of, and only human beings can make plans. Human beings, not reality, are capable of having “accidents” -of making mistakes. If a chimp looses his hair for some reason that doesn’t involve human choice, it had to be that way because of the nature of certain diseases and the nature of the chimp’s body in reaction to those diseases.

What is the consequence of believing, as Hobbes appears to, that all features or characteristics of “matter” and “body” are “accidental”? He would have to believe that all concepts that human being hold must be, in some sense, “accidental”. Concepts for Hobbes are not going to be fully real to him. Hobbes is what is known today as a “nominalist”:

“Denying that concepts have an objective basis in the facts of reality, nominalists declare that the source of concepts is a subjective human decision: men arbitrarily select certain characteristics to serve as the basis (the “essentials”) for a classification; thereafter, they agree to apply the same term to any concretes that happen to exhibit these “essentials,” no matter how diverse these concretes are in other respects. On this view, the concept (the term) means only those characteristics initially decreed to be ‘essential’. The other characteristics of the subsumed concretes bear no necessary connection to the ‘essential’ characteristics, and are excluded from the concepts meaning.

Observe that, while condemning Plato’s mystic view of a concept’s meaning, the nominalists embrace the same view in a skeptic version. Condemning the essence-accident dichotomy as implicitly arbitrary, they institute an explicitly arbitrary equivalent. Condemning Plato’s ‘intuitive’ selection of essences as a disguised subjectivism, they spurn the disguise and adopt subjectivism as their official theory…Condemning Plato’s supernaturally determined essences, they declare that essences are socially determined, thus transferring to the province of human whim what had once been the prerogative of Plato’s divine realm. The nominalists’ ‘advance’ over Plato consisted of secularizing his theory.”(Leonard Peikoff, “The Analytic Synthetic Dichotomy.” In: Rand, A. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd Ed.” New York:Meridian (1990).)

Hobbes is correct that all definitions of concepts rest on human choices -that all essences are based on human choice. He is mistaken in believing that certain aspects or characteristics of the things we perceive, given certain contexts of knowledge, should be considered no more essential than all of their other features, though. This is because the human mind has a certain nature, and it must organize the material it perceives in accordance with that nature if it is going to function effectively. Since human thought serves human life, certain characteristics of the entities we perceive are more fundamental than others, because we adopt certain principles of “fundamentality” that serve our nature as living beings with a certain nature of mind.

“Now observe, on the above example, the process of determining an essential characteristic: the rule of fundamentality. When a given group of existents has more than one characteristic distinguishing it from other existents, man must observe the relationships among these various characteristics and discover the one on which all the others (or the greatest number of others) depend, i.e., the fundamental characteristic is the essential distinguishing characteristic of the existents involved, and the proper defining characteristic of the concept.

Metaphysically, a fundamental characteristic is that distinctive characteristic which makes the greatest number of others possible; epistemologically, it is the one that explains the greatest number of others.” (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd Ed., Chapter 5, “Definitions”. New York:Meridian (1990).)

For instance, in the case of the chimpanzee, we know that it is a living organism that must obtain the fuel necessary for its continued existence. It must gather food and other resources. It will seek out females to reproduce with because all living organisms are capable of reproducing themselves, and, with the possible exception of humans, are driven by inexorable mating cycles to do so. Its internal organs are all aimed at sustaining itself. It reacts to its environment and attempts to adapt itself to that environment in a manner that will allow for its continued existence, so it behaves in certain ways. It possesses a consciousness that is, perhaps different from human beings, but a consciousness, nonetheless.

Take away its hair, and the chimpanzee is still a living organism, albeit one that is in a diseased state, so it might not be quite as successful at living. To the extent that human beings interact with a chimpanzee without hair, they will still do so in largely the same way. Hair, as far as human beings are concerned, is not an essential feature of the chimp. But, this is only as far as a human being are concerned. Outside of the way human beings organize certain entities that they perceive in their minds in order to serve human purposes, every entity is unique. No two chimpanzees are the same. The concept of “similarity” serves human needs.

What are some of the “principles of ‘fundamentality’” that human beings adopt in order to serve their purposes? Probably the most important one is the principle of causality. We try to find aspects of reality that we can use to bring about certain results. This is important because reason is our means of survival. So, for instance, we find that certain types of molds kill bacteria. A certain type of mold is the “cause” of bacteria death. We then extract the substance from that mold that leads to the death of certain types of bacteria, and make antibiotics. This means that when we form concepts we look for characteristics that are the “cause” of other characteristics of the thing. The more characteristics of a thing that a particular characteristic(s) causes, the more likely it is to be considered “fundamental”.

This isn’t always an easy task, since we may have incomplete knowledge, but this is what we are doing when we try to find “essential features” of a thing -and finding those essential features is necessary for successful living by human beings. The fact that the concept of essential features is necessary for living life means that there is a “right” and a “wrong” -that some ideas held by human beings are “true” and others are “false”. If one person believes that penicillin kills bacteria while another believes that voodoo incantations will cure disease, then the former is right and the later is wrong. If you want to live, then it’s not all just a matter of arbitrary definitions based on “accidental qualities”.

In the case of a chimpanzee, the fact that he has hair is not considered a fundamental feature. Other mammals have hair, and it doesn’t explain most of the chimp’s behavior patterns or the overall structure of his body. He also is still capable of reproduction with other chimpanzees, which is a strong indicator that an animal is the same species as another animal -although not always a definite indicator. (Wolves and coyotes can interbreed.) Why is interbreeding such a strong indicator? Because two animals breeding and giving rise to offspring tends to be very important to human beings in terms of farming. Agriculture, at least since the Neolithic period, is important to mankind because livestock for food and other purposes is important to human survival.

Essential features are neither “out there”, as Plato/Aristotle would say, nor “arbitrary creations”, as Hobbes would have to say. They are aspects of realty perceived and organized by a certain type of organism, a human being, who needs them to serve a certain purpose, which is living.

The legacy of Hobbes and of the Enlightenment is one in which tradition and authority is questioned. Hobbes just didn’t go far enough when he accepted, without criticism, the idea of “accidental qualities”, because the concept of “accident” does not apply to those aspects of reality that exist apart from human choice. (The “metaphysical”.) Only the metaphysical should be accepted, while all human choices and institutions should be judged, and, if necessary, reformed, if one wants to live.

A Review of “Altruism as Appeasement” by Ayn Rand

In 1962, Ayn Rand asked a student at MIT why so many of “…today’s young intellectuals were becoming ‘liberals’…” (pg. 32) A few weeks later, the MIT student wrote Miss Rand a letter, outlining his thinking on the subject. Miss Rand wrote “Altruism as Appeasement”, which expands on the response she got from this MIT student. This essay can be found in The Voice of Reason. (My page citations below are to the 1989 Meridian version, ISBN number: 0-452-01046-2)

In his letter, the student told Miss Rand that “The majority of college students…do not choose to think; they accept the status quo, conform to the prescribed code of values, and evade the responsibility of independent thought…’In adopting this attitude, they are encouraged by teachers who inspire imitation, rather than creation.’” (Pg. 32)

However, there is another group who are “…not willing to renounce their rational faculty.” Miss Rand then quotes at length from the MIT student’s letter: “‘They are the intellectuals -and they are the outsiders….They are teased and rejected by their schoolmates. An immense amount of faith in oneself and a rational philosophical basis are required to set oneself against all that society has ever taught…The man who preaches individual integrity, pride, and self-esteem is today virtually nonexistent. Far more common is the man who, driven by the young adult’s driving need for acceptance, has compromised. And here is the key -[the result of] the compromise is the liberal.’”

What is the psychological result? Most “liberal intellectuals” are driven by a strong guilt complex, because a person who sets himself against society in favor of rationality will feel guilt due to his rejection by the mediocrities around him. The “liberal” “…’loudly proclaims the brotherhood of all men. He seeks to serve his escapist brothers by guaranteeing them their desire for social security…’” (Pg. 33) “Liberals” are driven to atone for their false guilt, and they do so by working for “…’their welfare…’” (Pg. 33)

Miss Rand agreed with the MIT student regarding the psychological process he had identified, however: “…the situation he [the MIT student] describes is not new; it is as old as altruism; nor is it confined to ‘liberals’.” She says that this is the “…story of men who spend their lives apologizing for their own intelligence.” (Pg. 33)

Miss Rand then describes how this psychological process works out in the mind of the average college student. In an effort to avoid a massive quantity of quotations, I will summarize Miss Rand’s description of this process as best I can, as well as discuss some of my own observations that have led me to believe that Miss Rand is describing a psychological process that occurs very often in the mind of persons that usually self-identify as “liberals” or, more often today, as “progressives”.

