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Perspectives

Part Three: Philosophers Who Influenced America

Voltaire, 1694-1778

By Dennis Grimski

Exposing the Marxists Roots of the

American Left   (Article III)

Today’s Focus:  “Philosophers Who Influenced America”

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Introduction

As you know by now, I am writing a series for Blue Water Healthy Living on: “Exposing the Marxist Roots of the America Left.”  Last week I wrote the second article entitled:  “America’s Traditional Values and Beliefs.   Today, you are receiving the third article in this series; and is written as a direct follow-up to my previous article.  As such, if you haven’t read Article #2, I would strongly recommend you read this first, in order to maximize your benefit in reading this article.   Herein, I will explore the great political philosophers who influenced America’s Founding Fathers and, as such, strongly impacted America’s guiding values, culture and society.  

 In writing any article on our traditional beliefs and values, I believe it would be an injustice not to address the profound impact that several prominent thinkers, writers, and political philosophers had on our Founding Fathers, and the development of the nation we call America.

When I went to college, one of my majors was Political Science.  The field was very broad, and I focused on the American political system. During my time at Western Michigan University (WMU), I became familiar with classical political theory.  Because I’ve found some background in this area to be helpful to understanding our historical beliefs and values, and because I believe this understanding is relevant to my overall theme of this series, I present here a cursory overview of some of what I’ve learned.

Please realize that I believe the Founding Fathers were a group of extraordinary thinkers and brilliant men. Yet throughout the course of American Constitutional history, there were a number of other writers and philosophers who helped champion the case for American Independence, the crafting of our Founding documents, and impacted our Founding political, sociological and economic beliefs. 

By no means do I pretend the writers I include in this article to be an exhaustive list.  And by no means do I present myself as an expert in this area.   What I do hope to do is present a few of the important classical influences on the Founding Fathers, and on modern political theory in America today; and to give links to sites where readers can go to learn much more about these great thinkers. Lastly, I welcome suggestions for more names to be added to this list.  I also welcome corrections and disagreements.

Enlightenment Philosophers Influence on the Founding Fathers

In having any discussion on “traditional values” it is important to understand the leading philosophical and political thinking that impacted our Founding Fathers, and the “core beliefs” upon which they wrote our founding documents: the Declaration of Independence; and the Constitution. This section encapsulates some of these key philosophers.  

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (June 1712 – July 1778) was a Genève philosopher, writer, and composer of the 18th century, mainly active in France.  His political philosophy influenced the Enlightenment across Europe, and the overall development of modern political and educational thought.   His Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract were cornerstones from which the Founding Fathers drew their inspiration, and continue today in modern political and social thought.

Rousseau had unique views in contrast to the time period in which he wrote, because the belief of the majority in the 1700s was that monarchy was the superior form of government, but he advocated more towards the idea of a “sovereign,” (i.e. the grouping of all citizens into a governmental entity). On this subject Rousseau wrote:

“…the general will alone may direct the forces of the state to achieve the goal for which it was founded, that is the common good of its citizens.”

Rousseau also believed in the idea that a government being formed needs consent from the governed in order to be successful.  This concept became the foundation in our founding documents.

“It is agreed that everything which each individual gives up of his power, his goods, and his liberty under the social contract [to the government] is only that part of all those things which is of use to the community.”  Rousseau’s “The Social Contract”

Montesquieu  

Charles-Louis La Brède et de Montesquieu (January 1689 – February 1755; generally referred to as simply Montesquieu).  Montesquieu was a French political philosopher. He is famous for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers, which is implemented in many constitutions throughout the world, including the US Constitution.  

The Spirit of the Laws was written by Montesquieu in 1748 to display his views on political theory to the public.   This is an extremely valuable document because it expressed ideals contrary to general belief at the time creating controversy.  Within his book, Montesquieu introduced the idea of the “separation of powers” to avoid tyranny and promote liberty and justice.  

“In every government there are three sorts of power; the legislative, in regards to passing the laws of the land; the executive, in respect to things dependent on the law of nations; and the judicial, in regard to things that depend on the civil law.”

This view was very different to the beliefs of the majority because during this period it was believed that a monarchy should hold all governmental power.  To maintain a separation of powers Montesquieu developed a system of checks and balances to one branch over government can’t overpower the other. The branches he established were judicial, legislative, and executive.

Montesquieu also supported the idea of civil liberties.  He demonstrated early ideals of equality and protection of the citizens. Montesquieu’s idea of the presence and protection of civil liberties was demonstrated in all the documents of the Founding Fathers:

Declaration of Independence: “…certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Jefferson referenced Montesquieu’s ideal of citizens having certain unalienable rights through listing out life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Samuel Adams stated, in the “Rights of the Colonists, “that among the natural rights of the colonists are these: first, a right to life; second, to liberty; third, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can.”

Very similarly to Jefferson, Adams defines the civil liberties that Montesquieu believes every man deserves from the government.
 
Montesquieu’s system of checks and balances has allowed the U.S. to maintain equal authority throughout its branches and avoid one individual or group rising to power. Montesquieu’s philosophies were extremely influential in the development of American political society and provided the back bone for a new government in a new country.

