This is the season where various publications ask their friends and acquaintances for some suggestions for summer reading. National Review has just published their roundup here, to which I have contributed several extremely brief suggestions (along with the suggestion of one entire book). I will only be giving away a little if I reveal that the centerpiece of the miniature chrestomathy is a tidbit from the Declaration of Independence. Remember the “self-evident” truths that Thomas Jefferson enumerates?
The list begins with what the philosopher Harvey Mansfield described as “the self-evident half-truth” that “all men are created equal,” and proceeds with some other thought-provoking assertions. Consider: we are all, said Jefferson, endowed by our “Creator”—hey, wasn’t Jefferson supposed to be an atheist? Then why did he speak of a rights-endowing “Creator”? Er, um . . . Anyway, according to Jefferson we have these “unalienable Rights,” e.g., “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
One other side track: Some churls have pointed out that happiness is not a possible goal of human activity and that John Locke’s original phrase, the pursuit of life, liberty, and property, would have been better. Logically, perhaps, but in the 18th century, as today, “happiness” produced more emollient psychological vibrations.
But let’s leave the happiness/property issue to one side. Since we are now being ruled by a majority of nine unelected, black-robed lawyers from Harvard or Yale (apparently no other institution will do), it is the next clauses of Jefferson’s literary firecracker that seem to me especially pertinent. One: “That to secure these rights [life, liberty, etc.], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”; and Two: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, . . .”
I am past believing that the torpid American people will rise up to protest anything short of an effort to take away their central heating or access to Netflix and HBO. Who needs the “consent of the governed” when 320 million people have a majority of nine lawyers to rule them—not, note well, to interpret the law (that was the original job description) but to make policy by dint of hermeneutical ingenuity, e.g., the statute says “exchanges establish by the state,” where by “state” was meant one of the fifty states that compose the (once) United States. It is the work of a moment for our masters to say that by “state” Congress, which framed the law, didn’t mean “state” but rather meant “the federal government.” Or squash pie. Or whatever.
Which brings me to Jefferson’s main event. He thought that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.” He then went on to enumerate the many ways in which the king of England had trampled on the rights of the colonists, e.g., “He has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harrass our People, and eat our their Substance.” Who knew that the EPA, the IRS, and other such entities were of such long tenure? Or consider this complaint: “ He has combined with others to subject is to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws; . . .”
It is curious how contemporary a document is the Declaration of Independence. “Let facts be submitted to a candid world.”
Back in 1776, the signatories to this document pledged “the lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” to support the Declaration of Independence from the tyranny of distant and unaccountable masters. And today? Can’t someone just change the channel?
As I say, absent some blatant incursion into the entertainment schedule or caloric intake of ordinary Americans I expect the reaction to the recent depredations by the Supreme Court (which, to be fair, merely ratified an agenda promulgated by other lawyers representing elite opinion) to be confined to some anguished grumbling on the Right. Indeed, this column is an example of the genre. Sound, yes, fury, undoubtedly. And what did the Bard tell us it signifies? Nothing.
But let me draw a veil over this distasteful subject and announce a new column I will be writing for the Australian magazine Quadrant, which you should know if you don’t. Quadrant is the last of that batch of magazines that was started, partly through the good offices of the CIA, in the aftermath of World War II to wage war on behalf of liberal values at a time when Soviet Communism was widely trumpeted by the gullible class, i.e., academics and other members of the “intelligentsia.” The current issue of Quadrant carries the inaugural installment of my “New York Letter,” “The ’70s Again, with a Transgender Bonus,” which dilates on the activities of Warren Wilhelm, Jr. (more widely known by his assumed name, Bill de Blasio) and the fulfillment of Herbert Marcuse’s vision of a sexual utopia that had finally, at last thrown off the “tyranny of procreative sexuality” and embraced the “primary narcissism” of “polymorphous perversity.” You’ve come a long way. Baby.