In Maine, it's famously impossible to get there from here; so as I reflected on the loathing with which much of the world now regards the fair name of America as a bomb-spitting, empire-seeking, prisoner-torturing monster, I wondered how we got here--having started 228 years ago with such a fervent passion for individual liberty, peace and trade.
I went back to re-examine the Declaration of Independence. There in its second paragraph, sure enough, is that magnificent expression of the "Libertarian Axiom": "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."
Notice: The right to one's life--self-ownership--is "self-evident." Try arguing that humans do not have the right of self-ownership, and see where it leads you! For good measure, the Declaration amplifies that right: It necessarily means that humans have the right to "liberty" (For what else could self-ownership mean?) and to the "pursuit of happiness," because that is what free, self-owning humans will do, unless prevented.
And to top it off, this right to life is possessed by "all men"; these things are true not just for some, but for everyone. From that it follows absolutely that nobody has the right to rule anybody else. Sublime!
But then I did what often we fail to do: I read further. The very next phrase is: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . . ." Oops! A total non sequitur, riddled with contradictions.
First, since self-ownership (the right to life and liberty) absolutely precludes being governed by someone else, the idea that that right can possibly be "secured" by first violating it with the institution of a government is a blatant attempt to stand logic right on its head!
Second, it proposes that there exists such a thing as a "just power," in the context of one person having power over another. Again, an oxymoron; there can be justice, or there can be power, but there can never, ever be both together.
And third, that nonexistent just power is said to be derived from the "consent of the governed," which is nonsense on its face; if I consent to your removing my property or damaging my person, then you aren't governing me at all--and vice versa.
Within a single paragraph, the Declaration has plunged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Already, I smell a rat. Jefferson was a very smart guy; he wouldn't make a blunder that big by accident. This begins to look like a political tract, more than the summary of a philosophical treatise, the purpose of which was to arouse the rabble, not to enrich the mind.
To make Colonial hearts beat faster, next comes this: "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 . . . ." Did you get that, to "alter OR ABOLISH it"? Wonderful. The Founders actually envisaged the possibility that The People might abolish government!
Or, did they? Hang on, notice that sting in the tail: "AND to institute new Government . . . ." No, what the Founders are actually saying here is that you need government, come what may. Change it as often as you like, but don't dare to think you can do without one altogether. Anarchists like me find that deeply disappointing and wholly illogical; the conclusion totally fails to follow from the self-ownership premise. The Founders held up more clearly than ever before the ideal that in his innermost core, every human longs for--LIBERTY--but then said, "but you need us, a government, to protect it for you."
As Marc Stevens noted perceptively, "the word 'protect' is mysteriously not included in any definitions of 'govern'." This was just another example of the oldest deception in recorded history.
Okay, so we're already deep in trouble before we've left the good bit. Now let's take a short tour around the rest of the Declaration, the huge majority of its wording that so often gets skipped over.
It complains about "a long train of abuses and usurpations" and concludes that, His Majesty being therefore unfit to rule a free people, independence is now being declared. But just look at those complaints. I counted 27, of which all but a few (such as the delicious and strikingly familiar "He has . . . sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and to eat out their substance") have a similar form. The first is "He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."
Yuck! These Founders actually supposed that there are such things as laws that are "wholesome and necessary for the public good"! Where had these guys been? And their complaint is that the King would not sign off on these new laws.
The second is like unto it, namely: "He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance . . . ." and the third, "He has refused to pass other Laws . . . ." Sadly, it's only too plain that the Declarers of American Independence had no thought to create a society free of the menace of governments and their laws, but merely objected to the fact that they, the politicians close to the action, were being denied the chance to do the governing! Far from wanting no laws or even fewer laws, they were actually bellyaching about having too few.
They were not really different from any other revolutionary anywhere: They wanted to get rid of the present government so that they themselves could take power. Theirs was not a rebellion against power, just a rebellion against someone else's power.
Government junkies have little to worry about in the D of I; and that's the problem. The government those Founders put in place, based on the irrational thinking shown in this Declaration, has now come to its full flower. Si monumentum requiris, circumspice--if you want to know where such confusion leads, take a look around. The reason America is now so widely and deservedly despised is that it had a false, deceptive and irrational foundation.
Or to summarize in four words how we got here from there: garbage in, garbage out.