John Locke

John Locke (August 1632 – October 1704) was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the “Father of Classical Liberalism“.  His work was critical to “social contract” theory; and he greatly affected the development of political philosophy. His writings influenced Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries. His contributions to classical republicanism and classical liberal theory are reflected in our “Declaration of Independence.”

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Locke’s Impact on the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson in order to establish the colonies independence from Great Britain.  The Declaration is a valuable source because it explains to the audience the motivations behind wanting independence. The Declaration states,

“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.”

This statement exemplifies Locke’s belief in the existence of natural rights. An almost identical statement was made by Locke in his “Second Treatise of a Civil Government,” but the word possessions was substituted with the phrase “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration.

Jefferson’s use of the word possessions within the context of Locke’s writing implies having control of and individual’s own rights and character, and not having our rights dictated to by the government. In this regard, the Declaration states,

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.

This displays the main components of Locke’s social contract: the government gains authority to protect the rights of the people through their consent.  This belief is demonstrated through the following statement by Locke:

“…this power [of government] has its original only from compact, and agreement, and the mutual consent of those who make up the community . . .”

The Declaration states,

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”  

This statement exemplifies Locke’s belief that when a government becomes destructive the people have the right and the power to abolish it.   This ideal is stated by Locke: “…when the legislators endeavor to…destroy the property of the people… by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people put into their hands…”

Locke’s Belief about Natural Law  

Natural law  is a philosophy asserting that certain rights are inherent by virtue of human nature, endowed to man by the Judeo-Christian God, the Creator of all things, and that these rights can be understood universally through human reason.   The law of nature is implied to be universal, existing throughout history, and existing independently of a given state, political order, legislature or society at large.

For the vast majority of the early American colonists, belief in the Judeo-Christian God was the cornerstone of their life.  Yes, there were other religions in the world, but the Founding Fathers intentionally decided to build our nation on the Judeo-Christian religion, the religion of the Christian world view.   Within this context, many believed they were indwelled with certain inalienable rights, endowed upon them by their Creator. Rights that no man nor government could take away or limit.

In his writings, Locke introduced the “state of nature,” an idea of equality and perfect freedom.
The “law of nature” (God’s laws) governs the “state of nature” and is based off morals, reason, and justice.  From these two ideals, Locke derives the idea of natural rights that men are born with.  “…life, liberties, and possessions…”

The idea of natural rights and laws was a unique interpretation of government during this period because most individuals believed laws to come from churches and monarchs.  Locke stated his belief that government is created to protect property and rights of individuals, but in order to enter into this civil society men must consent to the majority and give up some of their freedoms.  As Locke wrote:

“Political power is that power which every man, having in the state of nature, has given up into the hands of the society, and therein to the governors whom the society hath set over itself, with this express or tacit trust that it shall be employed for their good and the preservation of their property.”

Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes (April 1588 – December 1679), was an English philosopher who is considered one of the founders of modern political philosophy. Hobbes is best known for his 1651 book Leviathan, which established the social contract theory that has served as the foundation for America’s political philosophy.  

The Founding Fathers were heavily influenced by Hobbes in establishing America’s First Principles (see next section), most notably the recognition of unalienable rights, the Social Compact, and limited government.  Hobbes posited in his 1651 Book “Leviathan” that under “natural law” men and women are free to pursue and defend their own interests.   This concept was strongly endorsed and utilized by our Founding Fathers.

Adam Smith

Adam Smith  (June 1723 – 17 July 1790) was a Scottish economist, philosopher and author as well as a moral philosopher, a pioneer of political economy and a key figure writer and thinker during the Enlightenment era.   Smith is known as the “Father of Capitalism.”  Smith is best known for two classic works: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) and The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). The former, usually abbreviated as The Wealth of Nations, is considered his magnum opus and the first modern work of economics

Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Smith is most famous for his 1776-piece, “The Wealth of Nations,” but his first major treatise, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” released in 1759 created many ideas that greatly impacted the Founding Fathers, and are still in practice in America today. 

“The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” was a treatise about how human communication relies on natural law, and human sympathy. The book extensively explored ideas such as morality, God’s natural law, and human sympathy.  In the book, Smith argued that people are self-interested, but naturally are inclined to help others in need.

Smith: The Wealth of Nations

Smith’s 1776 work, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,” also shortened as “The Wealth of Nations,” documented industrial development in Europe.   While critics note that Smith didn’t invent many of the ideas that he wrote about, he was the first person to compile and publish them in a format designed to explain them to the average reader of the day.  As a result, he is responsible for popularizing many of the ideas that underpin the school of thought that became known as classical economics, and the system of capitalism that was implemented in the US by the Founding Fathers.  

