PJ Media

Our Individual and National Duty of Self-Preservation

Natural rights are rights that flow to man from God through nature. Because these rights rest on God rather than government, America’s Founding Fathers described them as inalienable. And since they exist upon a divine foundation, the Founders argued that they were fixed and unchanging — and warned that they were not to be infringed.  Moreover, because the source of natural rights was (and is) God himself, our Founders believed those rights carried more weight than they otherwise would, which meant each natural right was coupled with a corresponding duty.

Samuel Adams, one of the driving forces behind the American Revolution, made this point when he described “the duty of self-preservation … [as] the first law of nature.” In other words, the first lesson he drew from natural law was not only that we have an individual right to preserve our lives but a duty to do so as well. Like many of America’s Founding Fathers, Adams’ worldview had been framed by the writings of Enlightenment philosopher John Locke, who wrote that our lives were our chief property, and that those lives, being the gift of God, come to us joined with an intrinsic obligation to defend them.

Throughout this nation’s history, even those who have never read the works of Adams or Locke have intuitively understood the things about which they wrote. And this understanding has translated into everything from deadbolts on our front doors to concealed-carry guns on our persons and the emergence of “castle doctrine” legislation in states throughout the land.

What we must grasp is that from every individual right and duty a national equivalent can be extrapolated. Adams indicated as much when he wrote: “Government was instituted for the purposes of common defense.” And in Federalist 41, James Madison was even more specific when he wrote that “security against foreign danger is one of the primitive objects of civil society.”

To put it plainly, those to whom we entrust power in government — the president, the Congress, and the Senate — should use that power to defend our nation and the lives of our fellow citizens the way we use our individual powers to defend our own lives and the property we possess. And while there are many honorable ways by which our elected officials could do this, three clear examples would be the construction of fences on our borders, using missile defense shields to cover our shores, and supporting a dominant and ruthless military that is ready to respond to any threat at a moment’s notice.

The preservation of this nation ought not be burdensome; instead, it should be a labor of love. President Calvin Coolidge made this clear in 1927, while speaking at Arlington National Cemetery: “As Americans we are always justified in glorying in our own country. … Not to know and appreciate the many excellent qualities of our own country constitutes an intellectual poverty which … ought to be acknowledged with shame.”

Because these things are intuitive to the kind of citizens whom George C. Scott described as “real Americans” in the opening scenes of the 1970 film Patton, it is no wonder so many Americans spent last year attending tea parties. They are bothered that America’s current president does not share Coolidge’s propensity to “[glory] in our country.” In fact, instead of extolling the many virtues of this great nation, Obama apologizes for it’s few shortcomings.

These Americans are also bothered by the fact that he does not demonstrate an acquaintance with Madison’s emphasis on the government’s role in providing “security against foreign danger.” This is evident in the fact that he does not take the threat from militant Islam as seriously as he should, as demonstrated by his administration’s June 2009 “pledge” to strike “a new beginning between the United States and the Muslim community … [and] to [use] criminal and civil rights laws to protect Muslim Americans.” (This statement ultimately betrays a mentality that blames the United States for terrorist acts committed by militant Islamists against the United States. It also expresses the administration’s misguided hope that shielding militant Islam from criticism will make would-be terrorists abandon their terrorist plots.)

Although a majority of the blame for such convoluted policies rests at the feet of Obama, a share in their continued implementation also lies with every senator, representative, cabinet member, and mainstream media anchor who defends such an anti-American posture — a posture that runs counter to precepts of natural law and therefore against the very spirit of our nation’s founding. The danger of such a posture is crystal clear in situations like we see now, where Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress are working together to deny our military the planes and weapons it needs to retain air superiority over other nations.

As individuals we defend and preserve our lives and property because God gave us not simply the right to that defense, but the duty to carry it out as well. Our government is likewise bound to defend and preserve this nation. To refuse to carry out this duty is to turn the world upon its head by warring against the very laws of nature.