(The Five Thousand Year Leap, The 28 Great Ideas That Are Changing the World is the title of a book that first was published in 1981. Written by W. Cleon Skousen, founder of the National Center for Constitutional Studies in Boise, Idaho, the book clearly outlines the historical precedents for and the founding principles of American liberty. This column is the first in a multi-part series summarizing the book.)
The Five Thousand Year Leap starts by analyzing world government structures, with tyranny on the left (total government control) and anarchy on the right (no government control).
The Founders believed in something halfway in between, in People’s Law, which derived from Anglo-Saxon common law including government by consensus, natural or God-given rights for the people, power dispersed among the people, individual responsibility, rights being unalienable, a system of justice including reparations for wrongs, and a system to solve problems on the level on which they were created.
People’s Law was based in the system of the ancient Israelites and thus the Old Testament can be referred to not only as a moral guidebook, but as a foundation for our democratic system.
The original seal proposed for the United States by Jefferson, Adams and Franklin featured on one side Hengist and Horsa, two 5th century AD Anglo-Saxon leaders, and, on the other side, a depiction of the Israelites struggling through the wilderness following God’s pillar of fire.
The Founders’ first attempt at writing a Constitution ended on November 15, 1777 when they completed the Articles of Confederation. But this document was far too close to anarchy in that it was more a committee of the states than a strong centralized government structure capable of doing the two things governments is supposed to do – protect the rights of the people while seeking to solve problems.
In the Constitutional convention ended on September 17, 1787, the Founders established a balanced “center” in People’s Law, which was depicted by a three-headed eagle with the legislature at the center – divided between a lower but bigger House of Representatives, and a higher and smaller Senate – and the executive and judicial branches on the sides. The wings of the eagle represented on the one hand the problem-solving, activist part of the government, while the other wing represented the conservation of liberty.
The Founders were well aware of the tendency for government to drift to the collectivist left and to try and “take care of” citizens. But Thomas Jefferson knew that this system always led to corruption, writing: “If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of taking care of them, they must become happy.”
They also were concerned about taxation and debt. Jefferson warned that “we shall all consider ourselves unauthorized to saddle posterity with out debts, and morally bound to pay them ourselves.”
The Founders also believed that the government must be established to protect individual “rights” but not to distribute “things” or wealth. Wrote revolutionary theorist Samuel Adams, “The Utopian schemes of leveling (re-distribution of the wealth) and a community of goods (central ownership of the means of production and distribution) are as visionary and impractical as those which vest all property in the Crown. (These ideas) are arbitrary, despotic, and, in our government, unconstitutional.”
They also wanted an educated electorate. And for those who claim that that means a public education system, that is false. It means any effective system. Because while the public system in America once was a good one, the mis-education of millions under public education in America today is contrary to what the Founders desired. Today the thinking of the Founders’ favorite philosophers like Polybius, Cicero, Montesquieu and John Locke are rarely even discussed in public schools.
The 1st Principle for freedom, according to Skousen, is that the only reliable basis for sound government and just human relations is Natural Law.
Skousen considers the writings of the Roman political philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), who believed that the creation of a durable and free culture relied on the rules of ‘right conduct’ that included belief in the power of a Supreme Being to give to good men their “God-given” rights or Natural Law rights. He describes Natural Law as ‘true law’ which Cicero said “is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions…. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst punishment.”
Cicero also remarked on the superiority of man’s reasonable mind over all the rest of God’s creation: “The animal which we call man, endowed with foresight and quick intelligence, complex, keen, possessing memory, full of reason and prudence, has been given a certain distinguished status by the Supreme God who created him… But what is more divine, I will not say in man only, but in all heaven and earth, than reason.”
Cicero came to believe that loving, respecting and obeying God was indeed the first commandment for creating a lasting culture and that loving thy neighbor indeed was the second, leading to justice.
He wrote that legislation to violate God’s prescriptions are invalid. He also wrote: “Therefore Law (of the Creator) is the distinction between things just and unjust, made in agreement with that primal and most ancient of all things, Nature…”
Cicero believed that men must escape the depravity and corruption that had infiltrated into society.
Skousen completes his section about Cicero by concluding that Natural Law is based on unalienable rights; unalienable duties; habeas corpus; limited government; separation of powers; checks and balances; self-preservation; the right to contract; marriage and family; justice by reparation; the right to bear arms; and taxation only accompanied by representation.
Please visit my website at www.nikitas3.com for more. You can print out for free my book, Right Is Right, which explains why only conservatism can maintain our freedom and prosperity.