founding fathers, Otherwise the consensus may come to seem simply a projection of ephemeral experience, a passing shadow on the vanishing backdrop of some given historical scene, without the permanence proper to truths that are ‘held.’”. This is the potency inherent in any human being, whether or not he ever gets to happiness. John Courtney Murray, SJ, reflected on the American political tradition in his book We Hold These Truths. It is here in particular that I think some basic concepts from St. Thomas Aquinas can help to elucidate the meaning of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” as they relate to the reality of human nature. All comments must directly address the article. Slavery in ancient times typically came about as a result of debt, birth into a slave family, child abandonment, war, or as a punishment for crime. Death was commonplace on the slave trade, and when a man or woman passed away, their bodies were simply tossed into the ocean. One Time. If you see a comment that doesn’t meet our standards, please flag it so a moderator may remove it. Neera Tanden and Antony Blinken personify the ‘moderate’ rot at the top of the... Student debt pushes to the front of Biden’s agenda. Correctly interpreted, liberty does not mean we can do anything at all; it means that we can work toward happiness in a multiplicity of ways. © Copyright 2020 Crisis Magazine. Happiness most emphatically is not something that each person is free to define for himself. No profanity, ad hominems, hot tempers, or racial or religious invectives. There are also rights to private property, so that one can attain maturity and independence by exercising stewardship. In this way, as St. John Paul argued in Veritatis Splendor, the Decalogue indicates those rules that must be observed if we are to gain the happiness we all desire. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Thus, humans have a right to act in that most human way, to grow in wisdom and love. Many of them simply starved to death. If it is true that we are a divided nation, I would suggest that the ultimate source of our divisions today lies in our radically divergent understanding of rights. 10 organizations honoring Native peoples’ history and future on Thanksgiving, Quick guide to explaining left and right wings to kids, Park ranger repeatedly tazes Native American on video. About a quarter of the four million freed slaves either died or suffered from illness between 1862 and 1870. That is, since the goal of human existence lies in the exercise of reason and will, we have a right to be able to develop our intellect by growing in knowledge of truth and to perfect the will’s love of the good by delighting in the goodness of creation. a philosophy and moral foundation. human rights, It is clear there is little agreement about the meaning of even these most basic principles. If we see a tree with apples, we know it must be an apple tree since no other tree is capable of growing apples. A Native American man was recorded on cellphone video as a park ranger repeatedly fired his Taser at him for walking off the path and refusing to show his identification. Only if we define rights as they are understood by the natural law can we be confident that there is reasoned agreement between citizens. Therefore, from the moment of conception to natural death, as long as a soul is present, a human being has a right to exist. We will not tolerate heresy, calumny, or attacks upon our Holy Mother Church or Holy Father. A brief consideration of the public debates will amply demonstrate how there is no limit to what some will now claim in the name of rights: homosexual “marriage,” euthanasia, free health care, and even a universal minimum income. Rights are derived from whatever is necessary for man to attain happiness in terms of wisdom and love. Aristotle argues that life is the being of living things; that is, the very existence of animate beings is tied up with life. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness is produced through a collaborative publishing agreement between OpenStax and the Bill of Rights Institute. A fundamental doctrine of Thomas’s account of the natural world is that there is an essential relation between what something is and what that thing does. Obviously, these rights are not untethered from all other considerations. Our nation has prospered by protecting the rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. The course is designed to align with the curriculum guidelines for AP U.S. History from the College Board. First perfection is the form of each thing, and that by which it has its act of existing…. One may object that the founders were not directly influenced by St. Thomas and the Catholic natural law tradition; nevertheless, it is clear that the natural law permeated their thinking indirectly through the shared Christian culture and the heritage of British common law. