Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

A reader's group devoted to the discussion of meaningful books.

Monday, December 28, 2015

TOLSTOY: After the Ball (Faded Love)

The Declaration of Independence proclaims that American government was designed for (among other things) “the pursuit of happiness.”  Alexis de Tocqueville believed Americans are generally restless and wear themselves out in the pursuit of happiness.  Some Great Books readers may ask if this condition is unique to Americans.  Don’t people in other nations also want things they don’t have?  Don’t other people want to be happy too?  Leo Tolstoy’s short story After the Ball doesn’t answer these questions directly.  But it does give good reasons why so many people end up unhappy.  It doesn’t much matter if you’re American or French or Russian.  Most people want a happy life but this desire is often thwarted by the harsh conditions of reality.  Such was the case with Ivan Vasilevich in Tolstoy’s tale of love and disillusionment. 

Ivan begins the story with a proposition.  “You would say that by himself a man cannot tell good from evil, that it’s all a question of environment, that we are prey to our environment.”  Right out of the gate the reader is confronted with a question.  As citizens and as human beings are we formed by social conditions or does moral formation depend on individual effort?  Many readers no doubt agree with Tolstoy that “if ever the individual man were to be improved, one would have first of all to change the conditions in which people live.”  Aristotle may agree.  In Politics (IGB2) he wrote “every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good.”  We can only live a good life in relation to other people.  We can only find happiness within the context of a stable social order.  Anyone living inside that social order has to conform to certain rules.  Anyone living outside those rules is, according to Aristotle, either a beast or a god.  Ivan Vasilevich was neither a beast nor a god.  He was just your typical rich and handsome young Russian nobleman with his whole future lying ahead of him.  And he was in love.  He says “I had fallen in love many times, but this was my greatest love.”  He was still young; falling in and out of love is what young people do.  Ivan was filled with a college student’s idealism but he also loved partying, especially at the local dances.  That’s where he fell in love with Varenka.  Ivan says “It was impossible not to admire her.  According to the rules, so to speak, I shouldn’t have danced the mazurka with her, but in fact I danced with her almost the whole time.”  What are petty rules when a man’s in love? Ivan was head over heels in love.  He tries to explain his feelings.  “I was not only cheerful and contented, I was happy, I was blissful, I was good…”  He goes on but we get the idea.  He was happy.  He was in love and life was good.  Love was the only rule he needed.  Or so he thought.

An ugly external reality was about to intrude on this blissful state of innocence.  Varenka’s father was “a colonel with silver epaulettes on his jacket.”  He loved his family, was a gracious host, and a good dancer.  But “everything according to the rules” was his motto.  Varenka’s father didn’t agree with Ivan that rules were made to be broken; rules were the backbone of military discipline.  Without rules armies fall apart and society disintegrates.  The day after the party Ivan saw what military discipline was all about.  At first he didn’t understand what was going on.  “They’re making the Tatar run the gauntlet for trying to desert” a bystander explained.  The brutal ordeal sickened Ivan.  And to make matters worse Varenka’s father was the officer in charge of the whole affair.  College students may break the rules but political and military leaders must strictly enforce them. That realization destroyed Ivan’s innocence.  He simply could not reconcile the pure love he felt inside himself with the harsh reality he saw on the outside.  Many readers may want to ask, along with Ivan, how can love survive in a society like that?  “Love?” Ivan replies “my love began to wane that very day…my love just faded away.”      

Thursday, December 17, 2015

TOCQUEVILLE: Why Americans Are Restless (The Pursuit of Happiness)

Alexis de Tocqueville begins his essay with this observation.  “In certain remote corners of the Old World you may sometimes stumble upon little places which seem to have been forgotten among the general tumult and which have stayed still while all around them moves.  The inhabitants are mostly very ignorant and very poor; they take no part in affairs of government, and often governments oppress them.  But yet they seem serene and often have a jovial disposition.”  He could very well have been describing the Denmark portrayed in Isak Dinesen’s short story Sorrow-Acre.  In that story the young aristocrat named (ironically?) Adam had learned about “the great new ideas of the age: of nature, of the rights and freedom of man, of justice and beauty.”  The Declaration of Independence is filled with these great new ideas so Adam “wanted to find out still more about it and was planning to travel to America, to the new world.”  He didn’t go but what would he have found in this brave new world called America?