When I originally read this essay in the mid-nineties, I was 19 or 20 years old. I hadn’t had enough experience to know if Miss Rand was right, so I just mentally “shelved” the issue. 20 years later, I’ve dealt with and seen enough people, and I’ve spent enough time thinking about their behavior, that I consider Miss Rand’s theory in “Altruism as Appeasement” to be a highly probable explanation for many people that are college educated, and self-describe as “liberals”, “progressives” or “social democrats”.

Miss Rand observes that bright children have a sense of being trapped in a “nightmare universe” when they are growing up. Growing up mostly in the Bible Belt and going to public school, I can relate to this description of childhood. In the South, large numbers of people will tell you that you are going to hell for some inherent moral vice called “original sin”, unless you repent your non-existent guilt to god. This could certainly be a frightening prospect for a child. In my own case, I started questioning the existence of god around age 13, and my mother must have sensed that because I was made to go to church despite the fact that I wasn’t particularly interested. Fortunately, the church that I was sent to was fairly “liberal”, and didn’t take the bible literally, so it could have been worse, I suppose.

Public schools, especially high school, were filled with their share of bullies -by which I mean children that would engage in low-level initiations of physical force, especially against anyone who didn’t seem to fit in, or that their emotions told them deserved such treatment. (By low-level initiations of physical force, I mean things like handing out quadriceps contusions —a “deadleg”- or being spit on, or having your books knocked out of your hands in the hall, etc.) Although in my case, by the 11th grade, most of the kids that were initiating physical force against others had either been removed from the school to a special “alternative school”, or were already in jail. Additionally, Plano Independent Schools contain a large number of children with parents that actually care about academic achievement and personal success, so my overall public school experience wasn’t what I’d call a “nightmare”. I suspect that an inner-city public school would be four years of complete hell all the way through, and make my experience look like I was living in Galt’s Gulch (a utopia).

I discovered Ayn Rand’s philosophy when I was about 15, and I did note that most people were hostile to Miss Rand’s ideas, if they knew about them at all. I did have a couple of teachers that seemed sympathetic towards her ideas, but that was rare. So, I can relate when Miss Rand says that the intelligent teenager wants to “…understand things and issues, big issues, about which no one else seems to care.” (Pg. 33)

Miss Rand goes on to say that most intelligent teenagers start college with the hope that it will be better, but their first year is too often a “psychological killer”(Pg. 33). He went to college hoping to find answers and meaning, and some companions to share his interest in ideas. She notes that he may find a handful of teachers that live up to his hopes, but “…as to intellectual companionship, he finds the same gang he had met in kindergarten, in playgrounds, and in vacant lots: a leering, screeching, aggressively mindless gang playing the same games, with latinized jargon replacing the mud pies and the baseball bats.” (Pg. 34)

I found Rand’s description of college to be fairly accurate at the University of Texas at Austin, which is easily the most left-wing school in Texas. One English professor was particularly terrible. He interpreted everything we read through the lens of “multiculturalism” and “feminism”. He told the class that Thomas Jefferson was a racist and a hypocrite when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. I raised my hand and disagreed with him. I told him that the Declaration of Independence may not have been consistently applied at the founding, but it formed the intellectual basis on which the nation eventually moved towards abolishing slavery. His response was that the civil war was the reason the slaves were freed. I disagreed, and said that slavery would have been abolished eventually anyway. In that professor’s mind, ideas had nothing to do with it. The use of physical force was all that mattered. It makes me wonder why he bothered to be a professor at all, if he thought ideas were so futile.

Going back to Miss Rand’s essay, how do too many intelligent college students deal with the intellectual wasteland that is college? “There are many wrong directions he can make at this crossroads, but the deadliest -psychologically, intellectually, and morally- is the attempt to join the gang at the price of selling his soul to uninterested buyers. It is an attempt to apologize for his intellectual concerns…by professing that his thinking is dedicated to some social-altruistic goal.” (Pg. 34) She notes that this is rarely a conscious decision on his or her part. It is done gradually and subconsciously and by semiconscious rationalization. She also notes that altruism “…offers an arsenal of such rationalizations: if an unformed adolescent can tell himself that his…subservience is unselfishness…he is hooked. By the time he is old enough to know better, the erosion of his self-esteem is such that he dares not face or reexamine the issue.” (pg. 34)

What is the psychology of an intelligent person who goes to college and professes that he is using his mind to serve others? Such a man or woman has some “…degree of social metaphysics [secondhandedness]…” (Pg. 34) The concept of “social metaphysics” requires some explanation, which Rand does supply: “Basically, a social metaphysician is motivated by the desire to escape the responsibility of independent thought, and he surrenders the mind he is afraid to use, preferring to follow the judgments of others.” (Pg. 34)

If you’ve read Miss Rand’s book The Fountainhead, the character Peter Keating is the ultimate “second-hander” or “social metaphysician”. If you haven’t read that novel, it could be thought of as the “go along to get along” type of personality. (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/go_along_to_get_along) It does not mean never compromising on non-fundamental or trivial matters. So, for instance if you are going to dinner with a friend, and they prefer Italian food and you want Chinese, and you compromise by going to an Italian restaurant, with the understanding that next time you will pick the restaurant, that isn’t social metaphysics. That is simply recognizing that there are a range of food preferences that vary by person, you can only go to one place at a time, and that friendship is about shared values, which means showing an interest in what your friends are interested in.

The social metaphysician regards society -others- as the standard of reality. The social order as it happens to exist is accepted by him, or her, and then he or she operates within it. A social metaphysician can be quite successful at operating within that social order, but she never questions it. This is why Rand called them social metaphysicians.

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the most fundamental aspects of the nature of reality. Metaphysics are the principles that must be understood before one can study particular sciences like physics or biology. For instance, in Miss Rand’s philosophy, she accepts the existence of an external universe as the given. The entities that make up the universe have a particular nature and those entities act in accordance with that nature. According to Miss Rand’s system of metaphysics, an entity is what it is regardless of anyone’s desires or wishes to the contrary. If one is a social metaphysician, then the metaphysical, i.e., reality, is less important than the “man-made”. The man-made includes all of our social institutions and customs. Unlike reality, the man-made depends on human choice, and could be other than it is. For instance, America is a Republic and not a Monarchy because people chose to make it that way. It’s continued existence as a Republic depends on human choice. The social metaphysician simply accepts these man-made customs as the given, and rarely questions them. In fact, a social metaphysician has so internalized this way of thinking, that anyone who questions generally accepted social institutions will make her feel uneasy.

Social metaphysicians who are less intelligent, and didn’t go to college, are the “good old boys” and “rednecks” that one might see in a small, rural town. The social metaphysician is also quite common in inner cities, but I don’t know what the polite word to describe them would be. For lack of a polite term, I will call them “black rednecks”. A “black redneck” from a large inner city like Chicago or New York will be highly critical of anyone from his neighborhood who studies hard and tries to better his economic standing. He will accuse high-achievers in his race of “acting white”. This is a perfect example of the social metaphysician attitude. The “black redneck” believes there are certain social customs and institutions that are not to be questioned -unfortunately those social customs and institutions in minority communities include the belief that gaining knowledge and education is not in accordance with being of African descent. Anyone from his racial group who defies those customs is therefore a traitor in the social metaphysician’s eyes. There was once a great episode of a show that I didn’t typically watch that covered this topic, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” where the “nerdy” character “Carlton” is accused of being a race-traitor.

Another great essay by Rand describing basically the same mentality as this type of social metaphysician, the “anti-conceptual tribalist”, can be found in Philosophy: Who Needs It called: The Missing Link.

The intelligent teenager who goes to college and has the “social metaphysician” mindset will not become a redneck, though. He (or she) will become a “liberal” -which is the “educated” equivalent. To a social metaphysician college student, it seems like all of his professors and peers accept the idea that the individual must sacrifice himself to the “common good”. This means that in the social metaphysician’s eyes, the idea of self-sacrifice is one of the social institutions and custom of college. It is the social order that is not to be questioned.