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The … This is our “great American Way” called “life—liberty and the pursuit of happiness” — or more accurately …freedom from the law— called “lawlessness”). In contrast to this, modern philosophy has abolished the idea of a universal human nature. It is only when that happens that we shall have true liberty and the ability to pursue the happiness that the Founders promised us. Meanwhile, the lives of middle-class whites stopped improving economically in the 1970’s. If happiness is akin to life and liberty —as the Declaration and the original meaning of "the pursuit of happiness" say — then we are not dealing with momentary pleasurable sensations ("I'm happy the sun came out this afternoon") but with deep and extended qualities of life (the happiness one feels to be cancer-free, for instance). No One Is Perfect in the World and mistakes happen by everyone. Right now, America is a very divided country with violence caused by racial tensions making headline news. Again, Thomas’s philosophy can shed great light. Unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Americans have traditionally treated the ideas of equality and freedom as meaning simply that the individual is not prevented from following his own life, but that the society has no obligation towards the individual. The Declaration specifically mentions three rights which human beings possess by birth or by nature-life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The powers of life, which in man includes the powers of reason and will, are caused by the presence of a soul, which is, as Aristotle says, the form of the body. For most Americans today, the answer is embodied in the opening sentence of the second paragraph: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed … In the same way, I would plant an apple tree in the hope to harvest apples, knowing that the nature of the tree is oriented to the act of growing apples. The Declaration is not calling for anarchy. Thomas Jefferson never explained his use of the phrase "pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence.He was almost certainly influenced by George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights (adopted June 12, 1776), which referred to "the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety." “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” is one of the most popular phrases in the United States Declaration of Independence. Unlike so many of our contemporaries, however, who demand rights that reflect our random preferences, we can look to the Decalogue for guidance to know what humans really need. The Leadership Crisis and the Free Market Cure: Why the Future of Business Depends on the Return to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness can sit on the shelf with all the pop business management books, but it adds quite a bit to the formula: wait for it . 0 2. Each of these trends erode society, for if we lack agreement on these basic principles, we cannot hope to attain agreement on more controversial issues. This led to a rapid spread in fatal diseases such as dysentery, fever, and smallpox, killing both the Africans and the ship’s crew. We should not forget that, of the 47 signatories of the Declaration, only 13 did not own slaves. The black population suffers the most, and this explains the explosion of protests and rioting in recent days. Correctly Understanding Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness But more and more members of other races within the country realize that they, too, are suppressed by an economic system that prevents genuine political and social freedom. All comments may be removed at the moderators’ discretion. In addition, a person has a right to a private family life as the first school of virtue, and so the sanctity of marriage must be protected. This view is consistent with the country’s capitalistic history, and has resulted in the wealth and income inequality from which the society suffers. But when these words were spoken about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that is given to us as an entitlement by the unalienable rights that we have from the laws of nature and the nature’s god, we have to know that we’re talking about rich white men, nobody else, that have these rights at that time, and the others had to be worked out through the following couple hundred years, … 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. Human nature is a universal and unchanging reality which remains the same all over the world and throughout history. CTRL + SPACE for auto-complete. He named our government to be one of, by, and for the people—not for a group of wealthy white men. When slaves were finally freed a bit less than 250 years after the first ones arrived on our shores in 1619, they were given “freedom” but nothing else. Professor Jacobs earned his doctorate in philosophy from Fordham University. This leaves the Declaration’s right to Liberty. Our Rights Grounded in Human Nature So, even though natures exist for the sake of their activity, it is also obvious that not all natures actually reach that activity: not all apple trees bear fruit, and not all humans grow in wisdom and love. Furthermore, we can also know that we are in agreement with the Founders who wrote the Declaration as well as all those generations who will inherit this nation from us. Few of them ever considered that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" were ideas that could apply to non-Englishmen, let alone anyone of African descent. human nature, In recent decades, the concept of a “right” has been separated from its objective grounding in human nature, and so it has become a purely theoretical reality which is infinitely malleable. The Declaration mentions three: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Thus, rights can no longer be defined according to these objective moral relations. These are the three unalienable rights that, as per the Declaration of Independence, are granted to all humans and which governments exist to protect. And what is the activity to which human nature is directed? Correctly Understanding Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness Let us apply this back to the Declaration. For thirty years, Liberty DeVitto was the driving force behind one of the biggest pop artists of all time. It acts as a national credo or motto despite not actually being a … This is in stark contrast to how the right to Liberty has been interpreted in recent decades as an utterly unrestricted power. His major area of research is Thomistic natural law theory, and more generally the need for a philosophical realism as a response to modern nominalism and skepticism. St. Thomas Aquinas. The journey from Africa to the Americas was a horror that many did not survive. The ships were tightly packed, low on food, and without proper sanitation. