Requests for Information Related to Thomas Jefferson



> Jefferson borrowed this idea [of inalienable rights] from the natural rights
>  philosophers, Locke, Paine
> and the English Whig tradition.  "Unalienable Rights" as outlined by
> Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence are not totally enumerated
> but they assume a free man making free will choices; they are not
> something created by politicians or government.  However, they can be
> infringed on by government or the majority.  For example, I may choose
> to worship the tree in my back yard and talk incessantly about my tree
> religion.  This free will choice is guaranteed by the First
> Amendmendment to the Constitution.  An "unalienable right" is part of my
> nature as a free man, it can be interfered with by government but not
> created by government.  Many ambitious politicians have postulated
> "Rights" based on their political beliefs.  Usually these are economic
> rights such as the right to a good wage or healthcare.  These are not
> the "Unalienable rights" Jefferson referred to in the Declaration!  Why?
> For two reasons:
> 1. They do not assume a free choice.  They are really gifts from
> government taken from other men; they do not derive from man's free
> nature.  Government can interfere with an unalienable right, it can not
> create it.
> 2. They interfere with the rights of other men.  If the government takes
> my property to create a larger house or free health care for its client,
> it has violated my right as a free man.
> These distinctions are critical to understanding Jefferson.  Inalienable
> rights are derived from man's exercise of free will, they are the right
> to certain voluntary choices and can not violate the rights of free
> men.  Economic rights fail on both criteria!

What your statements about inalienable rights fails to recognize is the
right of a free people to govern themselves.  The Declaration of
Independence does not once mention the word "individual."  It is a
document to establish a NATION, not a protectorate for isolated
individuals.  Nations are composed on individuals, of course, and it is
the rights they all possess as individuals that serve as the foundation
for the rights of the whole nation.

But the Declaration expressly declares:

"It is the right of the people ... to institute new government, laying its
foundation on such principles, and organizing it powers in such form,
as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

In other words, they collectively have a right to shape the government
as they please.  They can do this BECAUSE they have the
aforementioned inalienable rights.

But in any case, economic rights are NOT inalienable rights, and any claims
to the contrary are misguided.  The setting of minimum wages, and the 
provisions for health care, are programs that a free people institute for
their own safety and happiness.  They do this as a matter of their sovereign
power to govern themselves, not because they have an inalienable right to
those things.

> > But who is to decide what are our inalienable rights and how they
> > should be protected?

> They are innate, no one invents them and they are protected by the
> Constitution.

And who instituted the Constitution?

>   Will it be the majority, or will it be
> > Objectivist philosophers?  The reverse of majority rule is minority
> > rule.
> Jefferson's way was minority rule.  Self government, the rule of the
> individual over his own life.

Although the term "self-government" can be used in the sense of the
individual governing his own self, his own behavior, in most instances of
which I am aware, when Jefferson used the term, he meant a whole nation,
a whole people, governing themselves, as when he wrote:

"Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of
self-government.  They receive it with their being from the hand of
nature.  Individuals exercise it by their single will; collections of men
by that of their majority; for the law of the majority is the natural law
of every society of men." --Thomas Jefferson: Opinion on Residence Bill,

How can you say that Jefferson's way was MINORITY RULE when he said on
any number of occasions things like:

"I subscribe to the principle, that the will of the majority honestly
expressed should give law." --Thomas Jefferson: The Anas, 1793.

This is what he said about "minority rule":

"And where else will [Hume,] this degenerate son of science, this traitor
to his fellow men, find the origin of just powers, if not in the majority
of the society?  Will it be in the minority?  Or in an
individual of that minority?" --Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright,

>   This is precisely where Ayn Rand and Objectivist philosophy
> > fails: In their assumption that inalienable rights are somehow
> > self-enforcing.  They fail to see that inalienable rights are
> > philosophical ideals, but a nation cannot be governed by disembodied
> > philosophical ideals.  A nation can only be governed by a system
> > through which power is exercised by human beings, either a single one,
> > a group of them, or the people as a whole.
> If you agree that man is a free agent then unalienable rights are
> "self-evident".
>   Inalienable rights are
> > ONLY principles that guide the structure and operation of government.
> I enthusiastically disagree!  Government can guarantee these rights,
> that is THE reason for government.

Nevertheless, it is and forever will remain a "should."  Government can
and should, and indeed that is the basic reason for government.  But the
Objectivists try to narrow it down so that it is no longer a nation of
people, but a collection of individuals with no connection to one another
except an alienated stand-offish respect.
> > This is the Objectivist blind spot:  they fail to realize that a
> > nation can only be governed by a majority or by a minority.  I cannot
> > be governed by abstract principles except as those principles are
> > applied by either a majority or a minority.
> How about do it yourself government?  I'm free, I govern myself.

But yet, you choose to remain in a society and participate in its

>   And although the majority
> > y sometimes fails to follow these principles, history teaches us that
> > a minority NEVER follows them.  But Objectivists assume that a nation
> > can be governed by principles, irrespective of the source of sovereign
> > power.  As intelligent as many of the Objectivist writers are, they
> > can't seem to grasp these simple truths.
> >
> > My understanding is that Rand was extremely dictatorial with all her
> > associates, and that public meetings were used to tear people apart if
> > they dared to disagree with any point of Objectivist dogma.  That kind
> > of intellectual conformity is entirely repugnant to Jefferson's
> > approach, and is something I personally could never tolerate.
> Agreed
> >
> > It is an interesting discussion.  I wish I could devote more time to
> > it, but I hope the above gives a sense of where I am coming from.
> >
> I'm sorry, I got your gentle hint but I had to get this off my chest.

I could see where you might assume I meant that I did not want to spend
more time on this discussion, but that is not quite correct.  I meant it
as an apology for not providing a more detailed explanation of the points
I was trying to make.  This response is not complete enough either.  I'm
hoping you will catch the vision of what I am saying, so that I don't
need to write a whole book on the subject.

> Embedded in the belief in majority rule is the idea that man is evil and
> will act in anti-social ways if not controlled by government.  I don't
> believe this.

What on earth are you talking about?  Majority rule rests on the good
sense and goodness of the vast majority of the people.  It is the
individualism of Objectivists that assumes that the majority of the
people are evil and only the Objectivists are the righteous ones, that
the majority of people are out to destroy inalienable rights, and that
rule by the majority is evil.


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