The psychology of social metaphysics doesn’t entirely explain the “liberal mindset”, however. The college “liberal” is also engaged in “intellectual appeasement”: “…an intellectual appeaser surrenders morality, the realm of values, in order to be permitted to use his mind. The degree of self-abasement is greater [than the social metaphysician]; the implicit view of the mind -as functioning by permission of the mindless -is unspeakable. (Nor does the appeaser often care to speak of it.)” (Pg. 34)

“There are as many variants of the consequences [of being an intellectual appeaser] as there are men who commit this particular type of moral treason. But certain scars of psychological deformity can be observed in most of them as their common symptoms.” (Pg. 35) Rand then describes some common consequences of being an intellectual appeaser.

First, the intellectual appeaser tends to hate mankind in general, and to regard them as “…evil by nature, he complains about their congenital stupidity…” (pg. 35) I regard the “people are stupid” attitude as the hallmark of the “liberal” or “progressive”. “Liberal” politicians like Michael Bloomberg pass laws to restrict the size of sugary drinks because he thinks people are too stupid to regulate their own caloric intake. The “liberal”, intellectual appeaser view of “…the people at large is a nightmare image -the image of a mindless brute endowed with some inexplicably omnipotent power -and he lives in terror of that image…emotionally, he keeps feeling the brute’s presence behind every corner…The brute is the frozen embodiment of mankind as projected by the emotions of an adolescent appeaser.” (Pg. 35)

In my own experience, the belief that the majority of people are brutish is why most “liberals” are for gun control. They believe that most human beings are seething cauldrons of rage who will snap at the slightest provocation -that they are brutes. I saw this when Texas legalized concealed carry with a license in the mid-1990’s. “Liberals” claimed that it would lead to the “wild west” -with people shooting each other over trivial matters like parking spots. This is not to say that murder never happens, but the world today is arguably less violent than it has ever been. (“Steven Pinker: The surprising decline in violence” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ramBFRt1Uzk )

Second, a “…corollary symptom, in most intellectual appeasers, is the ‘elite’ premise -the dogmatic, unshakable belief that ‘the masses don’t think,’ that men are impervious to reason, that thinking is the exclusive prerogative of a small, ‘chosen’ minority.” (Pg. 36) In politics, this “elitism” manifests itself in the form of two types of “intellectual appeasers”. There are the more aggressive “liberals”, who believe in rule by physical force because “…people are unfit for freedom and should be ruled -‘for their own good’- by a dictatorship of the ‘elite’.”(Pg. 36) These are the Michael Bloomberg’s and Hillary Clinton’s of the world, who want to force people to buy smaller soft drinks or to buy health insurance because they are supposedly too stupid to take care of themselves.

Unfortunately, the other type of intellectual appeaser is predominately found in the Republican Party: “The more timorous type of appeasers, the ‘conservatives,’ take a different line: they share the notion of an intellectual ‘elite’ and, therefore, they discard intellectuality as numerically unimportant, and they concentrate on cajoling the brute (‘the masses’) with baby talk -with vapid slogans, flattering bromides, folksy speeches in two-syllable words, on the explicit premise that reason does not work, that the brute must be won through appeals to his emotions and must, somehow, be fooled or cheated into taking the right road.”(Pg. 36)

This analysis of conservatism provides a possible explanation for the popularity of Donald Trump in the Republican party. One thing I’ve noticed about Trump’s campaign is that it tends to be short on many specifics, but it contains a lot of emotional appeals, bromides, and verbal “put downs” of the other Republican candidates. This is not something new within the Republican party, though. Ronald Reagan was the master of “flattering bromides”, “folksy speeches”, and one-liners at debates. Trump is just a little bit more blunt in his delivery than Reagan was.

A third consequence of being an intellectual appeaser is moral cowardice, which is “…the necessary consequence of discarding morality as inconsequential.”(Pg. 36) For the “progressive” intellectual appeaser, the image of the brute is “…the symbol of an appeaser’s belief in the supremacy of evil…when his mind judges a thing to be evil, his emotions proclaim its power, and the more evil, the more powerful.” (Pg. 36)

This can be understood in terms of what the intellectual appeaser has accepted as “good” or “moral”. The intellectual appeaser is a proponent of self-sacrifice in the service of others, which is generally known as “altruism”. This means that “good” action for the altruist consists in destroying one’s own happiness and sacrificing one’s life in order to serve others. As a result, “good” and “right action” is self-weakening, and self-destructive. To the altruist, those who do not engage in self-sacrifice will be regarded as morally bad. However, the altruist can see that people who do not sacrifice themselves to others are more successful at living. For instance, someone who rejects altruism will have more wealth because they refuse to drain off their financial resources to help complete strangers. The person who rejects altruism has an easier life. In the altruist’s subconscious mind, the good has become associated with self-destruction, while the evil has become associated with the efficacious. The mistake lies in the intellectual appeaser’s belief that self-sacrifice is “the good”, when it is, in fact, the opposite of the good -if one wants to live.

The result of the intellectual appeaser’s inverted moral system is his belief that “…the self-assertive confidence of the good [the good by the standard of those who actually want to live] is a reproach, a threat to his precarious pseudo-self-esteem, a disturbing phenomenon from a universe whose existence he cannot permit himself to acknowledge -and his emotional response is a nameless resentment. The self-assertive confidence of the evil [those who violate individual rights] is a metaphysical confirmation, the sign of a universe in which he feels at home -and his emotional response is bitterness, but obedience. Some dictators -who boastfully stress their reign of terror, such as Hitler and Stalin -count on this kind of psychology. There are people on whom it works.” (Pg. 37)

The final result of this sort of moral cowardice of the “liberal” intellectual appeaser is to oppose those who want to live, the actual good, in order to appease those who want to violate individual rights, and eventually “…to pounce upon every possible or impossible chance to blacken the nature of the good and to whitewash the nature of the evil.” (Pg. 37) This is why so-called “liberals” were always quick to apologize for atrocities and human rights violations committed by the Soviet Union. It’s also why “liberals” engage in ad hominem criticisms of Ayn Rand because she collected social security -like we’re all supposed to be forced to pay into that system and then “fall on our own swords” and not try to collect out of it. (This is altruist thinking.)

A fourth consequence of being an intellectual appeaser can be seen in art. “Progressives” are always fascinated by movies and art that is a “…projection of cosmic terror, guilt, impotence, misery, doom…” (Pg. 37) “Liberals” and “progressives” are fascinated with movies that study “homicidal maniacs” (Pg. 37), like “Natural Born Killers” or “Dexter” because of their subconscious belief that such people are the norm. They believe destruction is the norm, while creation is an aberration, because they hate mankind.

A fifth consequence of being a “liberal” intellectual appeaser is “…the dry rot of cynicism…”(Pg. 38) that eventually sets in. As the “liberal” appeaser grows older, any “…pretense at any belief in altruism vanishes from his [or her] mind in a very few years, and there is nothing left to replace it: his independent capacity to value has been repressed -and his fear of the brute makes the pursuit of values seem hopelessly impractical.” (Pg. 38) I suspect that this is the point that has been reached by a politician like Hillary Clinton. At this stage in her life, she is probably running on fumes. Her denial of any responsibility in the attacks on the American embasy in Benghazi, and her attempt to shift blame onto a YouTube video shows this sort of cynicism. In response to Congressional criticism about Benghazi, Hillary Clinton said: “What difference at this point does it make?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ka0_nz53CcM) It doesn’t make any difference in Clinton’s mind, because the truth doesn’t matter. All that matters to her is whether she can con the American people into making her President.

Sixth, the intellectual appeaser ultimately spends so much time pandering to her own image of the “the masses” as a stupid, irrational mob, that she eventually “…assumes the standards of those he [or she] professes to despise…Any man who is willing to speak or write ’down,’, i.e., to think down- who distorts his own ideas in order to accommodate the mindless, who subordinates truth to fear -becomes eventually indistinguishable from the hacks who cater to an alleged ‘public taste.’ He joins the hordes who believe that the mind is impotent, that reason is futile, that ideas are only means of fooling the masses (i.e., that ideas are important to the unthinking, but the thinkers know better…” (Pg. 38) In my own experience with self-described “liberals” and “progressives”, this has been true. They will imply to me that reason is just a means of tricking or fooling people, and that objective truth is not even possible.