Tocqueville gives the answer.  “In America I have seen the freest and best educated of men in circumstances the happiest to be found in the world…”  If he had stopped there Adam would think America was a newly created paradise on earth.  But then Tocqueville goes on to say “yet it seemed to me that a cloud habitually hung on their brow, and they seemed serious and almost sad even in their pleasures.”  This sounds confusing and Adam might ask if “the pursuit of happiness” laid out in the Declaration was a blessing or a curse.  Tocqueville answers: both. 

It’s easy to see how “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” can be a blessing.  How can it also be a curse?  The Declaration promises all of its citizens liberty but it doesn’t necessarily promise all of them happiness.  It only promises them the pursuit of happiness.  Many of them won’t find it, even in America.  Why not?  Equality is a political goal never dreamed of in Adam’s homeland of Denmark; in fact, it’s not even viewed as a possibility.  In America things are different.  Americans view equality as both desirable and possible.  So they focus their political energies on accomplishing this goal.  Even though he admires America in many ways Tocqueville is skeptical this idea will ever work.  Because, he says, “men will never establish an equality which will content them.  No matter how a people strives for it, all the conditions of life can never be perfectly equal.”  People may strive for equality but they will never fully attain it.  If we substitute the word “happiness” for the word “equality” we come up with the same answer.  People may strive for happiness but they will never fully attain it and for much the same reason: “the conditions of life.”  And this, in Tocqueville’s opinion, is why Americans are often so restless.  Men will never be perfectly equal and they will never be perfectly happy.  But that doesn’t stop Americans from trying.  The “pursuit of happiness” is in America’s DNA.

This conclusion can be either depressing or an inspiration.  It’s depressing if the pursuit of happiness means the pursuit of pleasure.  If that’s the case then Tocqueville thinks Americans will “never stop thinking of the good things they have not got.”  They’ll seem “serious and almost sad even in their pleasures” because they’re thinking about all the things they’re missing.  But Aristotle has a different idea of happiness.  He says “the good of man is an activity of the soul in conformity with excellence or virtue.” (IGB3, On Happiness)  Activity is certainly in America’s DNA.  Tocqueville thinks this makes Americans “restless.”  But if the pursuit of happiness means the pursuit of excellence and virtue then the Declaration is an inspiration for everyone.  Tocqueville says these kind of citizens “do not give a moment’s thought to the ills they endure.”  They’re too busy building a better world to worry about the things they’re missing.  Tocqueville’s genius lays out the perennial pursuit of happiness, American-style.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sorrow-Acre: A Reflection on Justice

"The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed." (Act IV, Scene 1, Merchant of Venice)

There are some interesting things going on in this story by Isak Dinesen. Questions are raised about justice and religion. But Denmark isn't England, Israel, or Rome. It has its own traditions and history which relate the value of land (i.e., inherited property), with the obligations of society, considered in the harsh afterglow of the Protestant rebellion. 

Protestants, perhaps from a deep sense of personal guilt and a fear of divine punishment, are culturally intolerant of sin and all forms of human error. They are not prone to radical politics, social upheaval or revolution in the manner of the French or we Americans who live on the other side of the world. Instead, the aristocracy of Denmark adheres to the old ways, a legacy of the Middle Ages, the traditional scheme of the world "as it was meant to be", with its titles and estates and all its myriad social divisions between rich and poor, peasant and aristocrat, sinner and saved. We see that the uncle, in the manner of Moses, adheres to an unwavering principle of justice-- an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, which is the Old Testament brand of justice. Mercy and compassion don't play much of a role in the Old Testament, nor do they enter into the uncle's judicial philosophy. He believes that his nephew, Adam, has been influenced (or infected as the uncle might say) with a modern (liberal) tendency toward charity and mercy. But, as any good banker might say, charity will not pay the bills. The uncle has lost a barn and someone must be held accountable. His idea of justice comes straight out of the Book of Genesis.

It is a harsh code, but it is one which many people (not just the Danish) believe is necessary to preserve society. For, without justice, evil goes unpunished and the social bonds which have held for a thousand years will unravel. So, as harsh as it seems, the price the old woman must pay to secure the freedom of her son will be her own death.