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness At 27, Andrew Sullivan became The New Republic's youngest editor, a position he held for five years. “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. The “people” these signers were speaking of were essentially white men, not men of any other race, and not women. So, while animals act on instinct alone, human beings have to exercise deliberative judgment. Just as an apple tree finds its perfection in growing apples, happiness as the perfection of human nature must be defined in terms of the distinctive powers that set humans apart from other natures: reason and free will. The new birth of freedom was to be the end of slavery. To do so, we need only remember the most basic axiom of Thomistic philosophy: action follows from being. Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address, honored these words as follows: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. The sanctity of individual preference soon balloons to include the idea of entitlements, preferences that should be supplied for by others. But reason and will are the source of human freedom, because we can know reality objectively and judge what ought to be done. This is best exemplified in the notorious “mystery clause” from the Supreme Court’s 1992 Casey decision: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” If this were the liberty defended by the Declaration, we could never have formed a society at all. The 56 men who signed that remarkable document proclaimed it to be obvious that “all men are created equal” with “unalienable Rights” to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Trump has brought impunity to the highest office in the land, wielding a wrecking ball to the most precious windowpane of all—American democracy. The precise beginning of slavery is difficult to track because its origins predate historical recording and the written word. Declaration of Independence, It has become a cliché that America is a divided country. No one may rightfully deny us these things. However, each entity certainly has the power or inclination to attain its end. Thus, all natural beings are in a constant state of development and change with respect to their properties, but the thing itself remains stable as the underlying cause of these changing properties. Liberty, then, is an ordered freedom, an exercise of choice for the sake of an objective notion of happiness. The pursuit of happiness is also the foundation of political liberty. Donation Total: Editor’s note: Pictured above is a detail from “Drafting the Declaration of Independence, 1776” painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1930) for the Library of Congress. There are certainly whites, Latinos, Asian and Native citizen who have joined them, but as yet not with overwhelming numbers. This is why these words should not merely be a text displayed in the museum of national memory. Also, one needs a stable society in which peace is secured and justice protected, so there are authorities who have the right to be obeyed when deciding for the common good. The debate over loan forgiveness is raging between parties and within them. But happiness is the goal of human nature, common to all people, and so is an objective truth. This was an additional point of shock for the Africans, as they believed that death and burial should be handled with care and honor. I would suggest that the founding principles of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” can only be properly understood from the perspective of natural law. It is therefore an objective referent that can be discovered by reason anytime and anywhere. A new kind of social justice movement has risen above the misery of 2020, and it has taken root in our common humanity. Since God has given everyone the desire to pursue happiness as a natural right, the government should not interfere with anyone’s pursuit of happiness so long as it doesn’t interfere with other’s right to pursue happiness. What something really or actually is (first act) determines what something really or actually does (second act). Andrew Sullivan - Provincetown, Massachusetts. $5.00 The Bill of Rights reflects these principles: freedom of speech and the right to bear arms fall under the “liberty” category; fear from excessive bail and unusual punishment allow for the pursuit of happiness. Write CSS OR LESS and hit save. The reason why our actions and properties are changing is that the nature has the potency to do something else: I am sitting, but can stand; I am heavy, but can lose weight; I am pale, but can tan. This choice is “right” if it conforms to the reality of human nature by maximizing wisdom and love, and wrong inasmuch as it departs from attaining wisdom and love. Thus, without human nature as an objective reference to determine what constitutes a right, the idea becomes an empty