Ayn Rand had a more realistic picture of the majority of mankind than the “liberal” appeaser: “No, men are not brutes; neither are they all independent thinkers. The majority of men are not intellectual initiators or orginiators; they accept what the culture offers them….their abstract range is limited…The truly deliberately evil men are a very small minority; it is the appeaser who unleashes them on mankind; it is the appeaser’s intellectual abdication that invites them to take over…When the ablest men turn into cowards, the average men turn into brutes.” (Pg. 39)

Ayn Rand was not pessimistic about the future, so long as the more intelligent people refused to become altruistic intellectual appeasers: “No, the average man is not morally inocent. But the best proof of his non-brutality, of his helpless, confused, inarticulate longing for truth, for an intelligible, rational world -and of his response to it, when given a chance he cannot create on his own -is the fact that no dictatorship has ever lasted without establishing censorship.” (Pg. 39)

How does one avoid becoming an intellectual appeaser? By being “…proud of his intelligence -regardless of their [the average person’s] approval or disapproval. No matter how hard this might be in a corrupt age like ours, he has, in fact, no alternative. It is his only chance at a world where intelligence can function, which means: a world where he -and, incidentally, they -can survive.”  (Pg. 39)

Regrettably, I suspect that by the time most people are about 30, it would be very difficult for them to change. They have too many habituated behaviors and thought patterns. But, Ayn Rand remains popular with the young, so I think that there is still a chance.

“Structural” versus “Declaratory” Provisions of the Constitution and Originalism

For purposes of this paper, the provisions of the U.S. Constitution can be broken down into two different major categories. The first category of provisions are “structural”. These include such things as Article I, Section 8, which sets forth the powers of Congress, all of Article II, some of Article III, Article V, and Article VI. (This is not an exhaustive list.)

These structural provisions of the US Constitution set forth things like how a bill becomes a law; that the Congress will be divided into a House and a Senate; how congressmen and the President are elected; how long congressmen, Supreme Court Justices, and the President serve; how treaties are ratified, etc. Most of these “structural provisions” could have been arranged differently. For instance, it is conceivable that the Founders could have decided to have a unicameral legislature (one chamber of Congress instead of two), or that they could have made the President’s term of office 6 years instead of 4.

Most of these “structural provisions” were based in political expediency, or in the historical and social circumstances of the states at the time the US Constitution was ratified. For instance, at the Constitutional Convention, there were two competing “plans”. These two plans represented differing interests of low-population states versus high-population states, as well as other interests of the time.

The first plan, put forth by James Madison and Edmund Randolph, became known as “the Virginia Plan”. It called for a much more unified Republic with state sovereignty significantly reduced by allowing the national legislature to veto all state laws.[1] By way of contrast, the Constitution actually adopted just implicitly says that state laws that are contrary to the Constitution are void under the Supremacy Clause of Article Six, Clause 2, but it does not empower Congress with a cart-blanche veto power over any and all state laws.

Large states like Virginia supported this plan because it would give high-population states more power in the national legislature. Low-population states preferred the New Jersey Plan, which would have created a single unicameral national legislature that kept the one-vote-per-state representation found under the Articles of Confederation. With the New Jersey Plan, small states could more easily prevent large states from enacting legislation that would have trampled on their sovereignty as states. The New Jersey Plan was more of a modification of the existing Articles of Confederation, while the Virginia Plan threw out the Articles altogether.

At the end of the day, neither the Virginia Plan nor the New Jersey Plan was enacted. The document eventually adopted regarding legislative power was reflected in the “Connecticut Compromise”. It retained the bicameral legislative features of the Virginia plan. Also like the Virginia plan, in the lower house, there would be proportional representation based on state population. However, the upper house would have two representatives per state, thereby ensuring that low-population states could not be dominated by high-population states in the new Congress.[2]

The other major category of provisions that can be found in the US Constitution are what I call the “declaratory provisions”[3]. These provisions don’t set forth the powers of government or government officials, or how government is to operate. Instead, they state certain fundamental rights that citizens or residents of the United States possess. Most of these “declaratory provisions” are found in the first Ten Amendments to the US Constitution. For instance, Amendment I says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

These first ten Amendments reflect the Enlightenment tradition of individual rights[4], and were adopted in order to placate the anti-federalist critics of the Constitution. At the time, some state constitutions included a bill of rights[5], and the English legal tradition, as embodied in the Magna Charta, often had a declaration of rights. During the debates leading up to the ratification of the US Constitution, Madison and Hamilton responded to anti-federalist complaints about the lack of a declaration of rights in the proposed document by saying it was unnecessary, and that such a declaration could actually be dangerous to the rights of individuals.

Hamilton’s opposition to a bill of rights can be found in Federalist Number 84:

The most considerable of these remaining objections [of the Anti-Federalists] is, that the plan of the convention contains no bill of rights….I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colourable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretence for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason, that the constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of an authority, which was not given, and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication, that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning it, was intended to be vested in the national government. (Emphasis added, Federalist Number 84, http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/bill_of_rightss7.html )

In essence, Hamilton said that there was no need for a declaration of the right of freedom of the press in the new Constitution because the Constitution did not authorize the Federal government to regulate the press at all. Article I, Section 8 sets forth the scope of Congress’ powers, meaning that unless a power is granted to Congress under this section, then it has no power to act. Since there is no power to regulate the press, Congress does not have the power, and it can make no law regarding press or speech.

Additionally, Hamilton goes on in the above-quoted text to note that a bill of rights provision stating that Congress can make no law regarding the freedom of the press could be construed as meaning that Congress has this power –that it might give a “…plausible pretence for claiming that power…” In other words, a bill of rights for Hamilton and Madison, could actually be dangerous because someone might assume that Congress has the power to regulate speech and press, when, under Article I, Section 8, it has no such power.

At the end of the day, Hamilton, Madison, and other supporters of the new Constitution compromised on the issue of a Bill of Rights. In order to avoid the problem of “constructive powers” being implied to the new Federal government under the Bill of Rights, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments were probably included:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”[6],[7]

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

In other words, the 9th and 10th Amendments ensure that the people retain all of their rights, not just the ones set forth in the Constitution, and that the Federal government only has the power to act insofar as it has been delegated powers under the Constitution.

In order to properly understand this distinction between “structural” provisions on the one hand and “declaratory” provisions on the other, it is necessary to move into the realm of political philosophy and philosophy of law. Specifically, it must understood what a constitution is, and what purpose it serves.

Human life is not guaranteed. If one wants to live, then one must take certain actions. Such actions are a necessary condition for living. Man posses a rational faculty that allows him to comprehend laws of nature and to adjust his natural environment, in accordance with those laws, to maximize his chances of survival. For instance, someone recognizes that it is human nature to require protection from the snow, the rain, and the cold. A man’s chances of survival are maximized when he is protected from certain weather conditions. He also notices that certain types of plants and trees, when properly harvested and arranged, can provide a barrier against the weather. So, he gathers naturally occurring elements like trees, rocks, and dirt, and combines them to build a house. Another man recognizes that he needs nourishment, and he learns to build weapons to hunt the lesser animals with, or he makes a plow and plants seeds to grow crops.

Food, shelter, clothing, and other values are necessary for man’s survival, and are typically not found in nature, or are not sufficiently plentiful to sustain man’s life. As his technology and scientific knowledge grows, man’s capacity to improve his life grows. Men have gone, over several millennia, from living in caves to building rockets to the Moon -all thanks to man’s capacity to recognize reality, formulate general principles of cause and effect, and to act accordingly. Man’s mind allows him to recognize cause and effect relationships amongst entities that exist, to recognize his own nature as a living being and a rational animal, and to take action aimed at his survival.

Just as other inanimate entities have a certain nature, so does man. Man is the “rational animal”. He is a living organism of a certain kind and, in principle, he must therefore act in accordance with that nature if he wants to survive. A man cannot live like a plant, by merely sitting and absorbing nutrients from the sun and the soil. A man must engage in a process of thought, and create the wealth necessary for his survival. Men also have the capacity to engage in collaborative endeavors amongst themselves that benefit all participants. Men can trade with other men, which means that individual human beings gain from certain types of associations with each other. If men are going to benefit from each other, they must recognize that each individual living in society acts to provide the things necessary for his survival, if he wants to live. All men must recognize the moral principles defining and sanctioning an individual’s freedom of action in a social context. These moral principles are known as individual rights. Although the list is not exhaustive, fundamental individual rights include the right to live and the right to private property. The right to live is the ultimate individual right, and forms the basis of all rights.