But if justice is one side of the coin, then the other side is compassion. The uncle is his own judge and jury. He has the power to forgive the old woman's son and to grant mercy. But, like Yahweh, the old Hebrew God, the old aristocrat stands firm. So the woman takes upon herself the burden of saving her son. The task of cutting the entire field in one day is an impossible task. No one could possibly do it, much less an old woman. What is needed is a miracle, an intervention of divine power into the secular realm. But for the uncle, the ordeal of the peasant woman is tragic theater, a kind of performance art whose execution works on the audience as poetry works upon the soul. It inspires us in the way a performance of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" might lift our spirits. All the people who watch the old woman struggle with that field of hay are affected. Her personal suffering transforms what would ordinarily be only menial labor into something greater-- a kind of ritual transformation of the Eucharist, like bread and wine turning into the body and blood of Christ. To the simple people watching this tragedy unfold, the old woman's suffering and death mirrors the sacrifice of Christ.

But are we, as reader's, spiritually transformed  or merely horrified? To me, the mythology of the Norse gods is the real sediment of this story. According to Adam, the old Norse gods were righteous, trustworthy, and benevolent. But the uncle says,
To my mind it even reveals a weakness in the souls of our ancient Danes that they should consent to adore such divinities." "Power," he says, "is the supreme virtue. But the gods of which you speak (the old Norse gods) were never all-powerful."... "They had, at all times, by their side those darker powers which they named the Jotuns, and who worked the suffering, the disasters, the ruin of our world.
So, the uncle prefers the Olympian gods with all their power because they "take over the woe of the universe." For the uncle, the Olympian gods accepted the world as it was without any desire to reform it. But the Norse gods, with all their good intentions, only made things worse. What the uncle seems to be saying is any morality imposed from above will always be futile because it will not be embraced by mankind. (the problem of free will)  The Jotuns, on the other hand, being evil, have no agenda to reform the world. They simple profit from all the mayhem and destruction that is unleashed. But it seems to me that, as it pertains to the fate of mankind, an indifferent god is not much better than an evil god. This is what Job discovered, much to his sorrow.

It might seem that the cruelty (indifference) of the uncle is not much better than the indifference of Mephistopheles. Certainly, for the old woman, her ordeal is not rewarded by the joy of seeing her son live out his life. Yes, her sacrifice saved him from a long prison sentence. But must that be the price of justice? To have the innocent suffer for the sins of others? Hasn't the old aristocratic uncle simply borrowed an argument from Thrasymachus that "justice is the will of the stronger"?

I don't think so. It can be argued that the sacrifice of Anne-Marie is one episode in a long tradition of martyrdom, of people everywhere, including the saints, who perished rather than abandon their faith. There is a spiritual debt here that must be paid, not just to the owner of the estate, but to our (mankind's) ongoing struggle to live with grace. In that light, the owner of the estate ( a "lord") is giving a hard lesson to his protégé, Adam-- that to live honorably requires all the virtue we can summon, including service in a cause that we do not understand, but nevertheless embrace. That is the nature of sacrifice, an action that completes the union of spirit and flesh.

That all sounds good. Yet, the conclusion of Isak Dinesen's story tells us that the field called "Sorrow-Acre," in memory of one woman's sacrifice, retained its name long after the story of the woman and her son was forgotten. Which is a curious thing to say if this story is meant to convey a moral. We might wonder if all human deeds, both good and evil, fade from human memory in time.  Ars longa, vita brevis.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

ISAK DINESEN: Sorrow-Acre (Justice)

The Declaration of Independence is a document designed to build a new society based on equality and liberty.  The United States did in fact go on to become a new nation.  But equality and liberty were nothing new.  They were old ideas inherited from English history and political theory.  Where did the English get their ideas?  Did they inherit them from Roman history and political theory?  Or did the notions of equality and liberty just spring up naturally from the English countryside?  Isak Dinesen explores a similar theme in Sorrow-Acre.  Only instead of exploring the foundations of equality and liberty she considers the nature of justice and mercy.

