When it comes to America, Joe Biden gets it wrong

Recently, during a naturalization ceremony, Joe Biden stated a very troubling idea. He said that America is founded on an idea -- an idea, moreover, that we've invariably failed to live up to). As is so often the case with Biden, he's wrong. America is not about “an idea.” America is about an enduring truth. This truth is the basis of our Rule of Law, and our Rule of Law, in turn, is the foundation of our social order.

Biden made it clear that he was talking about the statement in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. The problem is that America is not about an idea, and all men are not created equal if equal means, as Biden seems to believe, sameness.

What Thomas Jefferson meant by the phrase “all men are created equal” is that no person is of noble birth. Article I, Sections 9 and 10 forbid the federal government or any state government from granting titles of nobility.

When it comes to our United States Constitution, equality involves due process under the Rule of Law. Each person is equally due a certain established process relative to government power, and if people are entitled to certain rights and privileges, we all possess them equally. Equality and equity in the context of one’s relationship to government are best understood as a type of fairness of procedure. There is no such thing as equal outcome.

What, then, if not an idea is America about? The Founders knew the answer to that.

America is about an enduring truth. That truth, that self-evident actuality, is that there is a Creator or God from whom our natural rights derive, and to whom human beings owe a duty. This is the starting point for our Rule of Law along with the understanding that human nature, if left to its own devices, tends toward the negative.

One of the purposes of the Rule of Law, then, is to dampen the negative and inspire the positive in human nature. Unless ideas or notions are connected to a universal truth, they can be very dangerous to individuals and to whole societies. The following is the truth that Jefferson speaks of that represents the starting point for American society:

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – 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, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.

What Joe Biden might have said is that America is founded on the existence of a Creator, or God, and that God endows all Americans, equally, with the rights to Life and to the Liberty to pursue their own happiness within the Rule of Law. That truth provides a boundary for ideas. Otherwise, anyone can simply create a theory based on an idea, however unrelated to the reality of human nature, and, if implemented as governance, can wreak havoc on the people governed.

Our Rule of Law is tethered to the truth that God exists, and this tethering provides the needed “check” on what constitutes the Rule of Law and what constitutes the duty individuals have to their Creator. It also helps create a stable social order. The French took American notions of Liberty and Equality but left out God, and all hell broke loose in the French Revolution, with Napoleon emerging as dictator and Emperor. The bloodbath was hideous.

Marx and Engels drew on the ideas of Johann Fichte that the dialectic (discourse) consists of a thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, in the context of class struggle. The various versions of Marxism since the mid-19th century and their translation into governance have led to millions and millions of deaths worldwide. Because these ideas are not tethered to the universal truth in the existence of God, the nature of human beings carries individuals away into the swamp of the debauched and the murderous. Substitute race for class in America today and the behaviors in some circles associated with that acceptance of Marxist atheism and you may come to understand the chaos that has resulted.

Think of our Rule of Law as a small boat tied to a dock. The boat is anchored so that it cannot just float away into the currents. The rope that attaches it to the dock becomes an integral part of the vessel itself, preventing its own destruction and injury to others. The Rule of Law in America (the boat) is tethered by duty (the rope) to a Creator (the dock).

Or, think of it this way: God comes first; the duty to obey comes second (the Ten Commandments of Judaism and the Two Commandments of Christianity); and our Rule of Law comes third. What does the Rule of Law consist of? There are four elements:

  • Moral Law – what is right and what is wrong (based on the above Commandments)
  • Natural Law – unalienable (cannot be separated from the person) rights from God to Life and Liberty
  • Positive Law – statutes, rules, and Constitutions created by governing bodies and citizens
  • Unwritten Law – that which guides our relationships with each other – the courteous and kindly

For those whose lives are individually untethered, who float helplessly in the currents of their passions, our social order provides not only a tolerance for this predicament but a stability over time that people may count on should they want to climb out of the swamp they created for themselves. This is such a unique society in that regard, and such a precious social order for developing the individual, that its loss would be devastating to all humanity.

America does not need to be transformed, America needs to embrace and protect what she is, and distance herself from those ideas that have shown themselves, over time, to be nothing but invitations to slaughter and horror. In other words, invitations for human beings to be at their worst. We can make things better for the nation and American citizens by teaching these basics in our schools.

M. E. Boyd’s Apples of Gold – Voices From the Past that Speak to Us Now is available at Amazon.com using both the title and subtitle.

IMAGE: God Bless America sign by Lorie Shaull. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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