Friday, July 4, 2008

Change and The Declaration of Independence

It would be a joy to have a presidential candidate like this to vote for:
"About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern.

But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final.

No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people.

Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers." Calvin Coolidge, 1926

In a campaign season when "change" is a major theme, it's wise to consider that not all change is equal in value and that some truths are eternal.

[Hat tip to Powerline]


madmax said...

But Jeff, upon deeper inspection, Coolidge's speech is severely flawed. For example, this:

"No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped."

Pagan materialism! 1926 may not have been as bad as today in many ways, but it certainly had its own problems.

Jeff Perren said...


Coolidge was no Ayn Rand, and 1926 was far from perfect, true. That the depression occurred only three years later is sufficient proof of that.

Nonetheless, I think that quote doesn't support a conclusion of "severely flawed."

Note that he does not make specific reference to religion and he is, in an important sense that Rand would agree with, correct: in order to bring material value into existence it is necessary to concern oneself with 'spiritual matters' -- such as deep thought, moral courage, and reverence for human creativity.

Like most things imperfect, Coolidge's statement is -- because it is so vague -- subject to multiple interpretations.

I certainly would not put him in the category of Jefferson or Madison, nor his speech in the same league as their writings. But compared to today (the point I was making), he is a saint.

Thanks for the additional quote material, and your thoughtful comment.

madmax said...

After reading the speech a second time, I agree with you. I see that he is trying to champion the spiritual source of man's greatness which is entirely consistent with Rand. Objectivists are not materialists after all. But I do see that he was infected with the mind/body dichotomy and by his use of the word "Pagan" I am led to believe that if pressed he would probably have argued that without a Judeo-Christian base society could not survive.

I point this out not to challenge the main point of your post which I agree with, but just to show that it is easy to see how Coolidge's ideas could degrade to today's Conservatism with its combination of big government and religion. He was searching for a spiritual/philosophical foundation for America. Without Ayn Rand, religion is all there is, and we know what kind of poison that is.

Jeff Perren said...

"Mind/body dichotomy" encapsulates the error exactly. Interesting, isn't it, how these abstruse and allegedly impractical ideas actually have the most practical consequences?

Ted said...

Why...Are you referring to the doubtless "hope" of all the looter-chuckers like "Calypso" Louie FAKEaCON, who want to change our country into the same kind of socialist hellhole South Africa is becoming, and most of the African states "liberated" by Mandela's communist ANC?
We finally have the stacked political deck the OMFR Owners have been angling for 20 years: No matter who you vote for out of the "two" party, they will advance the country leftward.
It's only the new-money wealthy (those who actually worked for and earned their money) who rightly fear totalitarianism; the Old-Money, Filthy Rich are in bed with enough fellow serpent-seed and their cadres to keep getting phat at everyone's expense no matter who is in office lying to the plebescheithe.

It's not impossible to restore the American republic at this point, it's just going to take decades, a free road to move and a lot of work.