variable upon which individuals project the most arbitrary of preferences. So, for example, there is a right to freedom of religion so we can know that God is in whom our ultimate happiness lies. Pace Justice Kennedy’s remarkable notion of liberty, man is not free to determine the nature of reality, especially the reality of human nature and the happiness that flows from it. If we take up the public argument required of every civilized people, we can restore the true meaning of these rights. If you liked this article, please donate $5 to keep NationofChange online through November. However, in recent decades, as we have forgotten both human nature and the God who created it, these principles have been interpreted in fanciful and destructive ways, causing seemingly insuperable divisions in society. No one is told of the horrors blacks had to face after the Civil War. For the less perfect is always for the sake of the more perfect: …so the form which is the first act, is for the sake of its operation, which is the second act; and thus operation is the end of the creature.”. Thomas Jefferson may have been borrowing from the 17th century English philosopher John Locke when he coined the phrase, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” After all, nearly 100 years before Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence , Locke wrote that the foundation of liberty is built on the need to pursue happiness. So today, as we remember the American Declaration of Independence, let us thank God for the miracle of a nation that holds dear the biblical values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Wishful thinking aside, on vital issue after vital issue, it’s foreseeable that Biden will not do the right thing unless movements can organize effectively enough to make them do it. The way that history is taught in America attempts to hide the hypocrisy. In Thomas’s philosophy, “act” is always correlated with “potency.” While act is what something really is, potency indicates the ability to be other or change. It is clear, though, that for man to flourish in this way there needs to be more specific rights enabling the use of reason and will. Since knowledge grows through conversing with others, and love grows through friendship, these other rights focus on the necessary relations man has to others. Because the black population suffers most, it has become the leader of the fight to bring the reality of our society into line with the economic, social and political expectations of the people. This past weekend was July 4, and it is worthwhile to ponder both the Declaration of Independence and the cries of Black Lives Matter in the present day. In other words, America can be viewed as exceptionally hypocritical—celebrating its words of equality, liberty and the right to pursue happiness in a land of, by, and for the people, but practicing a government that allows a great percentage of its people to lead unhappy lives because the economy is owned by the 1%. It is worthwhile to trace the roots of slavery and the impact it has had on an America which proclaimed that all men are created equal, but has not always supported its own declaration. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”. Thus, at the heart of every civilization, there must be an ongoing argument concerning the values that hold the people together. And it’s a phrase that all American’s hold dear. Yet it is crucial for us to revisit this patrimony. There were attempts in the 1960’s to improve the lives of black citizens, with some success, but as time has gone on, these attempts have eroded. No lengthy rants or block quotes. It is worth remarking that the Declaration does not proclaim a right to happiness itself. Comments do not represent the views of Crisis magazine, its editors, authors, or publishers. The natural law can reveal a very specific meaning to our right to life and the pursuit of happiness. The right to life is questioned, especially for those at the beginning of life and those near its end; the idea of liberty has come to be understood as a libertine autonomy which pursues unfettered individual expression as the sole goal of life; and the pursuit of happiness is no longer seen to be the common good pursued by men together, but is now taken to license radical anti-social individualism. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” : the most famous phrase penned by Thomas Jefferson as the defining moment to his monumental Declaration of Independence. Crisis Magazine is a project of Sophia Institute Press. The changes that occur are not normally capricious, but manifest a systematic order: all the activities and properties are directed to one activity that is the ultimate goal for which nature exists. All rights reserved. This country is great precisely because it runs on the principles that we are all endowed with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our pursuit of happiness should not make others miserable. Tagged as The United States of America is a land of opportunity and success, the land of the free. “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.”