Although most choose to live as traders and producers, some human beings choose not to think and produce their own values. Some will attempt to take what others have produced by means of force. Such people are known as “criminals”. The criminal attempts to gain values from others not by voluntary trade, but by means of force or the threat of force. A criminal substitutes reason and persuasion for force in an effort to gain values from others, or to destroy the values of others. Criminals are force-initiators. They use their fists or a weapon, or they threaten the use of force, to gain what others have produced without their voluntary consent.

If men are to live together in society, then they must create an institution or collaborative agreement to protect those who want to live by means of reason, persuasion, and trade from those who wish to destroy or take the values of others by means of physical force. Although in an emergency, each individual has a right to use force in retaliation and to defend himself from a force-initiator, a formal institution to stop such force-initiators, with objective rules of procedure and fair notice of what is prohibited, is necessary once a society gets beyond a certain point in size and geographic scope. This organization is known as “government”.

There are various reasons why government is necessary if rights are to be protected, and this paper is not meant to be an exhaustive critique of the political philosophy of anarchism, but some of the major reasons why government is essential for the protection of individual rights will be discussed prior to turning to constitutional law.

Without a central governmental authority, it is difficult for others to know whether a person using force in retaliation against a criminal is truly acting in retaliation. Concretely, imagine that a criminal has stolen a person’s property. The victim then goes to the criminal’s house, and holds him at gunpoint while recovering his stolen property. If others see only the victim holding the criminal at gunpoint, how will they know that this is not a robbery? If the criminal’s family or friends see this, and know nothing about the circumstances, then they might mistakenly believe that the victim is the force-initiator, and use force to stop what they perceive as a robbery. This in turn would lead the victim’s family and friends to counter-retaliate, and society could devolve into gang-warfare.

By instituting formal rules of procedure in this situation, misunderstandings can be minimized. The victim of a burglary goes to a socially recognized authority, the police, and files a complaint. The police then investigate, while ensuring that the rights of the accused are respected. Another branch of the government, the courts, then make a determination, in accordance with pre-established rules of evidence and procedure, as to whether the property was in fact stolen, and issue a ruling.

Another important function that only a government can serve is to provide all members of society with prior notice of exactly what actions are violations of individual rights. Citizens elect representatives who then gather periodically and promulgate rules prohibiting certain actions that would violate individual rights. This representative body is generally called a “legislature”, and it sets forth the elements of crimes. For instance, at English Common Law, murder was defined as: (1) unlawful, (2) killing, (3) of a human, (4) by another human, (5) with malice aforethought. The legislature promulgates a statute which sets forth each of these elements, and they must all be proven by a certain standard of proof in a given circumstance before one can be shown to be guilty of the crime of “murder”.

Governments are instituted among men and derive their powers from the governed, who delegate some of their right to retaliatory force to that institution so that individual rights can be protected, and everyone can be assured that their own rights will be protected if they, or their friends or family, are ever accused of a crime. Government isn’t there just to do justice, but to show justice, and only justice, being done. It is there to assure everyone in society that force is only being used to protect individual rights. But, this raises a new problem. How to ensure that those acting on behalf of government –the police, the military, the courts, and the legislature- do not themselves become force-initiators? If the fundamental powers of government are written down in a document, then it is clear what actions government officials can take, and the exact procedures for taking such actions. Any power not granted by this written document is not a power delegated to the government by “the people”. This is the purpose of a written constitution. In other words, a written constitution can be defined as the fundamental charter delegating the peoples right to the retaliatory use of physical force to a central authority. Only the powers granted to government agents in a written constitution are authorized.

The difference between these two types of provisions found in the US Constitution suggests that they have different origins and should be interpreted in accordance with different methodologies. As was already stated, the “structural” provisions of the Constitution represent decisions at the time the particular document was adopted. They represent the political and social circumstances at the time of ratification, and might be significantly different if circumstances had been otherwise. The “declaratory” provisions tend to be more “abstract”, “timeless”, or “universal”. For instance, a right to freedom of speech and the press is seen as essential to all human beings everywhere, and under all circumstances, while the creation of an upper house of the federal legislature whose members are chosen by individual state legislatures (the Senate) is more a matter of social, economic, and political circumstances at the time of adoption. In some other nation, with some other set of historical circumstances, a unicameral legislature might make more sense. The structural provisions represent the compromises that made the union possible. The structural provisions have a role to play in ensuring rights are protected via such things as separation of powers and checks and balances, but they presuppose the rights that they protect.

Given what has been said about the strong role of historical, political, and social context at the time they were ratified, the structural provisions of the US Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with that historical, political, and social context. In other words, the structural provisions of the Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with original meaning, as described by Justice Antonin Scalia and others.[8] The reasoning here is fairly simple: (1) A constitution is the fundamental charter delegating the people’s right to the retaliatory use of physical force to a central authority, and only the powers granted to government agents in the written constitution are authorized; (2) “the people” currently living may not have ratified the constitution, but they are free via its amendment process to alter it at any time; (3) since the currently living have chosen not to amend the enacted constitution, they must still prefer its original terms. When judges interpret these structural provisions of the Constitution, they should therefore look to original meaning on the assumption that it is what the current generation of the body politic prefers. Since most of these provisions have to do with the powers and structure of government, it would undermine the idea of “the consent of the governed” for judges to reinterpret, for instance, how a bill becomes a law. It would abrogate the consent of the governed if the courts suddenly decided that “times had changed”, and only a majority of Senators had to vote for a bill that was signed into “law” by the President, and by-passed the requirement that a majority of the House of Representatives also vote in favor.

Using “original meaning” makes no sense with regard to the “declaratory” provisions of a constitution because these provisions describe universal individual rights, and the protection of rights is the very purpose of government, and a constitution, in the first place. Individual rights are conceptually and logically more fundamental than any written constitution, and form the underlying moral foundation for a written constitution. The source of rights is not divine law, and it is not Congressional law. As discussed, rights are moral principles defining and sanctioning an individual’s freedom of action in a social context. They ensure that the individual is free to live in society. People have freewill so, they can choose not to respect individual rights. However, when the majority of a society fails to respect rights, it will disintegrate. Only a society that respects rights to life, liberty, and property can remain functional long-term, because it is the only society that leaves people free to think and act on their own best judgment in the maintenance of their individual lives.

[1] See The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, Gordon S. Wood, Chapter XII, “The Worthy Against the Licentious”, Section 1, “The Federalist Revolution”: “Not only should the national government have a ‘positive and complete authority in all cases where uniform measures are necessary,’ as in finance, commerce, and foreign policy, but it should have ‘a negative, in all cases whatsoever, in the Legislative acts of the States, as the King of Great Britain heretofore had.’”

[2] See The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, Gordon S. Wood, Chapter XIII, “The Federalist Persuasion”, Section 7, “The Redefinition of Bicameralism”: ”With the ‘Connecticut compromise,’ which provided for two senators from each state, the Federalists found a justification for the upper house that they had not anticipated. ‘The people will be represented in one house, the state legislatures in the other,’…The Senate now became a means of restraining ‘the large states from having improper advantages over the small ones.’”

[3] Hamilton also appears to make this “structural” versus “declaratory” distinction in the Federalist Papers: “Independent of those, which relate to the structure of the government, we find the following: Article I. section 3. clause 7. “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honour, trust or profit under the United States; but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law.” Section 9.” http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/bill_of_rightss7.html

[4] The Meaning of the American Revolution, Dan Lacy, Chapter 1, “The Eighteenth-Century World”: “The general body of thought we call Newtonian was most effectively applied to social issues by another Englishman, John Locke (1632-1704)…they dominated political thought for a century to come and provided the philosophical basis for the American Revolution.”

[5] See The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, Gordon S. Wood, Chapter VII, “Law and Contracts”, Section 2, “The Contract of Rulers and Ruled”.

[6] James Madison, The Writings of James Madison, comprising his Public Papers and his Private Correspondence, including his numerous letters and documents now for the first time printed, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900). Vol. 5. 6/26/2015. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1937#Madison_1356-05_877: “The exceptions here or elsewhere in the Constitution, made in favor of particular rights, shall not be so construed as to diminish the just importance of other rights retained by the people, or as to enlarge the powers delegated by the Constitution; but either as actual limitations of such powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution.”