Smith: American Economic Impact

Many experts believe it was Adam Smith’s belief in the economic system he called “capitalism” that gave rise to the middle class across the world, including America.   Because of employer’s self interest to succeed, many employers invested in their own companies, including their employees through wages and benefits that allowed many people and families to emerge out of the doles of poverty.  In many regards, small business in America owes its allegiance to the system of capitalism, and many millionaires and billionaires have been created in America because of the capitalism system. Because of this reality, Marxism and Socialism have had a difficult time taking root in America and Europe, but as you will see later in this series, these followers still believe they will succeed in taking America’s capitalist system down.

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Conclusion:

The aforementioned is in no way a comprehensive list of all the political philosophers that influenced our social, cultural and political life in the 1700s, and the bulk of our history until the 1960s.  Rather, this article was only meant to help my readers understand that history does not exist in a vacuum, and that America was founded on a set of guiding values that have permeated most of our history.

Yet, there are many liberals (i.e. progressives) today that want to undo all that we are as a nation.  Statues and artifacts of our history are being torn down, and many of the liberal left want to start afresh with a new set of ideals based upon a different culture than what we have come to know as America.  To help accomplish this outcome, American history is either no longer being taught in schools, or it is being distorted with selected untruths. For example, most modern school curriculum strongly emphasizes America’s world-wide “colonization practices,” and our “slavery practices”;  and that overall we are an “evil” nation that needs to be over-hauled from the inside based more upon current global beliefs, instead of our American traditional beliefs and values.

To illustrate my point, we have so distorted American history in high school and college to the point where the majority of current college students think America invented slavery.   Between 60 and 70 percent of American college students cannot name a country besides the United States which has had slavery, according to James “Duke” Pesta, an associate professor of English at the University of Wisconsin.  Pesta has asked his students a few basic questions over an 11-year period, and noticed an increasing ignorance of history, coupled with a liberal slant.

Pesta stated, “We have so made American slavery the focus of our history education” that most students “have no idea that slavery is a worldwide phenomenon, that people of all races across the world have practiced it.” And that wasn’t the only major flaw in their knowledge — “students could not identify Thomas Jefferson as a president; most could not explain Marxism, socialism, or capitalism in a sentence, but believed socialism and communism were better systems than capitalism.”  Perhaps ironically, on one quiz, 29 out of 32 students knew Jefferson owned slaves, but only three identified him as president.  Interestingly, six of them incorrectly believed Ben Franklin had held the Presidential office.  In discussing the quizzes afterward, the students “came to the recognition that their views of many of these events — of the Founding Fathers, of their country, of capitalism — were so one-sided, they couldn’t see another side, that’s what I found so disturbing,” said Pesta.

While some students do not believe him, Pesta noted that there are “enough kids who are generally disappointed when they realize that the view of history they’ve been taught has been one way.” Pesta did not complain that the students would criticize Western culture and history, but rather that they were ignorant of it altogether, and that their ignorance had a profound political slant. Before the early 2000s, the professor told The College Fix, his students’ “blissful ignorance was accompanied by a basic humility about what they did not know.” But since the early 2000s, he increasingly witnessed “a sense of moral superiority in not knowing anything about what they claimed to be our ‘racist and sexist’ history and our ‘biased’ institutions.”

So, as I close my two articles on our American traditional values, and the historical beliefs that shaped America, it should be understood is that our society and culture did not just evolve from nothing.  Moreover, all of our founding documents, especially the Constitution represented a culmination of all that came before it, and by itself represented a bold new approach to living, and a bold new approach to how to govern.

Our founding documents, culture and society were crafted on a set of guiding values and beliefs that held merit for the majority of our history.  Our founding was also a declaration of intent that this new country would go where none had ever gone before. It was a statement of independence and its undying legacy is built upon the principles of justice and liberty for all citizens.  Our history and legacy should not be discarded without careful consideration, yet that’s exactly what is occurring in our public schools and college universities being taught by very liberal teachers and professors.

Is our Constitution perfect?  Perhaps, in principle, yes, but it is always in the implementation of theory that we base the final judgment.  There are many who would claim that this document is in no way perfect, and perhaps that is as it should be. As a document, the Founders created a way whereby the Constitution has the ability to address any imperfections through the formal Amendment process, or through even a Constitutional Convention itself.  Always remember that, after all, it was written by humans, so perfection is unattainable. What it is not, however, is a living document that can be interpreted or distorted by the beliefs and philosophy of modern America alone. This is a progressive belief that intends to undo the original meaning of the Constitution and replace it by whatever values the court judge and legislature want to apply at any given point in time.

Instead, I believe change takes time and careful consideration and earnest debate.   The winds of change should blow slowly in a nation comprised of over 312 million people, and that’s as it should be.  When freedom is at stake, isn’t it best that change be slowly considered, for a representative government must take into account all of its members and not just the chosen few; and it must take into account its history and why certain words were chosen for the way we govern?

This, of course, then asks the question of whether or not this is truly a representative government any longer, or has it become a political system that no longer represents traditional America?

These questions will have to wait until another day. 

What cannot be debated or questioned is that this “Grand Experiment” is still going strong 230 years after the first signing, and will continue to be strong as long as our Country is based on the principles of freedom and individualism (vs. governmental control); as long as these concepts flourish there is hope for the citizens bound by its laws.

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