During the second half of 1999, my monthly political philosophy discussion group took on an exploration of the nature of man as it relates to political philosophy. Political philosophy, as our group defines it, seeks to answer the questions: “how should we order our lives together?” and “what is the best regime?” In fact, it can be safely said that every important political theory is also a theory of human nature. If we accept this premise, it follows that political philosophy presupposes consideration of basic and timeless questions about man’s nature, such as:• Is man a purposeful creation and does he differ from other animals by type or by degree?
- Is man possessed of original sin or is his nature essentially good?
- To what extent is man capable of free will?
- Does man have the innate intellectual capacity to comprehend universals, as opposed to only particular objects identified by the senses?
- Is man’s loyalty and commitment to a family unit a natural or conventional phenomenon?
- If there are inalienable human rights, what is their source?
As we discussed these and related questions, I was reminded that the American founding was based on a consensus as to the answers to these questions, so much so that they were “givens” in the thought of the Founders. One cannot imagine our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, without its invocations of divine providence, transcendental law, and the universal truths of human nature. True, the actuality of the ideal, “all men are created equal”, had to be worked out over most of our history as a nation, after Abraham Lincoln began the reconciliation by merging this ideal with the U. S. Constitution. But recent trends and anecdotes lead me to wonder whether or not we still broadly accept the founding consensus. Two recent examples: In New Jersey, the state legislature was unable to pass a bill requiring public school students to recite the “We hold these truths…..” paragraph of the Declaration each day, and the American Civil Liberties Union recently succeeded in judicial voidance of Ohio’s state motto, “With God, all things are possible”. I will have more to say in future issues about our reverence for the gods of multiculturalism and diversity, two problems of postmodernity whose currently popular definitions are deeply at odds with our cultural heritage. For now, consider this question: Could the language of the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence be adopted word for word by Congress today?