[7] James Madison, The Writings of James Madison, comprising his Public Papers and his Private Correspondence, including his numerous letters and documents now for the first time printed, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900). Vol. 5. 6/26/2015. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1937#Madison_1356-05_898: “It has been objected also against a bill of rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration; and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the General Government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that it may [385] be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to the last clause of the fourth resolution. [See above footnote for this clause.]”

[8] Section 70, “The false notion that the Living Constitution is an exception to the rule that legal texts must be given the meaning they bore when adopted”. In: Scalia, A. and Garner, B. (2010) Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, “Preface”. St. Paul: Thompson/West Publishing.

The Rwandan Mass Murder of 1994

I have been researching the mass murder that occurred in Rwanda over the course of a couple of months, starting in March of 1994. This was precipitated by the death of the President of Rwanda who’s plane was shot down by unknown persons. It’s estimated that anywhere from 500,000 to 1,000,000 people, mostly identified as “Tutsis”, were murdered by militias and government soldiers, most of whom were identified as “Hutu”.

The parallels to the holocaust during World War II are readily apparent. There was an extreme xenophobia resting in a “tribal-mindset” and a generalized belief on the part of the Hutus that their problems were the result of the hated minority group. The people committing mass murder also had the same mindset as the average German: that if their government ordered them to commit murder, then they had no choice but to obey.

The Objectivist position is that this “tribal mindset” in Germany was formalized by the works of Immanuel Kant who stated that one must do one’s “duty” in spite of any desires to the contrary. Kant also said that your “noumenal self” actually wants you to do your “duty”, even though there is no rational way to know what your “noumenal self” wants. The Nazi “translation” of Kant was to say that your “Aryan blood” tells you what your duty is, and, in practice, this probably just reduces to: “duty is whatever the leader says it is”.  Both 1994 Rwanda and WWII Germany were marked by a distinct anti-individualism with mystic notions about the power of the ethnic or tribal collective’s authority to govern the individual.

Since Rwanda is a non-Western culture, I don’t know where the Hutu majority got their anti-individualist mindset.  Rwanda was a German colony prior to being taken over by the Belgians after World War I, but I don’t know that German culture would have permeated Rwanda that quickly or comprehensively to call that the cause from the standpoint of the history of ideas. This “tribal mindset” is probably common in any primitive society, although I think it would be interesting to see if German ideas gave the “Hutu power” movement academic and cultural respectability.

The other interesting parallel between Nazi Germany and 1994 Rwanda is the lack of racial difference between the group committing mass-murder and the group that was the victim of the mass-murder. The hatred was not based on race, since Hutus and Tutsis are racially indistinguishable, just like Germans and Jews were racially indistinguishable. Although I found commentators referring to Rwandan culture as racist, I think a more accurate description might be “tribal mindset”.

References:

[1]”The most profound factor fueling the transmission of genocidal ideology from the regime to the masses, however, was the longstanding and deeply ingrained racism of Rwandan society. Racism develops when the objective differences between oneself and others are not accepted but rather morally condemned. The ‘other’ is construed as categorically evil, dangerous, and threatening. For decades, Rwandan society had been profoundly racist. The image of the Tutsi as inherently evil and exploitative was, and still is, deeply rooted in the psyche of most Rwandans; this image was a founding pillar of the genocide to come. Although ethnic peace had prevailed during most of the regime, the racist nature of Rwandan society had not changed.” (“4 Rwanda’s Lack of Resources and Extreme Poverty Provided the Breeding Grounds for Genocide” by Peter Uvin, found in _The Rwanda Genocide_, Opposing Viewpoints Series, Edited by Christina Fisanick, ISBN: 0-7377-1985-0, 2004, Greenhaven Press.)

[2]“Now, having ‘returned’ to a country many of them did not know, they were confronted with the triple conundrum of dead relatives, limited economic opportunities, and cultural strangeness. They were discovering that, paradoxically, Tutsi survivors often had more in common with their Hutu neighbors than with themselves. They started to divide and quarrel according to their synthetic ‘tribes of exile,’ that is, the countries where they had spent their years away from Rwanda. There were ‘Zairians’, ‘Burundians,’ ‘Tanzanians,’ and ‘Ugandans,’ as well as those from more exotic places not ranking high enough in terms of returnee numbers to constitute a serious network of solidarity. If these distincutions didn’t matter too much in daily life, they mattered a lot as soon as politics, business, or the military was involved. Networks and mafias emerged, struggling for political control and economic advantage in the midst of the ruins.” (“Chapter 1: Rwanda’s Mixed Season of Hope (July 1994-April 1995), _Africa’s World War: Congo, The Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe_ Gerard Prunier, Oxford University Press, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-19-537420-9)

[3]_The Ominous Parallels_, Volume 3 of Ayn Rand library, by Leonard Peikoff

[4] “Tribalism” in _The Ayn Rand Lexicon_

How Should State Constitutions Be Amended?

I am currently reading a book called “The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787”, by Gordon S. Wood, and it has stimulated my thinking about Constitutional issues. My purpose here isn’t to provide the reader with a book review, but to discuss what I now believe is the proper amendment process for a state constitution.

What I am saying here is only applicable to a state constitution, or to the constitution of a non-American republic that doesn’t have a federal-state system of government like the United States. The reason it isn’t necessarily applicable to the U.S. Constitution is because that document represents a sort of balance between the need for a national government on certain issues and the sovereignty of states. (I am not saying that I am necessarily opposed to one consolidated national government, without state governments, for the country currently called the United States. Whether our current Federal system is ideal is an issue for another day. It is certainly better than any other government now in existence.)

Before I discuss this proposed constitutional amendment process, I want to discuss the concept of a constitution. First, it must be kept in mind that the institution of government is man-made. This seems obvious, so why state it? I believe it is easy to adopt a subconscious mind-set that sees government as a natural feature of the world, that has an existence apart from the society that has created it. For instance, the British system of government is a product of hundreds of years of tradition, which doesn’t have a written constitution. I think it would be easy for people to forget that this institution is a creation of men, and can be changed or destroyed by men. Just as “society” is nothing more than a number of individual human beings, government is nothing more than an institution created and sustained by a number of individual men. Since government doesn’t exist apart from the men who create and maintain it, then why does it exist at all? All man-made creations should serve some purpose, and, ultimately, further human life. For instance, the automobile is a man-made thing that serves the purpose of transportation, which ultimately makes human lives more easy and convenient. Government is also a man-made thing, and should therefore serve certain functions.

What is the purpose of government? What function does it serve? Ultimately, government serves man’s life. More immediately, human beings must take certain actions in order to live. At the most basic level, they must produce food to eat, shelter to protect them from the elements, and all of the tools that allow them to acquire these things. Other human beings have the capacity to prevent men from taking the actions necessary to live by means of physical force. For instance, a robber uses a weapon to take what others have created to further their own lives. Therefore, in order to live, men must be free from other’s use of physical force in a manner that deprives them of the values they have created for their continued survival. It must be recognized that men are entitled to take actions necessary for maintaining their lives in a social context. People who use physical force to deprive others of the material values they have created are called criminals. Criminals must be restrained by means of physical force. For instance, a robber is put in a jail to prevent him from committing more crimes. (The length of time that a criminal should spend in jail depends on a calculation that takes into account, at a bare minimum, the level of threat that he represents to the lives of other people versus the possibility of him changing his ways -all human beings with normal functioning brains have the capacity to change.)

Each of us could individually take action to restrain criminals, but this would be inconvenient, since most of us do not want to spend our time apprehending thieves, rapists, and murderers. Government is a delegation by the population of the means of restraining criminals. (I also believe that there are other reasons why the restraint of criminals must be delegated to a central authority, and that anarchy is not compatible with a free society. In general terms, anarchy is not compatible with ensuring that a crime has been committed, and with establishing to other’s satisfaction that your use of physical force, and the amount of force used by you, to stop a criminal is justified. I believe this is what is meant by “due process”.) To sum up, an essential function of government is to ensure that the people who want to take action to further their own lives are free to do so.

