(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 second in a multi-part series summarizing the book.)
In the first column, I reported how this wonderful book explains that the Founding Fathers wished to base their new nation on People’s Law, which is a centrist, balanced form of government halfway between total government control on the left (tyranny) and no government on the right (anarchy).
The new nation would be grounded in freedom for the individual, low taxes, separation of powers, the right to bear arms, a system of justice, and free markets.
Skousen writes in his 2nd Principle for liberty that ‘a free people cannot survive under a republican constitution unless they remain virtuous and morally strong’.
Wrote Benjamin Franklin: “As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”
The Founders indeed wondered if the colonists were virtuous and strong enough to sustain this “noble experiment”. Finally they decided yes. Political philosopher Tom Paine, whose tract Common Sense was a hallmark document for the new freedom-seekers, decided that the colonists were “industrious, frugal and honest” and that corrupt Europe was plagued by people who wanted only “luxury, indolence, amusement and pleasure.”
Said Franklin: “… nothing is of more importance for the public weal, than to form up and train up youth in wisdom and virtue. Wise and good men are, in my opinion, the strength of the state; more so than riches or arms…
John Adams, our second president, said “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.”
Skousen states as the 3rd Principle for a great nation that ‘the most promising method of securing a virtuous and morally stable people is to elect virtuous leaders.’
Wrote Samuel Adams, theorist of the Revolution, “He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen to be chose into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man.”
Skousen says that the Founders recognized that there was evil in the world and that only through selection of wise men could freedom be guaranteed. Said James Madison, ”If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
Is this not an absolute truth?
The Founders believed that public virtue emerged from private virtue in a type of “natural aristocracy” open to all, but inherited by none. This they contrasted with the “artificial aristocracy” of Europe which entrenched families through wealth, influence and power.
Of the superior natural aristocracy, Thomas Jefferson said, “…the grounds of this are virtue and talents… the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society… that that form of government is the best, which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government…”
Taking from the Roman political philosopher Cicero, the Founders knew that serving in government must be encouraged. Adams called politics “the divine science.”
Adams believed that those who seek higher office must be prepared. And while he was never a popular president, he was considered trustworthy because he was grounded in the arts of finance, legislation, negotiation and war.
The Founders also believed that public service should not be so financially attractive as to draw those interested only in monetary gain. George Washington declined a presidential salary of $25,000 even though his Mount Vernon plantation had been ruined in the War.
Franklin warned the Constitutional Convention that high salaries attracted scoundrels to government. “Hence as all history informs us, there has been in every state and kingdom a constant kind of warfare between the governing and the governed, the one striving to obtain more for its support, and the other to pay less. And this has alone occasioned great convulsions…”
In another example, he warned, “There is scarce a king in a hundred who would not, if he could, follow the example of the Pharaoh – get first all the people’s money, then all their lands, and then make them and their children servants forever.”
Does this not sound like our overtaxing governments today, taking, taking, taking from the people? Were not the Founders prescient?
To sum up this 3rd Principle, Skousen is succinct. He writes:
‘What we are seeing in the Founders, therefore, is a group of very independent, tough-minded men whose beliefs were based on empirical evidence and the light of careful reasoning.
‘…The well-known psychologist Abraham Maslow, in his book entitled The Third Force, concludes after extensive testing that a mind-set based on a spectrum of well-established beliefs, such as the Founders possessed, definitely produces a higher quality of human behavior and a more positive adjustment to the stresses of life.’
Here Skousen is offering really solid commentary. Because if you take today’s liberal mind-set, like the unprovable and much contradicted theory of ‘global warming’, you notice that its adherents are prone to an irrational way of thinking, and that this is going to lead us into precipitous and destructive action.
We all need to be on guard for such. The wisdom of the Founders is the best way.
Happy Easter to All!