. The knee-jerk answer from the American experience is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Discrimination based on race in the United States has existed since the colonial era, where owning slaves was legally permitted by law. Bernie demands federal COVID-19 protections for airline employees, Key US ally indicted for organ trade murder scheme, How youth turned the tide in the 2020 election, Here we go: Another IRS problem (and a Bank of America problem), Let’s reframe individual action as political strategy, Time to grow up: Ending divisions creating peace, Inequality gone viral: The obscene numbers. Photo by Nubar Alexanian. In his seminal study The State in Catholic Thought, Heinrich Rommen defines a right as “that conformity to human social nature of social acts and relations between persons and between persons and things.” It is human nature itself, and in particular his social nature which implies necessary relations with other men, which determines what sorts of acts and relations are correct. In fact Thomas says that God creates natures for the sake of the activity, for that activity is essential for the perfection of the universe as a dynamic whole. As mentioned earlier, the peculiar power by which a human being attains his end is through proper use of his reason and free will; it is through this potential that we achieve happiness. Keep it brief. He begins his analysis by reminding the reader that civilization is formed by men who create a community through deliberation. The phrase provides three examples of the “unalienable rights” which, as per the Declaration have been bequeathed to all humans by God and must be protected by the Government at all costs. James Jacobs is Professor of Philosophy and Assistant Academic Dean at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, LA. Let's just say that, when Jefferson wrote those words, he was only thinking of white Americans, and not even all of them. Live at the present: Always try to live in the present and don’t regret your past mistakes. Or did he mean more? Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Thus, only through a natural law argument can an objective notion of rights be delineated. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Accordingly, happiness is the activity of growing in wisdom and love, an activity that can only find completion in the Beatific Vision in which we know the Truth itself and love God who is goodness itself. This kind of thinking is driven by demonic antichrist powers that have been part of this nations foundation from the very beginning. Against this modern notion of rights, let us consider what the natural law tradition says. Crisis isn’t responsible for the content of the comments box. This history explains in large measure why blacks continue to have much lesser wealth, income, and longevity that whites, even today. No one is taught that 12 American presidents owned slaves at some time in their lives. Nevertheless, we do have freedom, for God has given different gifts to different people, and each must realize the vocation to which God has called him; our liberty lies in the ability to realize that for which we were created. Let us apply this back to the Declaration. We know that slavery wasn’t a part of hunter-gatherer societies, so the first identifiable evidence of slavery comes from the Code of Hammurabi out of Mesopotamia. Our view: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness The Declaration of Independence was a perfect beacon put up by imperfect men. In effect, although there is no legal slavery in the United States, easily 75% of the population is locked into a system in which its lack of education, wealth, and income makes it enslaved to the economic system. Aristotle argues that life is the being of living things; that is, the very existence of animate beings is tied up with life. (Percussion). . I have no doubt most Americans can recite these words from memory; but I have great doubts that Americans interpret them in the same way. Rather, they reflect what is necessary if a man is to realize everything of which human nature is capable, that is, to attain a correct relation with human nature itself. But what a thing does is constantly changing: in a few minutes I might be sitting, walking, thinking, and sleeping. Thus, he says, “Indeed, all things created would seem, in a way, to be purposeless, if they lacked an operation proper to them; since the purpose of everything is its operation. But humans live so that they may attain happiness. Thomistic Explanation of the Declaration Friday, July 3, 2020 5:33 AM. For example, all the changes an apple tree goes through, from germination to growing flowers, are ordered to the growing of fruit. If America is to survive as a civilization, we need to engage the public argument in order to rediscover the real meaning of these rights; we must agree on them as the common principles that constitute our moral union as a nation. The Declaration of Independence states the principles on which our government, and our identity as Americans, are based. In place of this objective foundation, rights now arise from mere subjective preferences which are to be protected from any interference by others. By attending to this, we can protect life in its entirety, and define liberty and happiness according to the truth of human nature, thereby securing the common good longed for by those who first founded the United States in the name of universal human rights. And if we are to grow in wisdom, there is a right to truthful communication with other people. So we can see that the right to life relates to our first act as an individual entity, for as long as we exist as a living human being, we have the ability to grow in wisdom and love. So, for example, he says, “There are two kinds of perfection, first and second. The natural law can reveal a very specific meaning to our right to life and the pursuit of happiness. 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