Another feature of government that must be kept in mind to understand the concept of a constitution is this: government is a product of human association and collaboration. Since government involves a group of people, and since people must bring it into existence, there must be communication, collaboration, and agreement amongst those people about how the functions that government serves will be carried out. An implicit assumption contained in the need for collaboration and agreement amongst the people about the details of how government will operate is the fact that there is often more than one way to perform many government functions. Each state of the United States carries out the legitimate functions of government slightly differently. None of these arrangements are necessarily “right or wrong” in a universal sense. For instance, in the State of Texas, the final state court of appeal is divided into two separate courts. One court handles criminal appeals, and the other handles civil appeals. In other states, and in the Federal system of the United States, the final court of appeal is a single court that handles both criminal and civil appeals. Other issues that could come up include: Should the legislature be unicameral or bicameral? Should all criminal prosecutions be by means of indictment of a grand jury only, or should misdemeanor prosecutions be allowed to proceed by “information” (a charge leveled at the discretion of the District Attorney)? Which is better? (I do not know, and reasonable minds could easily disagree on such details.) Many of these details regarding how a particular government will operate will depend on the particular circumstances and context of any particular society, and the needs of a particular society may change over time. Since so many details depend on context, the people in a society must discuss what their particular needs are, and come to an agreement. Compromises may also need to be made regarding certain features of a particular government. A constitution is the most fundamental agreement amongst the people of a society about how governmental functions will be carried out in a particular society.

So, how should this fundamental agreement amongst the people about how governmental functions will be carried out be reached? Since American states already have constitutions, I will start with the assumption that there is a pre-existing institution that performs governmental functions, and propose a process for amending state constitutions that I think would better reflect the need for broad-based societal agreement over how governmental functions should be carried out in practice.

Every two or three election cycles, a question is placed on the ballot used for electing representatives to the legislature. The question would be something like: “A constitutional convention shall be called.” The voters will either check “yes” or “no”. If three quarters of all registered voters check “yes”, then a constitutional convention (a “Convention”) shall be called within a certain period of time (within about 6 months). The reason three quarters of all registered voters must vote in favor of a Convention is because a constitution is the fundamental political agreement amongst the people, so before it can be changed, there must be broad support amongst the people in favor of change. This ensures broad-based societal agreement about the basic structure of government. It is also not enough to call a Convention based on a mere three quarters of the people who happen to vote in that particular election because, in some elections, voter turnout can be low, and it would be too easy for particular interest groups to get their own supporters out to vote in favor of calling a Convention even though the majority of the population is not in favor of a change.

If three quarters of the registered voters are in favor of a convention, then there is a special election to elect Convention Delegates. Delegates for the Convention should be chosen in a manner that ensures that they are representative of the people. Probably, they should be chosen in accordance with existing voting districts for the lower house. (The “lower house” is the legislative chamber that is usually seen as being the most “representative” of the people, and usually bases representation of each district on population levels. In the Federal system of the United States, it is the House of Representatives.) Existing voting districts for the lower house are used for purposes of efficiency, since these districts would be readily known to everyone. (However, I also think that it would also be appropriate, and possibly advantageous, to create special voting districts for the sole purpose of electing Delegates to the Convention.) What is important to keep in mind is that each voting district for the Convention gets a number of Delegates in proportion to the population of registered voters in that area. So under my plan, each voting district for Convention Delegates gets the same number of Delegates as they received in the most recent legislative session for the lower house. This is done because the lower house usually bases the number of representatives each district gets on population, which means that the areas with greater populations will get to send more Delegates to the Convention. Linking the number of Delegates at the Convention to population is based on the fact that a constitution is a fundamental political agreement amongst the people, which means it must reflect the will of the population. The membership criteria for Delegates to the Convention under my plan would be the same as the criteria for membership in the lower house of the legislature. This is because the lower house of the legislature usually has the lowest criteria in terms of age, residency, and (in the past) property ownership.

Individual Delegates to the Convention are chosen for each voting district by means of election. The exact election process could be done in different ways, but I would prefer a non-partisan election, in which the highest vote-getters get to be Delegates, without any sort of primary. For instance, if a particular district gets three Delegates, then the top three vote-getters get to be delegates.

At the Convention, constitutional amendments are proposed by individual Delegates, and then voted on by all of them. If a proposed constitutional amendment gets 51% of the votes of the Delegates at the Convention, then it will be sent to the people for a ratification vote. I am uncertain at this point of the details of how a Constitutional Convention would be run, other than the requirement that a proposed amendment get 51% of the Delegates’ votes, but I think it could be left up to the Delegates to set their own rules of procedure for how amendments would be proposed to the Convention, and debated on. One other necessary rule regarding the Convention: it must last for only a set period of time. This is to ensure that it doesn’t become a permanent body. Any amendments proposed by it after this set time period are considered null and have no legal validity.

As I already noted, all proposed amendments of the Convention will be sent to the people for a ratification vote. If three quarters of the registered voters vote to ratify an amendment, then it becomes a part of the constitution. Just as when the Convention was called, requiring three quarters of registered voters to ratify an amendment ensures that it does represent an agreement of the people.

I would now like to compare this proposed Constitutional Amendment process with the current amendment process of the State of Texas, in which the state legislature plays a role. This will illustrate what I think is wrong with an existing legislature having a role in the amendment process of a constitution. It would appear that the Texas State Constitution (as of 2009) allows for the lower house of the Texas legislature to propose constitutional amendments on a 2/3 majority vote. It also appears from the text of the state constitution that a mere majority of the actual votes cast by the population will ratify the proposed amendment and make it part of the Texas State Constitution. This process has two major flaws. First, allowing the Texas State legislature to act as a Constitutional Convention is problematic. Since a legislature is a part, or aspect, of government, it has no greater right to exist than the government itself does. Since government is a delegation by the people of the right to the use of physical force to restrain criminals, it seems fundamentally contradictory for the members of the legislature, who have been delegated that power, to play a role in the process of the delegation of that very power. In order for a legislature to be an actual representative body, as opposed to a sort of aristocratic body, there must be some more fundamental, and prior, agreement amongst the people represented about the basic terms under which the legislature is to exist, such as: how and when the legislators are elected, for how long they meet, how long they are to serve, on what matters they may legislate, etc. Logically, these issues must be decided by the people prior to the establishment of a legislature. It is possible to combine a legislature and a constitutional convention in one body of people, but this would be a bad idea. The legislators would tend to create a constitution that favored the legislature as an institution, whereas a body of people whose sole purpose is to create the constitution would have to live under that constitution, so they would create a document that is more representative of the people’s will.

Convening a special body just for the purpose of creating or amending a constitution will also ensure that the best and the brightest Delegates will be elected to the Convention. Once a Constitution is established, any particular legislative body can have less intelligent and competent people in it because the Constitution will have institutional safeguards in place against legislative tyranny, such as the courts to strike down unconstitutional laws. Also, while the best and the brightest might be willing to serve, for a short period, in the creation of a Constitution, they may not desire a career in politics, so the legislature may normally be composed of people of lesser abilities. It is okay for any particular legislature to be filled with incompetents, because its powers are already defined by a constitution, so the damage they can do is not as great. A constitutional convention filled with incompetents would be a disaster, because they are setting the broad terms by which all future legislatures, executives, and judges are to govern. In essence, a special Convention that meets for that sole purpose, and then is dissolved provides an extra institutional safeguard against any sort of legislative tyranny, and insures that the most competent people are involved in the constitutional drafting/amending process.

The second major flaw I see with the current amendment process for the Texas state constitution is that it appears to only require a simple majority of the people that actually vote regarding the proposed amendment to ratify it. This means that a very small segment of the population can ratify constitutional amendments, and would tend to encourage small interest groups to write constitutional law. There is no assurance that the particular constitutional amendment that is ratified represents the agreement and consent of “the people”, just special interest groups.

A perusal of the Texas State Constitution reveals that much of it reads more like a set of statutes than a constitution. The important, fundamental, portions of it, are drowning in a sea of trivial provisions. By separating out the constitutional amendment process from the legislative process, and by requiring a super-majority of the voters to ratify, I believe a better constitution can be maintained, and that it will truly represent a fundamental agreement of the people, rather than a legalistic collage of special interest groups.

Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”

Any course on American political history and philosophy is likely to require you to read portions of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. I recently endeavored to sit down and read Volume 2 of this work, and quickly discovered why they only require you to read portions of it in most classes. It is long, and often discusses issues that are only of slight importance today (if they ever were important.) For instance, Book I, Chapter XVIII is called “Why American Writers and Orators Often Use an Inflated Style”. This chapter claims that American writers are “pompous” in their writing style, and attempts to explain that this (dubious) observation can be explained by reference to the nature of “democratic communities”. This Chapter illustrates one of the chief flaws with this book, namely, that de Tocqueville tends to make sweeping generalizations, but provides little evidence to back up many of the generalizations. (Hopefully, what I write will not prove him right about American writers.)