English ideas do figure prominently in her story.  But it’s not a story about English ideas; it’s a Danish story.  So she sets the Danish tone on the very first page: “a human race had lived on this land for a thousand years, had been formed by its soil and weather, and had marked it with its thoughts...”  Denmark was “a Christian country… with a strong, clear voice in it to give out the joys and sorrows of the land: a plain, square embodiment of the nation’s trust in the justice and mercy of heaven.”  In those days England was a Christian country too.  So we might assume they had similar ideas regarding justice and mercy.  But they do not.  In the story a young Danish aristocrat has recently returned home from England.  He liked it there.  “In England he had met with grater wealth and magnificence than they dreamed of… And in England, too, he had come in touch with the great new ideas of the age: of nature, of the right and freedom of man, of justice and beauty.”  Here’s a sample of the English idea of justice taken from David Hume’s Of Justice and Injustice (GB1): “Though the rules of justice be artificial, they are not arbitrary.”  English justice is rational and tries to be fair.  Establishing laws and writing them down helps keep English judges from handing down arbitrary decisions.  This is important because Hume believes “…without justice society must immediately dissolve, and (echoing fellow Englishman Thomas Hobbes) every one must fall into that savage and solitary condition which is infinitely worse than the worst situation that can possibly be supposed in society.”  This is the English idea of justice.

But it’s not universal.  Consider another example.  In the Gospel of Mark (GB3) we see how the Hebrew idea of justice collides with the Roman idea of justice.  When Jesus had his Roman trial the Hebrews “cried again, Crucify him.  Then Pilate (the Roman governor) said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done?  And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him.”  Pilate simply couldn’t understand what Jesus had done wrong.  But the Hebrew priests did.  During the Hebrew trial “the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?  And Jesus said, I am… Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses?  Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye?  And they all condemned him to be guilty of death.”  Two trials, two different understandings of justice.

Denmark isn’t England or Israel or Rome.  It has its own home-grown theory of justice.  The old uncle takes his ideas from the Danish landscape and harsh climate and they reflect the old pagan Danish gods.  He tells the young aristocrat “We are not quibbling with the law, Anne-Marie and I.”  He goes on to explain a concept of justice deeper than any written law: “I have been reflecting upon the law of retributive justice.  A new age has made to itself a god in its own image, an emotional god.  And now you are already writing a tragedy on your god.”  The young aristocrat had glimpsed a new age in England.  But Denmark was still in the old age.  The uncle says “Tragedy is the privilege of man, his highest privilege.  The God of the Christian Church Himself, when He wished to experience tragedy, had to assume human form.”  The Roman Pilate never understood the old Hebrew concept of justice.  The old Danish uncle did.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

What Unites Us

In ethical or political theory, can there ever be such a thing as "rights" without corresponding obligations? Not really.  Your right to possess property can only exist if I acknowledge an obligation not to take it from you. Otherwise, the whole idea of "right" becomes devoid of meaning. Likewise, if you have a right to life, then that right cannot exist in a moral vacuum. It must be balanced by an obligation on the part of other people to honor your right to live. So, when a governmental authority uses capital punishment upon a citizen, it is, in effect, taking away his or her "natural" right to life. Clearly, no rights, even the right to life, can be guaranteed forever.

Doesn't the same logic apply to property. If you have a "natural" right to your life, then why shouldn't you have a natural right to the property you own? It seems, if we are going to be consistent with our language, that any "right" is balanced by a corresponding obligation on the part of everyone else.  

That brings up the question of what makes some rights "natural" and others artificial? Clearly, whether a right is "natural" or not depends partly on your definition of what is "natural" -- i.e.,, what rightfully belongs to the realm of nature? The concept of property is not derived from the animal kingdom. It is a man made category into which we put all the objects of value which we deem capable of ownership.  No one owns the air we breathe, or the water which covers most of the earth in the form of oceans.  So the whole category of "natural rights" is a problem that must be evaluated in terms of things belonging to nature (or God) and  things belonging to man.

What about the whole concept of "rights"? Are any rights natural?  If so, why can't animals own things?  Any discussion about rights  must also take into account our ideas about property.  Animals are often territorial, but (as far as we know) they don't have any ideas corresponding to our ideas about property.

Let's consider the categories of "natural" versus "artificial."  Any discussion about morals will always include certain assumptions regarding our feelings about what is natural (pre-political) versus what is social (political).  Where do "rights" come from? Do you have any rights in a state of nature?  Your answer might depend on whether you are religious or not. The concept of natural law is joined closely to a belief in a supernatural deity (God) who has the ultimate authority in defining our ideas of right and wrong.

