To secure these rights
June 28, 2012 —
“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, we need to get government the heck off our backs…”
Oh, wait. That’s not how it goes, is it? The actual original clause says, “that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men…” It’s probably the least noticed, the least remembered, the most neglected clause in the entire preamble of the Declaration of Independence—at least nowadays, when it seems fashionable to regard everything done by government as inimical to freedom.
There’s no question that governments can become dysfunctional (as indeed the English government of the colonies had become in 1776). There’s no question that our own government has become dysfunctional again in certain respects, and it is absolutely the people’s right—as those from whose consent, the Declaration goes on to state, governments derive their just powers—to make our objections heard and attempt to alter things accordingly. But the idea that there is something intrinsic in the idea of government that is threatening to human rights is just dead wrong, at least according to our Founding Fathers. Governments are instituted, on the contrary, to secure rights.
There are some things that we can do for ourselves together that we cannot accomplish separately, and government is the necessary instrument to make that happen. Functions that help secure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for us range from providing the law enforcement that creates the conditions for an orderly society, to keeping fires from spreading throughout the community, to building roads, to facilitating the disposal of waste so that it does not poison us, to ensuring that the common resources upon which we all depend for life, like water and air, remain undefiled for all.