I am not the only one to have noticed this flaw in DIA (“Democracy In America”), because the edition that I have contains a historical essay regarding the work, written by Phillips Bradley of Queens College, Flushing, New York, in 1944. In that essay, he quotes John Stewart Mill as having said: “It is perhaps the greatest secret of M. de Tocqueville’s book, that, from the scarcity of examples, his propositions even when derived from observation, have the air of being mere abstract speculations.” (Democracy in America, Appendix II, Pg. 421, Copyright Alfred A. Knopf, 1945, Vintage Books, Phillips Bradley of Queens College, Flushing New York in 1944, quoting John Stuart Mill, “M. de Tocqueville on Democracy in America,” Edinburgh Review (1840)).

I have only read the first 2 books, and the first quarter of the third book, of Volume 2. After I skimmed over the rest of Book 3 and Book 4, I decided that they were not of sufficient value to read at the present. Since I wanted to write on the importance of what I had read, without wasting my time with what I consider to be unimportant portions, I decided to inform the reader of this review of that fact. Now that I am again looking at the last Book –Book IV, “Influence of Democratic Ideas and Feelings on Political Society”- I must say that its chapter headings look more interesting than Book III’s, but I will review that book separately, if I later decide to read it.

With all of that said, this is basically a European’s view of American political and social attitudes as they existed in the 19th Century. The author’s general theme seems to be something like this: What is American Democracy, what are its political-philosophical origins, and how is it different from European politics and society? De Tocqueville confirmed that he wanted to explore the implicit American philosophy early on. In Chapter I of Book I, he says:

I think that in no country in the civilized world is less attention paid to philosophy than in the United States…Yet it is easy to perceive that almost all the inhabitants of the United States use their minds in the same manner, and direct them according to the same rules; that is to say, without ever having taken the trouble to define the rules, they have a philosophical method common to the whole people.” (DIA, First Book, “Influence of Democracy on the Action of Intellect in the United States”, Chapter I, “Philosophical Method of the Americans”.)

What is this “philosophical method common to the whole people” of America? It is to:

…evade the bondage of system and habit, of family maxims, class opinions, and, in some degree, of national prejudices; to accept tradition only as a means of information, and existing facts only as a lesson to be used in doing otherwise and doing better; to seek the reason of things for oneself, and in oneself alone; to tend to results without being bound to means, and to strike through the form to the substance –such are the principal characteristics of what I shall call the philosophical method of the Americans.”(DIA, First Book, “Influence of Democracy on the Action of Intellect in the United States”, Chapter I, “Philosophical Method of the Americans”.)

To me, this is a definition of “individualism”: look to the facts of reality and use your own mind to reason from, and in reference to, those facts; and use your own mind to improve your circumstances in life because your life is important to you. In other words, the essence of America for de Tocqueville is that it is a nation of individualists. (I agree completely.) But, de Tocqueville doesn’t seem comfortable with the notion of individualism: “Selfishness originates in blind instinct; individualism proceeds from erroneous judgment more than from depraved feelings; it originates as much in deficiencies of mind as in perversity of heart.”(DIA, Second Book, “Influence of Democracy on the Feelings of the Americans”, Chapter II, “Of Individualism in Democratic Countries”.) I regarded this analysis of American individualist philosophy, and what it means in practice, to be one of the most valuable aspects of the First and Second Books of the Second Volume of DIA. These portions of his work demonstrate that contemporary negative connotations associated with the concepts of “egoism” and “individualism” pre-date the 20th Century.

Although he doesn’t seem to like it, de Tocqueville believes that America is a nation infused with the idea of rational egoism:

The doctrine of interest rightly understood is not new then, but among the Americans of our time it finds universal acceptance; it has become popular there; you may trace it at the bottom of all their actions, you will remark it in all they say.”(DIA, Second Book, “Influence of Democracy on the Feelings of the Americans”, Chapter VIII “How the Americans Combat Individualism by the Principle of Self-Interest Rightly Understood”.)

These observations on American individualism and rational egoism by de Tocqueville illustrates that political scientists and philosophers of the 19th Century were wrestling with the issue of what should be the relationship of the individual vis-à-vis society? Does society exist because it is in the interests of the individuals that comprise it (individualism), or do individuals exist to serve society (collectivism)? De Tocqueville seemed uncomfortable with American individualism for religious reasons: “I do not believe that self-interest is the sole motive of religious men…”(DIA, Second Book, “Influence of Democracy on the Feelings of the Americans”, Chapter IX “That the Americans Apply the Principle of Self-Interest Rightly Understood to Religious Matters”). He also seemed to assert at times that religion was necessary to maintain the social order, which I believe is a common belief today: “…I find that dogmatic belief is not less indispensible to him in order to live alone than it is to enable him to co-operate with his fellows.”( DIA, First Book, “Influence of Democracy on the Action of Intellect in the United States”, Chapter II, “Of the Principal Source of Belief Among Democratic Nations”.)

The issue of religion raises another major criticism I have of de Tocqueville’s work. His discomfort with the secular trend of his era clearly comes through in the book: “The chief concern of religion is to purify, to regulate, and to restrain the excessive taste for well-being that men feel in periods of equality…”( DIA, First Book, “Influence of Democracy on the Action of Intellect in the United States”, Chapter V, “How Religion in the United States Avails Itself of Democratic Tendencies”.) De Tocqueville clearly has an agenda in Democracy in America, which is to protect religion in a post-Enlightenment era. But, de Tocquevill recognizes that American religion has been secularized:

Not only do the Americans follow their religion from interest, but they often place in this world the interest that makes them follow it. In the Middle Ages the clergy spoke of nothing but a future state; they hardly cared to prove that a sincere Christian may be a happy man here below. But the American preachers are constantly referring to the earth, and it is only with great difficulty that they can divert their attention from it. To touch their congregations, they always show them how favorable religious opinions are to freedom and public tranquility; and it is often difficult to ascertain from their discourses whether the principal object of religion is to procure eternal felicity in the other world or prosperity in this.”(DIA, Second Book, “Influence of Democracy on the Feelings of the Americans”, Chapter IX “That the Americans Apply the Principle of Self-Interest Rightly Understood to Religious Matters”.)

De Tocquville’s commentary regarding American religion confirms for me what I had heard 20th Century atheists, especially Ayn Rand, say, but had never found confirmation of, from a theist. Namely, that American religion is not like the religion of the Middle Ages. It is a secularized version, that is more concerned with worldly welfare than with any sort of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. The fact that de Tocqueville, a French Aristocrat and devout Catholic, would say this provides strong evidence for the proposition that American religion is a largely secularized institution. I consider this “independent” confirmation to be a major value of Democracy in America.

Democracy in America, despite its flaws, is important because it captured the essence of America (individualism) at a particular moment in time (the 19th Century), and preserved that snapshot for future generations of America to learn about, no matter how far they may have strayed from that essence today.

Iron Age Coup D’Etat

PBS had an interesting episode of NOVA last night about “bog bodies” that date back to Iron Age Ireland and England -which was around 350 B.C. Occasionally, in the bogs of those countries, a mummified body will be found because the plants in the bogs secret a substance that preserves flesh in a similar manner to how leather is tanned. The bog bodies usually show evidence of having been intentionally killed or murdered, such as having their heads bashed in, and having been stabbed fatally. The other interesting thing noted was that the bodies usually show evidence of having been people who would have been of high social standing.

There is some debate as to why these people of high social rank were killed and put into the bogs, but as soon as I learned that they were people of high social standing, I thought “coup d’etat”. Later in the show, there was a suggestion that these people may have been tribal chieftains, which strengthens my thinking on this subject. These killings may have been how people in a tribal society, which has no concept of elected government, deposed of a leader. If they had had a concept of elected representatives, then they simply would have voted for a new leader, but since they would have had no concept of that, the only way to get rid of their leader would have been to kill him, probably instigated by the leader’s “political rivals”. They noted that the killings were usually brutal, which suggested that they weren’t just ritualistic, but I think the brutality would make sense. If hard times had fallen on the tribe, and the leader was regarded as responsible, then brutally killing him for tribal resentment that may have built up over many years, would make sense.