This year Martin Luther King Day falls on January 15, the date of his birth, which it is every year intended to commemorate. President Trump has, fittingly, proclaimed this entire month as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month. Martin Luther King battled for the civil rights of black Americans who had, ostensibly, been freed from slavery in consequence of the Civil War. But as he waged that battle for America’s decent conscience, he relied on many of the same premises, arguments and moral appeals Frederick Douglass deployed against slavery. In both cases, their logic depended on the principles of God-endowed human equality, justice, and rights set forth in the American Declaration of Independence.
In this era, much of the elite in the United States has, in one way or another, fallen prey to an arrogant contempt for our nation’s founding generation. Such contempt is characteristic of tyranny prone communists and socialists, whose heroes have mostly been dictators, or ruthless revolutionaries bent on becoming dictators. The socialist regimes they worship have largely inflicted systematically dehumanizing repression on the nations they infest, including murderous mass purges on a scale never before seen in human history. Despite the casually dehumanizing features of pre-civil war American slavery, antebellum slaveholders had the same selfish interest in preserving their slaves that they had in preserving their crops and livestock. Despite harsh punishment of troublesome slaves, and the grim execution of rebellious slave leaders, the systematic slaughter of the slave population was not on any sane slaveholder’s agenda.
Yet the very people who have openly idolized the communist, totalitarian leftwing socialists, tacitly unite with others who secretly envy the nationalistic, elitist (and even perversely capitalist) verve of the Nazi/Fascist rightwing socialists, against the God-fearing patriots of America’s first generation. Those first patriots were true republicans (note the small r) who made, and battled to vindicate America’s Declaration of Independence. They also did their best, thereafter, to extend constitutional self-government to the citizens of the United States, based on the Declaration’s commitment to securing God-endowed—and therefore equal—justice and rights, including liberty, to all people under its jurisdiction.
They sought to fulfill the Declaration’s commitment even though they fully understood that it portended a crisis for slavery and the union, in which one or the other would come to an end. The elitists scoffers of our day pretend that the Founders apparent tolerance for the continued existence of slavery means that even the greatest of them (Washington, Jefferson, and Madison in particular) should be dismissed as hypocrites. But who deserves greater contempt—the slaveholders who enshrined the premises of God-endowed right by which they knew that the wicked injustice of slavery had to be condemned; or the baby-killing, degraders of humanity in our day, who mask their effort to return the world to elitist barbarism with provably false protestations of compassionate humanism and justice for the elements of earth, water and air.
America’s Founders tolerated the evil of slavery, for a time, in order to found a nation built on God-fearing principles that decisively invalidated and undermined that evil. By contrast, the anti-Founders of today celebrate and sternly enforce evils like abortion, and contempt for the God-endowed human rights of the natural family, both of which degrade humanity itself. These anti-Founders slyly neglect, or openly disavow, the premise of God’s authority, promoting instead political ideologies of material power predicated on the conviction that imagination and willful self-delusion are all that distinguish human beings from stones and savage beasts.
America’s Founders lived with human slavery as a fact, for a time, as they targeted the elimination of human slavery, in principle, forever. The anti-Founders promote the acceptance of evils that portend the abandonment of the just principles of God-endowed right, which require the elimination of human slavery. As they do so, they return us to premises of human government that, in effect, confuse right with superior power. This restores human government, in practice, to the prevalence of elitist regimes that, whatever name they go by (oligarchy, plutarchy, aristocracy) turn humanity’s experience of government into a condition of self-effacing servitude, for all but an elitist few.
Though, for the moment, we Americans still take it for granted that slavery is wrong, we more and more do so as the result of habit rather than reasonable conviction. Since we are falling prey to plausible lies that banish the discipline of reason, along with that of faith in God as our creator, it won’t be long before the argument of power will once against stand supreme. Of course, it is not just the fearsomeness of power that induces servility. The blandishments of power, that cater to material wishes and ambitions, promising ease, pleasure, or simply more commodious living. These promises may also be means to enforce the sentence of captivity passed on all who slip on velveteen chains to serve the good or evil whims of a powerful few.
It is involuntary servitude to evil and injustice that ought to gall all people of good will. But though the laws of nature, prescribed upon the heart, dispose us all to shun that bitterness, power provides much wherewithal to dull our taste of it. People inured to endure labor and even hardship for the sake of right, react strongly against it. So, they are less likely to succumb to such self-degrading corruption. But in a world where right is redefined to mean the freedom to do as we please, risking that pleasure to reassert true liberty may, after a time, seem hardly worth it.
The dissolution of family and sexual mores these days may be both a cause and indication of the fact that the tide of the democratic ethos, that began to rise with the founding of the United States in the 19th century, has passed its crest in these early decades of the 21st. Family life is the training ground for human self-government. It offers human beings in all circumstances experience of ruling, and being ruled, for good or ill. It exemplifies the true relationship between obligation and right, even as it reveals the choice of duty that is the true definition of liberty. Finally, it gives rise to the blessing of life, renewed and perpetuated, that makes that choice worthwhile.
In this respect the natural family, the incubator of life, fosters liberty as well. It involves and nourishes the common sense that rejects the false paradigm of right as unbridled “freedom”, which latter neglects the exercise of self-disciplined virtue liberty requires. It proves that humanity is generally fit to share in sovereign rule, since so many people choose to follow the natural disposition to care for others as, or even more than themselves. In this respect, the opposite of slavery is not simply freedom. It’s the dutiful, willing exercise of right. Therein God represents, through us, His gift of life to humanity. Thus, in nurturing and caring for His gift, we fulfill our vocation of self-government. In doing so we help to preserve the rights, including liberty, whose exercise just government is supposed to secure for all.