If we have any natural rights (such as the right to life), can these rights ever be taken away from us? Esau sold his natural birthright to his brother Jacob. Later, he regretted this decision. But his father honored the ritual ceremony and so Jacob profited from Esau's mistake. Likewise, some people, from time to time, have sold themselves into slavery. We call it "indentured servitude".  Traditionally, slaves have had little or no rights. So, the idea of "natural" rights seems to collide with the idea of slavery. How is it possible for anyone to be a slave and also have a natural right to freedom?  The easy solution is to deny that everyone has natural rights.

All rights come with obligations. It seems absurd to think we can claim "rights" from nature without any strings attached. In other words, is it possible to get something for free? The principle of "do unto others as you would have done unto you" is the principle at work behind any idea of natural rights.  Of course, if everyone were civilized and recognized the rights we claim for ourselves, there wouldn't be a problem. But, in the raw state of nature, not everyone behaves honorably. So, human kind bands together to form social networks and communities. We establish laws to govern our behavior (and the behavior of our neighbor) so as to ensure fairness and maintain a semblance of order.

However, the problem with equality is that it raises the bar of social expectations. People start believing that they should have more than they do. Equality breeds discontent and envy. In nature, there is no expectation of equality. Animals compete for scarce resources. The strong survive and the weak perish. That's just the way it is.

But in human civilization, we have certain expectations about what society should provide. Even if our expectations are unreasonable, we, nevertheless, cling to them. The idea of equality is based on a primitive idea of what the first human family was like, and how mankind fell from grace, and was condemned by a vengeful God to a life of pain and sorrow. Thus, an early theological idea of sin unites the family of man as being universally cursed for its bad behavior.  We fall from grace and are punished.  End of story. So the only thing that is universal to mankind is our proclivity to misbehave.  Under this theology, we humans are united by our common fate: an expulsion from the garden of Eden (or our mother's womb), born into sin and a lifetime of sorrow, then old age, followed by misery, sickness and death.

What unites mankind is not a system of values as much as a biological program leading us from the cradle to the grave. We must concede that all ideas about equality are etymologically derived from the Latin word "compati":  meaning "to suffer with." Yet, after 2,000 years, the only ground that truly unites humanity is not the realm of truth or any idea of human decency or equality, but the dark, moist earth which covers our grave. Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.

Monday, December 07, 2015

ISAIAH BERLIN: Equality (Mill and Kant)

The Declaration of Independence declares that all men are created equal.  It also says American citizens have a right to “the pursuit of happiness.”  In his essay on Utilitarianism (GB4) John Stuart Mill agrees.  He wrote that “the ‘greatest happiness principle’ holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.”  This idea appeals to many Americans.  Equality and happiness are two very high ideals but they’re probably not achievable in the real world of economics and politics.  So what is the highest level of equality and happiness that we can reasonably hope to achieve?  Mill concludes correctly that “the general happiness is a good to the aggregate of all persons.”  Utilitarian philosophy has been summed up in the simple formula: the greatest happiness for the greatest number.  The greatest happiness for the greatest number sounds like a good fit for American political philosophy.  But Isaiah Berlin forces American readers to pause and reflect on what it means to embrace Equality as an ideal.  He now wants us to pause and reflect on what it would mean to embrace Utilitarianism as an economic and political philosophy.

Berlin sets up the following scenario.  “If I enter a bus and do not pay for my ticket, and conceal this fact from the conductor and the other passengers, and give the sum withheld to a pauper whose situation is thereby improved materially, it may be argued that at any rate from a utilitarian point of view I have done what is right.”  Why?  Because I have contributed to the greater happiness for the greater number.  Berlin explains that “the general sum of happiness (in this case via that of the subsidized pauper) will surely have gone up to a greater degree than if I had paid my fair to the bus conductor.”  From a Utilitarian standpoint this is logically true.  The bus company won’t suffer from such a small loss of bus fare.  I promise myself I won’t make a habit of not paying my fair share.  The conductor won’t know about it and won’t feel like he’s shirking his duty.  The other passengers won’t know about it and so won’t be tempted to do the same thing.  These facts may all be logically true but Berlin nevertheless thinks it’s just a clever rationalization for doing the wrong thing.  Why? 

Berlin says “the morally relevant fact that, having entered into a quasi-contractual obligation to pay, I have broken my promise, my act would be condemned as unfair, for it would rightly be maintained that I can only gain advantage (or the pauper can only gain advantage) so long as the other passengers continue to behave as they did before.”  Immanuel Kant agrees and would not only condemn the act as unfair but also as immoral.  In his essay First Principle of Morals (GB5) Kant opposes the Utilitarian philosophy by laying down this maxim: “act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”  Before I decide to skip paying my bus fare in order to give it to a homeless person I should stop and ask myself one simple question.  What would happen if everybody did it?  Berlin answers that question.  “If my act were generally followed no one would pay, and the buses would stop running.”  Giving money to a homeless person would indeed increase the general happiness by a factor of two.  I would feel happier giving my bus fare to a needy person and a homeless person would feel happier by receiving money.  But if the buses stopped running it would not lead to the greatest happiness for the greatest number.  Many people would have to walk or find some other means of transportation.  That would not make them happy.  The net effect would be less happiness.

So much for good intentions.  Berlin thinks equality is a good goal.  But he also thinks “equality is one value among many.”  Happiness is a good thing.  Liberty is a good thing too.  Balancing equality and the pursuit of happiness and liberty is America’s great political experiment.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

ISAIAH BERLIN: Equality (The Declaration of Independence)

The United States Declaration of Independence says “all men are created equal.”  That sounds good.  But is it true?  In what sense are all men equal?  Are we talking about political equality only?  Does that include economic equality too?  Or is the Declaration merely claiming that all American citizens have equal rights under the law?  Isaiah Berlin explores these questions in his essay on Equality.  The first thing he does is clarify the concept of what we mean by social equality.  He writes that “complete social equality embodies the wish that everything and everybody should be as similar as possible to everything and everybody else.”  Clearly this is not what the Declaration has in mind when it states that Americans have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  If the goal is for every American to be as equal as possible then no one has the “liberty” to become (in Berlin’s words) “richer or stronger or freer than others.”  On the other hand, if the goal in America is for everyone to have as much personal liberty as possible then Americans should be (in Berlin’s words) “permitted to live as they wish in ways and degrees which set them off from other men.”  Which goal best reflects America ideals?        

Berlin offers two guiding principles to help us decide.  The first one is “the principle of natural rights.”  According to this theory we have certain rights simply because they “belong to all men as such.”  We don’t have to earn them or join any particular political society to obtain them.  We’re just born with them, no matter where we’re from or who we are.  The government’s job is to protect these natural rights.  The other theory is what Berlin calls “the rational principle.”  According to this theory government has to have “sufficient reason for instituting or maintaining” the rights of citizens.  These rights have been established by government for the benefit of society.  The government’s job is to create and protect these political, legal, economic and social rights based on a rational concept of justice.  If circumstances change then the government can also change the dimensions of these rights to maintain the goal of fairness.    
Either of these theories work as a way to designate government’s role in the affairs of its citizens.  But they’re often at odds with one another concerning the nature and role of personal rights and public responsibilities.  Berlin says “Disputes occur about what these rights are; or what reasons are sufficient” to either give, change, or take away those rights.  If rights are given to us by nature then no government has legitimate authority to give, change, or take them away.  The Declaration calls these “unalienable rights.”  Under this theory rights can’t be changed or taken away, even with our own consent.  On the other hand, if rights are given to us by government then they can always be given, changed, or taken away as long as it’s for the good of the whole body politic.  The Declaration says we have unalienable rights but it also says “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  Under this theory we have rationally granted to the government the responsibility for determining which rights are in the best interests of the country.  Government has our consent to establish or modify our rights as individual citizens for the good of the community. 

The Declaration is a foundational document based on both natural rights and rational principle.  Why?  Why not one or the other?  The Founding Fathers knew human nature.  Citizens wanting safety and security (the core of Hobbes’ theory) put a priority on expanding the role of government to protect and take care of people.  Citizens attracted to Locke’s theory put a priority on restricting the role of government to prevent it from taking away private property through high taxes, fines, fees or other means.  Both kinds of citizens live in America so the Declaration has to accommodate both.  Isaiah Berlin’s essay on Equality shows how difficult this is to do.